Cory Booker v. the Drug War

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I interviewed Newark, New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker last May, shortly before he won an easy election and took over the city. He's had a rough first year in office with murder rates climbing even as other crimes taper off. The reason, he thinks, is idiotic law enforcement spurred by the war on drugs.

"I'm going to battle on this," the mayor says. "We're going to start doing it the gentlemanly way. And then we're going to do the civil disobedience way. Because this is absurd.

"I'm talking about marches. I'm talking about sit-ins at the state capitol. I'm talking about whatever it takes."

He wants to reserve prison cells for those who do violence and divert the nonviolent drug offenders into treatment programs and halfway houses.

He wants to change the New Jersey laws that bar many ex-cons from getting a driver's license. He wants a black kid from Newark who sells marijuana to clear his record as easily as the white kid from the suburbs who buys it.

He wants to stop banning ex-cons from such a long list of jobs, including warehouse jobs at the nearby airport.

The scale of the problem is staggering: About 1,500 convicts are released from state prison to Newark each year, and 1,000 of them will likely be arrested again within three years—mostly for drug crimes.

"The drug war is causing crime," Booker says. "It is just chewing up young black men. And it's killing Newark."

Democrats run everything in New Jersey now but they're not helping out Booker. A 2005 proposal (by a Booker-friendly judge) to reduce the size of "drug free" school zones from 1000 to 200 square yards was ignored by Booker's party but inspired a Republican measure to increase penalties. Just as predictably Booker's stirred up frenzied opposition in his city, but a "Recall Booker" rally last week was mostly incoherent and the machine politicians who oppose him are out of gas. Check out Reasonoid Damien Cave's interview with Booker's 2006 opponent Ron Rice from the run-up to election day. Cave: "What are the top three policy differences between you and Mr. Booker?" Rice: "Well, I have more experience."

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  1. Gee. Rational, intelligent, mature, sophisticated politics coming out of Newark?! I’m impressed. Go, Go, gadget mayor. . .

  2. A pro-legalization mayor?

    I’d back him for President. Seriously.

  3. God bless him.

    I wonder how I can show support?

  4. […]to reduce the size of “drug free” school zones from 1000 to 200 square yards[…]

    Measuring a zone in square yards makes for a really small zone. Smaller than the school, most likely.

  5. Good luck, Booker. Being in a state where it is still illegal to pump your own gas, where a movement is afoot to ban wine and beer purchases by mail, where using a cell phone while driving is about to become a primary offense, etc., decriminalization of anything goes against every instinct of State government, regardless of party.

    And do not forget the influence of the police unions. Fewer crimes means less law enforcement, which means less demand for police, which means less pressure to increase police salaries … you know how that goes.

    And Ron Rice really is dumber than a block of wood.

  6. Go for it, Cory, but you are up against corruption intertwined with statism on a scale that is almost impossible to comprehend.

    Maybe he could try and clean up Paterson while he’s at it.

  7. Why does (insert name here) hate (pick one) America/Children/Freedom??

  8. He’s had a rough first year in office with murder rates climbing even as other crimes taper off. The reason, he thinks, is idiotic law enforcement spurred by the war on drugs.

    I don’t see anything that explains why idiotic law enforcement would cause murder rates to rise even as other crimes taper off. Is he saying that the black kid from Newark who can’t clear his record for selling drugs quits selling drugs, renounces other forms of crime, and starts killing people? Because he couldn’t get a warehouse job at the nearby airport?

  9. Is he saying that the black kid from Newark who can’t clear his record for selling drugs quits selling drugs, renounces other forms of crime, and starts killing people?

    I suspect the claim relates to both:

    1) A mis-allocation of police resources.
    2) The (likely true) claim that tougher we are on the “criminals” we create in regards to the drug war, the more likely they’ll be to engage in more violent criminal activity down the road, once they see all of their avenues to improvement shut off because of their drug record.

  10. “He wants to change the New Jersey laws that bar many ex-cons from getting a driver’s license.”

    I am a big law and order guy but that has to be the dumbest thing I have ever heard. What the hell is the point of not letting people drive?

  11. I wonder how I can show support?

    “Legalize It” bumper sticker on the Audi.

  12. It is stories like this that make me shake my head and wonder what the fuck is it that Democrats stand for. I mean what? I can name three things of the top of my head taht republicans believe in: lower taxes, strong military, more punsishment of everything. I can’t think of three things, anything really, what democrats stand for.
    This election cycle is going to suck. one reason is because it is wide open. But I think that the biggest reason it is going to suck is because there is going to be more media coverage in the history of man.
    But this media coverage will cover the least substantive coverage. There isn’t going to be any debate about how one course of action would be better than the other. This election is going to be about Gotchya’s. Who got a blow job in college. How much does some dick pay for his haircut. There is going to be a lot of hot air blown over ambiguous positions, mudslinging, etc.
    Must be all those articulate Democrats.

  13. I wonder how I can show support?

    I was moved enough to send an email. The city’s site didn’t cooperate, so I called the office to get the address. It is bookerc@ci.newark.nj.us.

  14. I suspect the claim relates to both:

    1) A mis-allocation of police resources.

    A misallocation of police resources that results in a diminishing crime rate but an increase in murder? Why? And what do halfway houses, driver’s licenses, jobs at airports or clearing criminal records have to do with allocation of police resources?

    2) The (likely true) claim that tougher we are on the “criminals” we create in regards to the drug war, the more likely they’ll be to engage in more violent criminal activity down the road, once they see all of their avenues to improvement shut off because of their drug record.

    Again, why only murder? If being tough on criminals and shutting down avenues to improvement results in more people turning to violent criminal activity, wouldn’t the result be an increase in violent crime generally, rather than the specific increase in murder that’s being reported here?

    I’m not arguing with Booker’s stand against the war on drugs. And I don’t know if he or Weigal made the off-the-wall claim that the drug war was responsible for the rise in murder. But unless I missing some key piece to the argument here, it’s just incoherent.

  15. Again, why only murder?

    According to the article:

    [Police Director Garry] McCarthy’s best guess is that the drug trade is the root cause. The killings this year tend to be more ruthless, he says — one bad guy shooting another at close range with a potent weapon.

    “We’re stopping the random shootings,” he says. “But the targeted assassinations we have had a lot of trouble getting inside of. These guys are not trying to send a message. They’re trying to hurt that other person.”

  16. The last mayor who had a sensible approach to the drug war was Baltimore’s Kurt Schmoke.

    He made something of a splash (if you were paying attention to drug policy reform) in the early 90s. Like most sensible politicians he was mostly ignored. I fear Cory Booker will suffer the same fate.

    Likely Baltimore is a better place as a result of his tenure but I understand it still suffers from the same things as other cities do. And many of those problems can be traced to the drug war.

    He is now Dean of the Howard University School of Law. One hopes that some of his ideas will get down to the student body.

  17. “drug free” school zones from 1000 to 200 square yards

    I believe that is incorrect. We’re not dealing with square yards. The measurement is feet from the school. According to the article:

    In late 2005, [retired judge in Middlesex County Barnett] Hoffman’s commission proposed redrawing the drug zones to 200 feet of schools, rather than 1,000 feet. This came after they found almost none of those arrested in the zones was selling drugs to schoolchildren.

  18. He’ll be as successful as Kurt Schmoke was. And just look at Charm City today….No longer #1 in murders; we’re #2 and falling like a feather!

    God bless him, but this is quixotic to the nth degree.

  19. Ah, Issac beat me while I posted…

  20. I hate to bust up the party but Cory Booker is no drug war dove.

    As near as I can tell, he’s just a really intelligent guy who’s taking a non-ideological look at the crime problem. About time.

  21. John–

    i>I am a big law and order guy but that has to be the dumbest thing I have ever heard. What the hell is the point of not letting people drive?

    The only reason I cant think of (unless it has to do with a driving-related offense) is simply for the state to show it has power. As usual.

  22. “What are the top three policy differences between you and Mr. Booker?” Rice: “Well, I have more experience.”

    And yet, he still lost? Amazing. What a blooming idiot.

  23. I like his ideas, but a) dont think it will become NJ policy, and b) even if it did, it would be most beneficial longer-term…not in the immediate term.

    His ideas partly pander to the Newark black community that often blames police for their woes. That explains their ‘stop snitching’ mentality, but not why they shoot each other quite so often.

  24. parse (or whoever is curious about a murder spike with a overall crime drop),

    I don’t follow Newark crime/politics/media much at all. But from my experience in Baltimore……A spike in murders while aggravated assaults and the like drop; usually means someone is juking the stats. It’s just harder and riskier to hide bodies.

    I think as of this time Baltimore has 340 (round about) shootings (up over 30% from last year) and 155 murders (like 18 more than this time last year) but yet they tell us in the city that crime is dropping. Impossible to believe.

    Schmoke had balls, but the city is in worse shape now then when he left. Nothing of what he stood for remains. Everyone seems to forget that O’Malley was a law and order, arrest-the-fuck-out-of-everyone mayor. And he did get murders and crime down below 300. Some are calling for O’Malley redux. Some are calling for community activism and police partnerships. NO ONE is calling for an end to the drug war. Welcome to reality.

    Shame really……

  25. Look here,

    It’s the insanely non-utilitarian nature of the War on Drugs? that is so distressing. The only effect this entire “war” has had is to dramatically increase the power of law enforcement while dramatically decreasing its accountability to the public. At a tune of many billions of dollars per year.

    I’m not a drug user, and I certainly don’t advocate the general use of drugs; however, I’d rather take the relatively minor social harm of more people trying drugs because they are legal than accept the mind-numbing cost of the drug war–in dollars, time, and, most of all, in liberty.

  26. I hate to bust up the party but Cory Booker is no drug war dove.

    Fair enough. But he is talking sense.

    As much as I hate the “treatment” industry using treatment is a better approach than using incarceration.

    It is also pretty hard to reform someone if they see no benefit to reformation. A guy who sees that practically every path will be blocked because of a conviction is unlikely to look for any paths that lead anywhere but back to the slammer or to a bullet in the head in an alley.

  27. I firmly believe that PRIOR Criminal DRUG convictions should Be sealed…accept in CRIMINAL COURT. ONLY during the sentencing phase should a JUDGE be allowed to see these records.

    Rehabilitation is ineffective if people are unable to get jobs due to prior drug convictions. Drug dealing is NOT murder, rape, armed robbery, extortion, car jacking, etc. If a drug dealer is caught murding or raping…he should be executed.

    More and more jobs now are denied to people with even Misdemeanour drug offenses. Many financial firms will NOT hire people with minor possession charges. I FEEL THAT THESE records SHOULD be SEALED.

  28. The Federal Government will Even Deny Financial Aid to kids with minor drug offenses for 1 year. This is silly. It’s in our best interest to educate every child..and not deny education for a year due to a foolish and youthful mistake.

  29. Again, why only murder? If being tough on criminals and shutting down avenues to improvement results in more people turning to violent criminal activity, wouldn’t the result be an increase in violent crime generally, rather than the specific increase in murder that’s being reported here?

    Wild Ass Guess: A decrease in random attacks (of which some percentage results in a death) in parallel with an increase in directed attacks, i.e. assassination attempts, which results in a much higher percentage of deaths.

    This would produce a lower overall rate of violent crime with a simultaneous increase in murders.

  30. Is it just me, or does he look like Vin Diesel…

  31. Is it just me, or does he look like Vin Diesel

    I don’t think you look like Vin Diesel.

  32. But this media coverage will cover the least substantive coverage.

    Our local TV news last night in a story about a San Antonio campaign visit by Barack Obama referred to him as a “superstar candidate.”

    I can’t think of three things, anything really, what democrats stand for.

    Unions, the environment, screw rich businessmen.

  33. Parse: If you can’t get honest work, you turn to crime. You may not turn to murder, but where there’s lots of low-level crime there’s higher-level crime, eventually drugs, and eventually gangs, and there’s your murders.

    You’d think people would wonder what happens when you increase the number of criminals and decrease their abilities to work after they get out. I mean, what do they think they’ll do?

  34. Ah, Baltimore..Martin F-ing OMalley- I cant believe he is actually Governor now. Glad I left. Ehrlich is a douche, but he at least had some good points.

    Remember, in Baltimore you get arrested if you ask a police officer for directions.

    They also do those stop and search patdown things to people who are just trying to walk down the street. Plus the wrong house raids, and all that other stuff. I guess like any other place really.

  35. Jack- do they search laptops, thats the question now. We are passed the searches of person and property in our own country, we allow it and they do it more and more, go figure.

    Please lets move on to getting our electronics searched as it is the hot search topic of today. Personal shake downs for walking down the street and car stops is so 80’s and old hat these days.

  36. Saw this guy on Restaurant Impossible today.

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