Monday, May 08, 2006

Soares Rises to the Occasion

Full disclosure: David Soares is a WFP hero. But even we are mightily impressed with the Albany County DA's courage and grace under fire.

Soares' remarks at a drug policy conference have caused a stir in his jurisdiction. Basically, Soares reminded a gathering of wonks and advocates that the war on drugs in the United States has been a losing one, and that the financial incentives built into the criminal justice system offer at least a partial explanation for the slow pace of reform.

A portion of the Albany Couty law enforcement community took offense, with one union official even suggesting Soares should resign.

Today, Soares held a press conference on the steps of the State Capitol, with Democrats (including Speaker Shelley Silver) who support further reform of the Rockefeller drug laws by his side. Soares has always been pasisonate about the cause, and today, it seems his eloquence rose to the occasion. From the Times Union:

Soares apologized to local rank-and-file police officers "from the bottom of my heart'' if they were offended by his remark that America has continued its failed war on drugs ``because it provides law enforcement officials with lucrative jobs.'' He admitted ``lucrative'' might have been a "poor choice of words,'' adding that "expensive'' might have been better.

"This is not a lucrative business, I would say other than people like myself and other high-ranking executives that make substantial salaries,'' Soares said. "I am saying we have an incredibly expensive criminal justice system that continues to expand as a result of laws we pass.''

Soares expressed admiration for the "courage'' of law enforcement personnel patrol Albany's streets, but added: "It is possible to criticize the war without being unpatriotic.''

Overall, Soares, who dealt a blow to the Democratic establishment when he defeated his former boss, Paul Clyne, in a 2004 primary, refused to back down from the sentiments behind the speech he delivered to the 17th International Conference on the Reduction of Drug-Related Harm in Vancouver.

"I stand by my statements, we are losing this drug war,'' Soares said. ``We are losing it ultimately here on the streets and I don't mind telling you this.''

Later, he added: "I would rather experience the alienation of 400 people, than stand by and witness the annihilation of an entire generation.'' Soares was referencing a statistic long highlighted by drug reform advocates: That the majority of people incarcerated on drug charges in New York's prisons are African American or Hispanic.

There has been talk that the county legislature may consider a resolution critical of Soares tonight. Hard to believe they could still be thinking of doing that after this afternoon's event. But, if you're in the area, it's hard to think of a more worthwhile use of a couple of hours this evening than going to the meeting and showing support for speaking truth to power. Here are the details, courtesy of Citizen Action of New York.

TONIGHT - Come to the County Legislature's meeting tonight at the Old County Courthouse, 2nd floor.
Public Comment Period 6:30 - 7:00, arrive by 6:15. Call ahead of time to sign up if you wish to speak in support of David.


Anonymous said...

Soares is bought and paid for by the Drug Policy Alliance, the nation's largest advocate for legalization. This group rides on the backs of prisoners, mother's of prisoners, and sick people to try to further its real agenda which is to legalize illegal narcotics. The people of Albany were fooled once when they elected him. Now he won't prosecute drug dealers and the police are furious. That is the "hostile work environment" to which Soares refers. The conference he spoke at was for drug legalization. What was he doing there? What was his purpose in attending? What is his relationship to the Drug Policy Alliance and what promises did he make them for their contribution of more than three quarter of the total money he raised during campaign? If you go, ask the right questions!Don't be fooled again.

Alex Navarro said...

Amen for free speech, even for anonymous blog comments and allegations.

Maybe others will jump in to offer other factual corrections, but it's certainly not true that the Albany County D.A.'s office is refusing to prosecute drug dealers.

Daniel Millstone said...

Well, for another view, you might look at John Tierney's critique, a few days ago in the New York Times. There are reasons to be doubious about the wisdom of the "war on drugs."

For me, to the degree that drug abuse poses problems, many of those problems stem from the prohibition on the use of those drugs. Further, treating drug additiction as a medical problem rather than as a law enforcement one, seems to produce better outcomes.

Prohibition of illegal drugs -- and the social policy preference for legal ones has a lot of bad consquences. Alcohol and tabacco use, study after study shows, are more deadly, more dangerous and more expensive than, for example, marijuana use. Yet, the lessons had to be learned from Prohibition are drowned out by an irrational chorus of "Just Say No" chanters.

Finally, we're created a prison-criminal law industry which arrests, detains, tries and incarcerates millions of US residents (A higher proportion of US citizens is in prision than of any other nation's population; due, in large measure, to enforcement against individual drug users and street-level sellers.) Of course, cops, prosecutors, defense lawyers, prison guards and contractors work hard and make a good living out of this; but is it useful?

This is a vast expense which, as I see, it produces little or no useful result.

Anonymous said...

Soares is bought and paid for...This group rides on the backs of prisoners, mother's [sic] of prisoners, and sick people to try to further its real agenda which is to legalize illegal narcotics.

It's like you don't understand cause and effect. The problem Soares and others see is that we have an anti-drug policy that not only fails to stop drugs, but that also does incredible harm--it keeps drugs from sick people who need them and ruins people's lives with insanely punitive drug laws.

You're going on and on about Soares being "bought and paid for," but what's the corporate conspiracy here? Seriously, we're talking about putting people in drug treatment instead of jail? This isn't like tax breaks for oil barons. And, even if Soares were in favor of legalization--which he's not--who would be the evil corporation backing him? Kentucky pot farmers? Your conspiracy theories are ludicrous.

Is it not obvious to you that the war on drugs has failed? I applaud Soares for being smart enough to see what the cost of this failed war has been, and for being brave enough to try and do something about it.