Hosted by Dean Becker

Engineered by Steve Nolin

Transcript by Diana Hajer

 Guests: Joseph McNamara, former police chief of San Jose, CA, and Kansas City, MO

Tom Garcia, Latino Voters League

Marilyn Head, Corpus Justice

 Dean:  From the certifiable gulag filling station of Planet Earth, broadcasting on the Drug Truth Network, this is Cultural Baggage, the unvarnished truth about the drug war.  My name is Dean Becker.  Steve Nolin is our engineer.  Our guests on this edition of Cultural Baggage include Dr. Joseph McNamara, former police chief of San Jose, California, and a 35-year veteran of law enforcement and author of the forthcoming book Gangster Cops.  We’ll also have in studio Tom Garcia of the Latino Voters League and Marilyn Head of Corpus Justice.  First up:  Poppygate.

 (Audio track)  Intro and Poppygate – Glenn Greenway:  I’d like to begin this week by reminding listeners that the U.S./Afghan heroin trade now accounts for about 80% of the world’s supply.  In August the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs announced that Central Asia stands out as the region with the highest global rise in opiate use.  This region is already experiencing the world’s fastest growing HIV/AIDS epidemic.  The Pakistan Tribune recently interviewed BiBi Deendaray, a 55-year-old Afghan widow who supports her 20-member family through poppy cultivation.  She says, “In fact, I should say it is not an illicit crop, but rather a blessing which saves the lives of my children, grandchildren, and two widowed daughters.  In general, it is the only means of survival for many women-headed households – women and children in our village whose men are either jobless or killed during the war.”  In June, the Hooter’s calendar girls in camouflaged hot pants entertained U.S. troops in Afghanistan as part of Operation Let Freedom Wave.  Unfortunately, Hooter’s chicken wings were not available, but will be next time.  This is Glenn Greenway reporting for the Drug Truth Network.

 Dean:  Our guest tonight is the former police chief of San Jose, California, and Kansas City, and has more than 35 years experience as a law enforcement officer.  I’ll let him introduce himself.

 Joseph McNamara:  I’m Joseph McNamara, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and retired police chief of San Jose, California.

 Dean:  You know, I saw you the other day on the local television and it reminded me that you are nearing completion of your book Gangster Cops.  Tell us about that, please.

 McNamara:  Well, I spent 35 years in law enforcement before coming here to Stanford University as a researcher, and I started to do a book on the state-of-the-art of American policing; and I found something that startled me despite the fact that I had been police chief of two of America’s largest cities for 18 years – Kansas City, Missouri, for 3 years and San Jose, California, for 15 years – and before that, a member of the NYPD for 17 years.  But as I did my research, I found this astonishing volume of crimes committed by police officers during the so-called drug war.  And these crimes were not merely the old traditional bribery where police officers took bribes from gangsters to look the other way for crimes of prostitution and gambling and other vice crimes.  These were murders, robberies, trafficking in drugs, selling drugs, assaulting people, framing innocent people – all crimes committed by police officers, both local and federal law enforcement officers – and it was spread across the country.  

            It was a very disturbing thing to discover for someone like myself who spent 35 years in policing – the son of a policeman, the brother of a policeman, and the relative of many uncles and cousins who were career police officers.  The facts that I found were that the enormous profits in the illegal drug trade had tempted many officers from big cities, small towns, state agencies, Federal agencies, into committing what I call “gangster crimes.”  Instead of merely taking payoffs from gangsters, the law enforcement officers themselves had become gangsters.  And this ranged from uniform beat officers smashing in doors, committing what we call residential invasion robberies, stealing drugs from drug users, stealing millions of dollars of cash; and it ranged from beat officers, sometimes up to the head of the agency, the sheriff or the chief himself.  Sometimes it involved elite narcotics officers.  

            Other times it involved veteran detectives, sometimes retired police officers, and I found also the disturbing pattern that this had not really been brought to public attention as a national problem by the various police agencies because, of course, it is devastating publicity.  It really undermines the public’s trust in the police that is so necessary.  In so many cases, the police chiefs and the mayors or other public officials responsible for oversight of the police seemed more interested in keeping the lid on the scandal than really getting to the bottom of it and prosecuting these corrupt criminal police officers who went on for years sometimes committing these very serious crimes.

 Dean:  Now, Chief McNamara, let me ask you – here in my hometown, Houston, TX, we have ongoing scandals.  We have a crime lab that has become internationally famous.  We have cops in uniform delivering drugs to various neighborhoods.  We have a group of cops who just got fired for extorting money from various cantinas, and we have had numerous shootings, police fired, police reinstated by arbitrators, etc.  What is the underlying cause?  Why can this conspiracy of silence remain silent?

 McNamara:  I think it’s hard to find one cause, but in my studies of policing – that have been a lifetime of studies – I think we can trace a good deal of it to prohibition.  The first mistake our country made was prohibiting drugs in 1914.  So the first 140 years of this Republic, your right to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness included the right to use whatever chemical that you wished to use.  But in 1914, the Federal government made that a Federal crime and ever since then the war on drugs has escalated.  As you are aware, from 1920 to 1933 the country also prohibited alcohol.  And during those years the murder rate went up greatly.  

            The use of alcohol did not diminish very much, and in fact there were probably more people injured or killed from drinking bootleg alcohol than had been injured or harmed when alcohol was legal.  So 1933 the country was sick of the violence, the corruption, the disrespect for law that prohibition of alcohol had caused and said “we’re better off putting up with alcohol than we are with the results of the war against alcohol.”  However, we never did get around to the same viewpoint on other drugs.  Alcohol is, of course, a drug.  It’s a very dangerous drug.  It kills a lot more people than cocaine and heroin and all of the other illegal drugs combined.  Now, I’m not an advocate of drug use or someone that says, “Oh, it’s great.  Take any drug that you wish.  It turns you on.  It will make you enjoy life more.”  I think all drugs have potential danger.  In fact, I like to point out that somewhere around 7,000 Americans a year die from using aspirin-related products.  And that’s sold over the counter.  

            So drugs are complex chemicals, and they can do great good for mankind and they can also do great harm.  The big mistake is to try to control the use of drugs through criminal law.  Once you do that, you have prohibition and we know that prohibition of goods that the public wants to use causes great price inflation.  It causes corruption of our criminal justice system, our police officers, our courts – even our armed forces have become corrupt when in some instances they have been responsible for drug enforcement.  And it also causes a great deal of violence because as during prohibition of alcohol, the bootleggers couldn’t sue each other and go to court for antitrust action.  They simply got machine guns and drove around and killed the competition.  

            And we find the same thing occurs in the drug war.  Probably thousands and thousands, maybe as many as 8,000 murders a year occur because of the drug war.  And it’s not that people are out of their mind on drugs and start killing each other.  The people who are killing each other are drug dealers who are killing each other because of competition; and all too frequently innocent people are caught in the crossfire and people are killed in their own home as the bullets penetrate the wall and they shoot someone sitting there and watching television.  We have become very callous to this, and we don’t seem as a nation to be that concerned because many of the adjectives of the drug war – our politicians in particular seem to regard this as a “Holy War” that must be fought regardless of the cost. I think as a result of that, that has affected the way that police look at things and the way the police behave.  

            Because after all, when you are fighting the war, things are going to happen.  You can’t fight or operate by the same rules that we expect the police to operate under, due process of law, here at home.  The war, by the very definition, means that you must win and you must use methods that just are not acceptable in terms of the way the government provides policing to its own society in a free society.  

            In a dictatorship or police state, well, these things are taken for granted.  But in the United States, we have allowed the escalation of this war on drugs, and the tragic thing about it is that we really don’t have much to show for it.  It’s only fair when you look at the enormous growth of the Federal government, state government, the present system, the cost of this, that we ask, “Well, what did we get for our money?”  And what we got are tens of millions of Americans arrested for perp crimes and punished very severely, hundreds of billions of dollars spent on this so-called war on drugs, and a foreign policy that is a shambles because of the drug war that America has exported to other countries.  

            All of this stems from the fact that in 1914 Congress began this war against drugs, and elected officials since then have found that it’s good for their career to constantly denounce drugs as evil and to increase the penalties enormously.  The fact that we don’t see that it’s done very much good, and the government can’t prove one way or the other what impact they are having on this difficulty.  All they want to do is more of what has not worked in the past. And that is not good public policy.  It’s not humane.  A free society doesn’t make war against its own citizens and you can’t make war against drugs because drugs are simply chemicals.  You make war against other people or other nations – you can’t make war against molecules.

 Dean:  Dr. Joseph McNamara, I want to thank you for joining us on Cultural Baggage.  A wonderful synopsis of the problem, and I hope that folks will take those words to heart.

 McNamara:  Thank you.

 Dean:  Thank you, sir.  We are going to take a short break and we will be back with a couple of guests in studio to talk about how a community takes back and restores a system of truth, justice.  Please visit

 Bruce Mirken:  So there is just no evidence at all that our drug policies are doing what they are supposed to do, and a great deal of evidence that they may be actually doing harm.  But of course, you will never hear that from our government spin meisters.

 Dean:  Bruce Mirken, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project,

             It’s time to play “Name that Drug by Its Side Effects”:  depression, pain during sexual intercourse, reduced libido, suppressed fertility, progesterone deficiency, spontaneous abortion, metabolic disorders, fetal starvation, and chemical castration.  Time’s up, the answer:  Depo-Provera, another FDA-approved product.

 Dean:  Name that sound.  This week we have a special quiz for you.  Can you name that sound?  It’s a sound heard by more than 10 million U.S. citizens.  Every 42 seconds, an American hears that sound, and I guess the real question is why are they hearing that sound?  Well, take your guess.  We’ve only got another couple of seconds left.  It’s for using the one drug that has never killed anyone.  Yes, that sound is what over 700,000 pot smokers hear each year:  the slamming of the cell door.  Time’s up.

 Dean:  OK, you are listening to Cultural Baggage on the Drug Truth Network.  Here’s a quote that kind of ties in to what Chief McNamara was talking about.  The quote:  “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”  And that’s from The Jungle by Upton Sinclair.  We have with us in studio Marilyn Head of Corpus Justice.

 Marilyn Head:  Hi, glad to be here.

 Dean:  Glad to have you with us here on Cultural Baggage.  And Tom Garcia of the Latino Voters League.  Hello, Tom.

 Tom Garcia:  Hello, Dean, thanks for having us here.

 Dean:  Well, you bet.  You got to hear the interview I did with Chief McNamara and it ties in very directly with the situation in Texas, in fact throughout America, but even more so perhaps to our community here of Houston.  Tell us about this effort that you are putting together, this hoped-for civilian oversight commission, Marilyn, if you could.

 Head:  Well, we are working to establish an independent oversight of the law enforcement departments and other government agencies across the state.  We hope to get legislation into the legislature, sponsored by legislators, and passed through the legislature during the next session in ’05.

 Dean:  Well, it is a worthy effort, I think.  Tom, tell us if you would – there’s a lot of problems with the interaction of the law enforcement community and the Latino community.  If you would, tell us a bit about that.

 Garcia:  Historically in Houston, there has always been a bad relationship with the police department, by Latinos, Hispanics, but we’re not alone.

 Dean:  No, no.

 Garcia:  The communities have suffered the same in fact, so we are all really in the same boat as it relates to the legal system in this town.

 Dean:  You are absolutely right.  It seems to me that many times, there is a wink and a nod insofar as what a policeman might do.  Let’s talk about what that means to the community when we don’t have the control to stop this sort of thing from happening again.

 Head:  Well, I think it means it gives a police officer the license to kill.

 Dean:  Yes, it is only too true in this case.  All right now, Marilyn – again I want to remind you that we are speaking with Marilyn Head of Corpus Justice and Tom Garcia of Latino Voters League.  Marilyn, if you would, tell us how this oversight commission might work in practice.  What are the parameters, how would you define it?

 Head:  Well, the legislation defines it – our proposed legislation.  The legislation calls for three elected commissioners.  They would be elected by the people.  There would also be civilian oversight community groups formed to interview these persons who are being – you know, who want to run for commissioner, and to recommend and endorse persons who want to run for commissioner.  So civilians are required within the law to remain active in that process.  And then when the commissioners are elected, the law is taken into effect, that sort of thing; those commissioners will hire district complaint boards, local district complaint board directors.  

            And once again, civilian oversight community groups, which are continually active, will have the right to review all applications for the directors who want to be hired by the commissioners and they will make recommendations to the commissioners.  So you have a community that stays involved in the process of civilian oversight to make sure that the persons who are in leading positions in that system remain appropriate to the people, addressing the people’s issues, the general public’s issues, and not become tokens of the system that already exists that we are trying to check and balance.  In the past, that has always been the case.  It would be some kind of token situation that is more or less under the thumb of government, the police department, what have you.

 Dean:  So the commission itself would be independent of the local district attorney.

 Head:  Right, that’s why we want to take it out from underneath city government.  It would be independent of city government and the local police department.  The legislation calls for rules that will allow persons who are investigators and directors and commissioners to take cases to the Grand Jury alone.  In other words, without the presence of the district attorney.  And if necessary, if an indictment comes, to carry those cases on through court.  That’s unheard of in legislation across the country.  It’s a new idea.  In other words, it’s trying to say citizens have the same right, a certain equality that doesn’t exist, and we seek to get that in this legislation.

 Dean:            Wonderful, wonderful.  Now, I’m sending this out to the network because I think Houston is perhaps the worst city – as I call it the gulag filling station of Planet Earth.  But I think it important that whether you are in West Virginia, you are in California, you are in Calgary, Canada – it hardly matters if you allow this runaway justice system like we have here in Houston.  I think partially I’m doing it so that you can take heed to what has happened here and perhaps allow things to not get so bad in your community and perhaps follow the example.  If we can, as you say, be the first in the country – make it a good positive for the people in our community.  Tom, let me ask you, how can people get involved?  I mean, what can an individual do?  What would be their part in helping this?

 Garcia:   Well at this time, we have a website and it is  From there you can get information about how to contact any three of us coordinators.  There are three of us at this time coordinating this effort, with three different community groups, and even their phone numbers where we can be called and contacted; and we are, in fact, soliciting help now because we are getting inundated with work that we have to do.  It’s mostly office work, and we are going to have a meeting – Marilyn?

 Head:  October 9.  At Montrose Library, 4100 Montrose, from 3:00 to 5:00 in the afternoon.  That’s a Saturday afternoon.  October the 9th.

 Garcia:  And we invite everyone who is interested in community oversight.  By the way, I wanted to say that the key word for the 21st century is going to be, or is at this time, civilian oversight.  Every aspect of our democracy today is screaming for civilian independent oversight.  There is no way to resolve the problems that we have gotten into over the years unless we find a way to take the oversight out of the government itself and put it in the hands of civilians.

 Dean:  Well, I want to say that I wish you great luck with this.  We all need this, deserve this, should have this.  It’s something that – it’s our country, it’s our community, and we have handed just a bit too much to the justice department.

 Head:  Right, we have given them too much power, and now it is time for citizens to get involved, to become active, and to really be a part of the civic response to the problem that we have, in a sense, created ourselves by saying “do this for me” and expecting them to do it for them, period.

 Garcia:  We also would like to ask everyone to sign a petition that is on our website.

 Dean:  Is it?  OK, you have a petition that is online that they can join up there.  All right.  I want to alert the listeners that we will be following up on this effort.  There is great hope that we can be successful with this, that we can begin to regain that control of our community that we are all anxious to return to.  I want to alert folks that next week our guest will be Dr. Stanton Peele.  He’s a Harvard psychiatrist.  He’s written a book Seven Tools To Beat Addiction, and none of them involved having to go to a treatment center or taking other drugs.  

            It’s talking about how the individual has control of their life, and we have been bamboozled by government propaganda over the years.  I want also to point out a couple of things here.  Here are some useful tools for politicians – when they are seeking to whip up the electorate, you know, what they do is they have all these multiple factors they use when they sustain the drug war.  One of them is that it profits the prison industry and even weapons industry. Legalization would threaten the profits of the tobacco and alcohol industries.  Users of marijuana and psychedelics are less enamored of material consumption, so legalization would threaten the profits of those promoting consumerism.  

            Drug prohibition facilitates the control of the population, and that is where I want to get back with y’all for this last minute.  It is my contention that the drug war impacts every aspect of our society.  It’s the mechanism of stealing rights, of throwing away constitutional safeguards, that the police and the district attorneys, etc., use as their modus operandi.  How they managed to arrest 1.6 million U.S. nonviolent citizens each year.  I just kind of wanted to get your take on that thought.

 Head:   Well, I think civilian oversight would address that.  I think it is terrible that our young people are being what I call “profiled” over drug use that – you know, smoke marijuana and then thrown in jail.  Now, that’s not right.

 Garcia:  You know, I think that most policemen are unaware that the drug war ended not too long ago.  We don’t have a drug war per se any more.

 Dean:            Absolutely right.  We have a war on people, is what we are left with.

 Garcia:            Exactly, exactly.

 Dean:  Well, Steve tells me we have less than a minute, and I want to thank Dr. Joseph McNamara, the author of the forthcoming book Gangster Cops.  Thank you, Marilyn.  That was Marilyn Head of Corpus Justice; and we had in studio with us, as well, Tom Garcia of the Latino Voters League.

             Folks, you are in charge.  This is your community.  This is your nation.  It’s your right – it’s your obligation – to do something about it, and I urge you to visit the website.  One more time, Tom, it is …


 Dean:   – get involved.  I’m sure in other cities around the nation, you can also learn a little bit.  OK, and as always, because of drug prohibition, you don’t know what is in that bag.  Please, be careful.

 (Audio Track) For the drug truth network and on behalf of my technical producer Steve Nolin, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage, the Unvarnished Truth.  This show is produced at Pacifica Studios of KPFT, Houston.  Tap dancing on the edge of an abyss.