The venerable CBS News anchor, famous for his heartfelt message to the American people on the futility of the Vietnam War and known as the “Most Trusted Man in America”, Walter Cronkite passed away yesterday at age ninety-two. Not as famous was his opposition to the another futility – the “War on Drugs”, especially the unfair consequences suffered by families, women and childen as innocent victims.
On Alternet.org today, Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance penned an editorial on Mr. Cronkite’s passing, remembering the honor of being asked by “Uncle Walter” to help in the production of a 1995 edition of his “Cronkite Report” on the Discovery channel. On DPA’s You Tube channel is a six-part video series, “America’s Disastrous Drug war” . Here is Part One:Walter Cronkite & America’s Disastrous Drug War Pt 1 of 6
Here is an article published by Mr. Cronkite on August 8th,2004, From Allen St. Pierre’s blog post at the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws:
Drug war is a war on families
By Walter Cronkite
In the midst of the soaring rhetoric of the recent Democratic National Convention, more than one speaker quoted Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address, invoking “the better angels of our nature.” Well, there is an especially appropriate task awaiting those heavenly creatures – a long-overdue reform of our disastrous war on drugs. We should begin by recognizing its costly and inhumane dimensions.
Much of the nation, in one way or another, is victimized by this failure – including, most notably, the innocents, whose exposure to drugs is greater than ever.
This despite the fact that there are, housed in federal and state prisons and local jails on drug offenses, more than 500,000 persons – half a million people! Clearly, no punishment could be too severe for that portion of them who were kingpins of the drug trade and who ruined so many lives. But by far, the majority of these prisoners are guilty of only minor offenses, such as possessing small amounts of marijuana. That includes people who used it only for medicinal purposes.
The cost to maintain this great horde of prisoners is more than $10 billion annually. And that’s just part of the cost of this war on drugs: The federal, state and local drug-control budgets last year added up to almost $40 billion.
These figures were amassed by the Drug Policy Alliance, one of the foremost national organizations seeking to bring reason to the war on drugs and reduce substantially those caught in the terrible web of addiction. There are awful tales of tragedy and shocking injustice hidden in those figures – the product of an almost mindlessly draconian system called “mandatory sentencing,” in which even small offenses can draw years in prison.
Thousands of women, many of them mothers of young children, are included among those minor offenders. Those children left without motherly care are the most innocent victims of the drug war and the reason some call it a “war on families.”
Women are the fastest-growing segment of the prison population, with almost 80 percent of them incarcerated for drug offenses. The deep perversity of the system lies in the fact that women with the least culpability often get the harshest sentences. Unlike the guilty drug dealer, they often have no information to trade for a better deal from prosecutors, and might end up with a harsher sentence than the dealer gets.
Then there are women like Kimba Smith, in California, who probably knew a few things but was so terrified of her abusive boyfriend that she refused to testify against him. (Those who agree to testify, by the way, frequently are murdered before they have a chance to do so.) Smith paid for her terrified silence with a 24-year sentence. Nonviolent first offenders, male and female, caught with only small amounts of a controlled substance frequently are given prison sentences of five to 10 years or more. As a result, the number of nonviolent offenders in the nation’s prisons is filling them to overflowing, literally. The resulting overcrowding is forcing violent felons onto the streets with early releases.
The Drug Policy Alliance also points out other important areas of injustice in the present enforcement system. For instance, people of color – African-Americans and Latinos – are far more likely to be jailed for drug offenses than others. And college students caught in possession of very small amounts of illegal substances are denied student loans and even food stamps.
The Alliance and other organizations are working to reform and reframe the war on drugs. And they are finding many judges on their side, who are rebelling against this cruel system. We can expect no federal action during the congressional hiatus in activity ahead of the November elections, but it would be of considerable help if, across the country, campaigning politicians put this high on their promises of legislative action, much sooner than later.
Also, back in 1998, The Drug Policy Alliance also coordinated an open letter to then Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Anan in opposition to the U.N. Drug Policy, which was signed by 500 prominent persons, including Walter Cronkite
The Drug Dilemma, War or Peace?
An epidose of The Cronkite Report, first aired on the Discovery Channel, Tuesday, June 20, 1995.
Every American was shocked when Robert McNamara, one of the master architects of the Vietnam war, acknowledged that not only did he believe the war was, “wrong, terribly wrong,” but that he thought so at the very time he was helping to wage it. That’s a mistake we must not make in this 10th year of America’s all-out War on Drugs.
It’s surely time for this nation to stop flying blind, stop accepting the assurances of politicians and other officials, that if we only keep doing what we are doing, add a little more cash, break down a few more doors, lock up a few more Jan Warrens and Nicole Richardsons, then we will see the light at the end of the tunnel. Victory will be ours.
Tonight we have seen a war that in its broad outline is not working. And we’ve seen some less war-like ideas that appear to hold promise. We’ve raised more questions than we’ve answered, because that’s where the Drug War stands today. We’re a confused people, desperately in need of answers and leadership. Legalization seems to many like too dangerous an experiment; to others, the War on Drugs, as it is now conducted, seems inhumane and too costly. Is there a middle ground?
Well, it seems to this reporter that the time has come for President Clinton to do what President Hoover did when prohibition was tearing the nation apart: appoint a bi-partisan commission of distinguished citizens, perhaps including some of the people we heard tonight, a blue-ribbon panel to re-appraise our drug policy right down to its very core, a commission with full investigative authority and the prestige and power to override bureaucratic concerns and political considerations.
Such a commission could help us focus our thinking, escape the cliches of the Drug War in favor of scientific fact, and more rationally analyze the real scope of the problem, answer the questions that bedevil us, and present a comprehensive drug policy for the future.
We cannot go into tomorrow with the same formulas that are failing today. We must not blindly add to the body count and the terrible cost of the War on Drugs, only to learn from another Robert McNamara 30 years from now that what we’ve been doing is, “wrong, terribly wrong.”
(“The Drug Dilemma: War or Peace,” can be ordered from Cronkite, Ward and Co., 39 West 55th Street, New York, NY 10019; (212) 765-1200.)