Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

Help End Rockefeller Drug Laws

Posted in prison, War on Drugs by allisonkilkenny on March 13, 2009

NYCLU

12036314_400x400_frontIt’s Finally Happening

New York must reform the Rockefeller Drug Laws

The Rockefeller Drug Laws, enacted in 1973, mandate extremely harsh prison terms for the possession or sale of small amounts of drugs. Intended to target drug kingpins, most of the people incarcerated under these laws are convicted of low-level, nonviolent offenses. Many of the thousands of New Yorkers in prison under these laws suffer from substance abuse problems; many others struggle with issues related to homelessness, mental illness or unemployment.

The Rockefeller Drug Laws create stark racial disparities in prison populations and exact an enormous financial toll on all of New York State.

After 36 years, the chance for true reform of these laws is greater this year than it ever has been.

On March 4, the New York State Assembly passed a strong reform bill, the first step on the road to a new direction for New York.

The same progressive bill has now been introduced in the New York State Senate where it faces a much tougher road to passage. Many senators have been intimidated by the scare tactics and misrepresentations of prosecutors who don’t want to give up their power over New Yorkers’ lives. And recent media reports suggest that Governor Paterson, who was once the strongest champion of Rockefeller reform, wants to cut a deal to put a band-aid on these fundamentally broken laws. What we need is real reform, not piecemeal fixes.

Send a free fax to your senators and to Governor Paterson urging them to put 36 years of failed Rockefeller Drug Laws behind us, once and for all. Tell the Senate to pass S.2855, and tell the Governor to sign it into law.

To find out more information about the Rockefeller Drug Laws, click here.

Tell me more

Talking Points

– For 36 years, the Rockefeller Drug Laws have done nothing to stop drug abuse or help people struggling to overcome addiction in New York. Public health experts agree there is a better way: treatment and rehabilitation.

– The Rockefeller Drug Laws have created unconscionable racial disparities. While 72 percent of New Yorkers who have used illegal drugs are white, more than 90 percent of people incarcerated for drug offenses in New York State are black or Latino.

– The Rockefeller Drug Laws have destroyed lives, families, neighborhoods and whole communities for decades. More than 25,000 children have been orphaned by our state’s drug laws. Sixty percent of people who have been incarcerated can’t find work a year after release.

– New York State could save $267 million annually by treating and rehabilitating those who need it. Our state can’t afford the Rockefeller Drug Laws.

– Judges must have the authority to do what they think is best in the interest of justice and public safety. Mandatory minimum sentences bust be eliminated and judges must have the option of sending people to drug treatment and rehabilitation instead of prison.

– New York State needs alternatives to incarceration programs in every county in the State. Experts agree: Some drug users need mental health services, treatment, education, and job-training programs instead of a jail cell.

SIGN THE LETTER HERE

You Have the Right to Airport Harassment

Posted in civil rights by allisonkilkenny on October 21, 2008

Her name is Helen, a Muslim woman in her mid-twenties. She’s scared to talk to me even though I’ve told her that I will change her name for my article so the authorities will have no idea who she is.

“I’m an easy target for this kind of thing,” she says, gesturing to the hijab secured around her head.

Helen was traveling through JFK airport security when she was flagged for further screening. She says she’s gotten used to this kind of treatment. However, the usual security treatment then took a strange turn. A Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employee asked to see Helen’s I-Phone.

Helen tells me she was hesitant to hand over her new $400 phone, and she was unclear as to why she had turn over her private property in order to board a plane.

“He said it could be used as a weapon,” she explains, shrugging. The shrugs says: So what was I supposed to do?

Helen gave the TSA employee her phone, and he proceeded to search through her list of contacts. Explaining the incident, Helen still squirms in her seat, and I can tell how violated the treatment made her feel.

The TSA employee then explained he would have to take her phone for further inspection, and that Helen could reclaim it later at the airport help desk. At this point in her story, Helen throws up her hands in exasperation.

When Helen went to reclaim her phone, the airport employees claimed they couldn’t find it.

“I said, ‘No, no, no. Look, I have his name! I was just here!’ They looked at me like I was crazy. They said, ‘Sorry, your phone isn’t here.'”

This kind of story isn’t uncommon. Understandably upset and furious, Helen went home to vent to her friends. To her surprise, many of her Muslim friends said they too had experienced this kind of airport theft.

“Items get stolen at the airport all the time by TSA staff,” says Udi Ofer, the New York Civil Liberties Union’s advocacy director.

In the United States, the Fourth Amendment protects citizens against unreasonable searches and seizures. But there is a big loophole, Ofer explains, “On the issue of the Fourth Amendment, the biggest obstacle is that the courts have held that, by voluntarily flying, passengers waive their rights.”

To be clear: if TSA made this seizure of property an official policy, it would be considered illegal. However, it appears that many TSA employees are making this an unofficial perk of their job. If enough harassment victims step forward, Ofer explains, the NYCLU and ACLU would be happy to take the cases.

The problem is that harassment victims often feel afraid, and they’re too busy to spend months in litigation. However, this kind of harassment has a history of only getting worse if conscientious citizens don’t demand justice.

Now is a precarious time for Muslim-Americans. One need only watch a John McCain rally to understand that there exists danger in the forms of bigoted, hateful ideologies. But fear is ignorance’s ally. It is up to brave women like Helen to come forward with their stories and put an end to this harassment.

A government-sponsored thug caste that riffles through private property and illegally seizes the possessions of frightened citizens is behavior indicative of a fascist regime, but not the United States of America.

Even when airborne, we should still expect to keep our rights.

Contact the NYCLU here if you have experienced harassment in New York City

Contact the ACLU here if you have experienced harassment elsewhere