In December, the Department of Justice announced a new $71 million program, Operation Relentless Pursuit, that will increase policing and the involvement of federal agencies such as the Drug Enforcement Agency in seven cities, four of which are majority-black cities. Rather than addressing the root causes of crime, the program will result in greater repression and violence against these communities. We speak with Jacqueline Luqman about the program, what policies would be more effective and what people are doing to fight back. Kevin Zeese, who has worked for decades to end the war on drugs and mass incarceration, describes how similar programs have been tried in the past and have failed. We also provide current news and analysis.
Jacqueline Luqman is a host and producer for TRNN. With more than 20 years as an activist in Washington, DC, Jacqueline focuses on examining the impact of current events and politics on Black, POC, and other marginalized communities in the US and around the world, providing a specific race and class analysis at the root of these issues. She is co-host of By Any Means Necessary with Sean Blackmon on Sputnik Radio. And she is Editor-In-Chief and a co-host of the social media program Coffee, Current Events & Politics in Luqman Nation with her husband, and is active in the faith-focused progressive/left activist community.
Margaret Flowers (MF): You’re listening to Clearing the FOG, speaking truth to expose the forces of greed with Margaret Flowers.
Kevin Zeese (KZ): And Kevin Zeese.
MF: Clearing the FOG is a project of Popular Resistance dot o– r– g. You can subscribe to us on iTunes, SoundCloud, Mixcloud, Stitcher and Google Play. You can also find us at Popular Resistance dot-org and while you’re there, check out the Popular Resistance store where you’ll find Clearing the FOG gear like t-shirts, bumper stickers, water bottles and tote bags. So today we interviewed Jacqueline Luqman. She’s a host of a number of different programs and also an activist in Washington, DC.
KZ: That’s right. We talked to her about this new program from the Department of Justice to escalate law enforcement in seven cities and it comes at a time when reports now indicate that for the last six years, each year the police have killed 1,000 civilians. And it comes at a time when consent decrees were entered into in various cities when Obama was president. A lot of those have now been not enforced by the Trump Administration. So the police are going to be allowed to continue their misbehavior and are getting more money for it. We’ve seen these things before. We talk with Jacquie about how in the past, these kinds of things lead to mass arrests and mass incarceration, particularly in black and brown communities.
MF: It’s very scary to be sending more militarized police into these poor communities. And as you mentioned the consent decree, Baltimore is one of the cities, those seven cities that is a target of Operation Relentless Pursuit. It’s a terrible name. And Baltimore has not dealt with the issue of police abuse in the city that that consent decree was worried about.
KZ: These always have terrible names. Under Clinton, it was “Weed and Seed,” like treating people as weeds. Weed them and then seed them. I was like Oh and it still goes on today. Weed and Seed’s never ended, all these programs just continue and they just cause more disruption in communities that need investment not militarized police,
MF: Right. So stick around with for that interview with Jacquie so you can learn more about this program and what’s being done about it. Let’s talk about a few things that are in the news before we get to that. There’s a new study out in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health that found that raising the minimum wage would have reduced suicides by the tens of thousands.
KZ: Well, this is one thing we, people have to understand about inequality. Inequality by itself is unfair, it’s not fair that three people have the wealth equal to half the population but inequality also has impacts. There’s interesting research that shows the ties, inequality being tied to homicides, suicides, to illnesses also and this is an example, this recent study is an example of how inequality, low wages is tied to suicide. You are talking about tens of thousands potentially less suicides.
MF: Right. They talked about if minimum wage has been raised by a dollar, there would have been 27 thousand fewer suicides. And if the minimum wage had been raised by two dollars then it would have been 57 thousand fewer suicides in the US.
KZ: And they were talking about the federal minimum wage, which is still $7.50. Increased wages mean people have less stress in life, means less suicides. You are talking about two dollars an hour leading to 57,000 less suicides a year.
MF: So a new poll that was done by Reuters Ipsos found that 64% of people in the United States support taxing wealth. Over half of Republicans polled supported taxing the rich.
KZ: And taxing wealth means, you know, right now we get taxed for our work, people get taxed for their income. Wealth means taxing people’s profits from Wall Street. And so if your Wall Street wealth goes up, you get taxed on that wealth. Taxing wealth the same as work would be a tremendous solution toward reducing inequality or reducing deficits and being able to fund programs needed like housing and healthcare, education. We can fund these programs if we have fair taxes on the wealthy.
MF: And as we all know and we’ve talked about before on this program, the wealthy are very good at actually not paying taxes and pay a lower tax rate than middle-income people. So we really do need to find a way to tax wealth and we’ve often talked about how in the middle of the 20th century, which was a time when there was the greatest equality, income equality, the tax rates were extremely high on the wealthy at that point 70%, 90%.
KZ: That’s right. A 90% confiscatory tax for their extreme wealth. And this is the first year, by the way where the wealthy paid less than the working people on average. So this is major and this year also is a year when corporations, this is not first, will get away with either paying no taxes or are getting money back at tax time. So our tax system has been really screwed up since the Reagan Era. That was really when that began. It got worse under Bush. It’s gotten worse under Democrats as well. And it’s gotten worse, this Trump tax reform that really deformed the tax system to its worst state in our lifetime.
MF: The corporations love socialism when they’re the ones on the receiving end, when they get the tax breaks and the tax refunds and the subsidies. They think that’s just great but use that money for actual human needs they wouldn’t support that.
KZ: There is a lot of corporate socialism. That’s not a small number.
MF: No, it’s billions of dollars. Another new study that came out from the Physicians for a National Health Program shows that if we had a National Improved Medicare for all system, we would reduce our bureaucratic paperwork spending by 600 billion dollars a year. Imagine how much health care, actual health care that could purchase instead of paperwork.
KZ: Well, that was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine and it’s a peer-reviewed, highly recognized and respected publication. They said that 34% of the cost of health care in the United States is because of administrative costs. That’s a combination of two things. That’s the cost of the insurance industry, which is about 18 percent of that. And the rest is the bureaucracy created by the insurance industry – hospitals and doctors and other providers having to figure out whether something is covered, what insurance policies someone is on, getting reimbursed, getting paid by the insurance company. You know from your own practice when you practiced medicine for 17 years, you know what it’s like to deal with the insurance industry.
MF: It takes up so much of a health professional’s time dealing with trying to get approvals from these insurance companies that really their business model is to deny care. They make money when they deny payment for care and so health professionals are always fighting with them to say no you actually need to cover this care for our patients. A National Improved Medicare for all system would be very different. It would be one set of rules, one transparent set of rules. It would be a system actually designed to pay for care. So the complete opposite of what we have right now. And it would reduce, as you know, the bureaucracy significantly, not only getting rid of a lot of headaches for health professionals and patients, but freeing up more time for a direct relationship between health professionals and their patients.
KZ: And not having doctors controlled by the insurance industry. As a doctor, you are controlled, what you can do, by what the insurance says they will pay for and so the system is really backwards. We put the profit of the insurance industry, which is something we don’t even need. It’s kind of a go-between between the doctor and the patient.
MF: It’s more than a go-between, it’s a vampire. It’s not only not needed but it’s actually detrimental to our health care system and it’s robbing us of hundreds of billions. Talk about subsidies, through the Affordable Care Act, the US government is subsidizing health insurance companies, private health insurance companies, 300 billion dollars a year in subsidies that go directly to them. And then what do they do? They limit their network so people can’t find doctors. They put the cost of care off on to patients through co-pays and deductibles and then they deny coverage, you know payment for care. So this is what we’re subsidizing. It’s just enriching them.
KZ: This study and all the information you just provided really puts the lie to the claim of people like Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg who are funded by the insurance industry that we can’t afford a Medicare for all system. The reality is a Medicare for all system gets rid of that one third of the waste of administrative bureaucracy. And that’s why we can afford it. Whenever they say we can’t afford Medicare-for-all, you should ask them: what’s your system going to cost? Because every study shows the current system will be more expensive than Medicare for all, so Medicare will actually saves money. So this nonsense we can’t afford it is the opposite of the truth.
MF: The truth is we can’t afford not to do it. We have to go to a National Improved Medicare for all so we can not only control our health care spending but make sure that every person in the United States has access to the health care that they need when they need it without fear of financial ruin or going bankrupt as so, over five hundred thousand families do every year in the United States.
KZ: This is an issue we’re going to win. Physicians for a National Health Program, which you are a board advisor to. PNHP dot org is a great place to go. We have a campaign called Health Over Profit for Everyone, health over profit dot-org. If you want to get involved in our campaign to bring National Improved Medicare to all the United States.
MF: Let’s talk about a new win against the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The community of Union Hill, which was founded by freed slaves, won in a lawsuit against Dominion Energy who wanted to put in a compressor station. So for folks who may not be familiar with this, a pipeline has to have these compressor stations along the way that actually push the gas through and these compressor stations are very dirty, very polluting in the communities where they are. And so Union Hill, a majority black community, argued that they would be the ones that would be receiving that, you know having the ill health impacts because of this and they won in their day in court.
KZ: And it was a unanimous decision. And this is part of many struggles against a whole range of oil and gas infrastructure that was escalated under Obama and is being escalated further under Trump. A really good organization that kind of works on this issue that we’re part of Beyond Extreme Energy, we urge people to check out their website Beyond Extreme Energy dot org, really works with groups all over the country trying to stop these pipelines.
MF: Right. And this was the eighth court decision against Dominion Energy on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and there are more lawsuits coming. So really, congratulations to those of you fighting the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. You’re doing excellent work and it’s having an impact. You brought up BXE, Beyond Extreme Energy, and Beyond Extreme Energy has had a big target of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which approves all of the oil and gas infrastructure in the United States. And in fact, it does approve them because that’s where it gets all its funding from is from the fees for the permits for these projects.
KZ: That’s right, the FERC does not get tax dollars. It gets paid for by the oil and gas industry, the application fees, the permits. That’s how they make their money. And so approving infrastructure means more money for FERC.
MF: And it’s a revolving door where people that work in the FERC come out of the industry and vice versa. But Beyond Extreme Energy has been targeting them now since 2014 in a very focused way and has actually been able to start making some changes there in terms of looking more at environmental impacts of projects, starting to consider the impact of these projects on climate change, but the Trump Administration is now working to undo all of that progress with their new proposal that would undermine NEPA, the National Environmental Policy Act, which turned 50 years old this month.
KZ: That’s right. NEPA requires Environmental Impact Statements for some projects, for most projects, and Environmental Assessments, a little bit less form of an EIS, for other projects and the Trump Administration is trying to say that these EIS’s, these environmental reviews don’t need to consider the cumulative impact of climate of the project. This was a big fight. You mentioned the FERC. This was exactly the fight that BXE was fighting and they were beginning to win, requiring these infrastructure projects to look at the climate impact, the cumulative climate impact of the project and Trump is trying to change that. Now I gotta say, NEPA is a great law, but it’s also a weak law because all you’re requiring people do is an EIS or environmental assessment. Once that’s done, they can rule, look at oh, yeah, we measured the environment now we’re going to go ahead with the project. Then you have a lawsuit: did they do the the environmental assessment right? And so you have a fight about it, but now it even this act which should be strengthened is actually getting weakened.
MF: Right and we know from our own experience in Maryland that that system with the FERC is not working. When Dominion Energy built a fracked gas export terminal, refinery and export terminal in Maryland, the first one on the east coast…
KZ: That’s right, in Cove Point, Maryland.
MF: They straight out lied to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on their application. They left out 90% of the population. They didn’t show that actually they were building this facility in a densely-populated area that if there was any bad event at this refinery, which happens we’ve seen them all the time the explosions and fires, the refinery is on this peninsula meaning that hundreds of people would be trapped and wouldn’t be able able to evacuate without having to drive actually towards the facility.
KZ: They actually defined this as a rural area when it’s actually a pretty intensely-populated suburban area. Normally there’s a multi-mile buffer between these kinds of terminals and the community. In this case there is a two-lane rural small road that’s between the fracked gas export terminal and people living right across the street.
MF: I want to let folks know that this proposal is open for public comments right now and public comments do make a difference. And so we urge you to consider submitting a public comment against these changes to the NEPA rule.
KZ: Let me just say something about public comments and why they’re important. I mean, it’s, some people see it as just a kind of a bureaucratic step. But in fact in administrative proceedings, public comments are equivalent to the trial evidence because these kinds of decisions go to the DC Court of Appeals. They don’t take witnesses, but they look at the record and the record is the public comments. And so people write really smart detailed public comments that make a case. This becomes the record that the Court of Appeals reviews and so public comments are important. Quantity is important, but quality is also important. So if you are interested in this issue, make a public comments that can be used by the lawyers. This will be challenged.
MF: Let’s talk about what’s happening in Bolivia. The harsh right-wing coup president Jeanine Añez continues this brutal bloody crackdown on the people of Bolivia arresting media people and health professionals who are defying the government by providing services to people who have been injured in the protests. This violates international law, as a health professional you cannot deny care to someone even in a war health professionals are allowed to take care of whoever comes to them whichever side they’re on.
KZ: That’s exactly true. And this has to be looked at as part of the build-up to the May third election, intimidating the public by threatening, arresting, even torturing journalists, by arresting doctors. When it comes to this election, there’s going to be violence and they don’t want the people who oppose the coup government getting medical care. In fact, they kicked out the 700 Cuban doctors who are a backbone of the Bolivian health system. So this is part of the build-up to that May election. And so it really is an indication we’re not going to get a fair election in Bolivia.
MF: Well, they’ve shut down media outlets in Bolivia and the USAID sent a team to Bolivia to quote-unquote strengthen the elections what this means is exactly what you’re talking about. Most likely it won’t be a fair election something maybe like we’ve seen in Honduras. They’re trying to purge the rolls of indigenous voters. The indigenous community overwhelmingly supported Evo Morales, the first indigenous president, and they’re also and this is something that the USAID has done in other countries, they’re also trying to buy off the leaders of the MAS Party or Movement Towards Socialism Party.
KZ: Yes, when the USAID says they’re going to strengthen elections, it means the opposite. They’re going to rig the election and they’re being joined by the Organization of American States, which is also controlled by the United States and has been a very very major player in Honduras and other coup elections. These are all signs that this is going to be a rigged election. Now the opposition is divided. And so that’s a plus for the MAS Party, the Evo Morales’ party. But if you have a rigged election where they use terrorism and violence and restrict voter registration, stop media from covering it, don’t allow truly independent international observers to come in, then you can really create a fake democracy. And this election really is designed, is being designed by the coup plotters to put a false imprimatur of democracy on a coup government and that’s what this is really about. The international community needs to be aware of this. People need to be aware of it because it’s going to take mass attention to get a fair election in Bolivia.
MF: There’s going to need to be a lot of eyes down there to document what goes on. Another ominous sign is that the head of the electoral tribunal there, Salvador Romero, is actually connected to the US State Department and USAID.
KZ: You can look up on Wikileaks his name or look up Bolivia, you’ll find him reported working with the US government closely to undermine Evo Morales’ government in Bolivia.
MF: And the US was behind this coup in Bolivia. Just as we’ve been behind many coups. Let’s talk about Venezuela. Elliott Abrams admitted recently at a press conference that when he was asked well how much money is USAID spending in Venezuela and what are they spending it on? He said well, I don’t know the final final number. We know that it’s in the tens of millions, around 40 million or so dollars. He did say that it was being spent on media…
KZ: Also known as propaganda.
MF: Yes, and on the National Assembly. So we have to wonder…
KZ: Why are we giving humanitarian aid? Those wealthy National Assembly members need humanitarian aid?
MF: I think people need to stop for a second and think about that. Why is USAID purportedly an aid organization spending money on the National Assembly? Well, we know exactly why because the US was trying to make it so that Juan Guaido, the previous president of the National Assembly, won election again, even though the National Assembly traditionally has changed the head every year.
KZ: And he actually lost the election and it was essentially the Juan Guaido at his most tragic comedy lowest. He was allowed to come into the meeting but he decided not to. Instead he created a show of climbing the fence rather than going in the front door. He didn’t want to go in because he knew he didn’t have the votes. So he wanted to undermine the legitimacy of the National Assembly election.
MF: And Leonardo Flores has an excellent article originally posted in the Grayzone where he talks about kind of what went on there and how the opposition is divided into a moderate camp and an extreme right-wing camp and they…
KZ: Which camp is Juan Guaido part of?
MF: Juan Guaido is part of the extreme right-wing one. Actually he was leading the protests back in 2014 that were very violent and killed people for supporting the Bolivarian process. But he talked about how actually the moderates and extremists were at fisticuffs inside of the National Assembly. The moderates want dialogue. The extremists just want control. The moderates joined with the Chavista members of the National Assembly and voted in Luis Parra as the new president. The four people that were voted into these new positions, president, two vice presidents and a secretary, are all members of the opposition parties. But what did the US media say about the vote?
KZ: Maduro took over the assembly. They nominate leadership all from the opposition, but Maduro took it over.
MF: Right, just another example of the amazing lies that we hear about Venezuela. There were a hundred and fifty of the hundred and sixty five delegates present. They voted, eighty one of them voted for Luis Parra. Parra is calling for dialogue in the country and actually has been part of the national dialogues that went on through the fall and have actually started to bring stability to Venezuela. Things are improving. Their oil production is improving. The economy is improving and they’re now reaching 7 million families a month with the CLAP program, the food and household goods subsidized program.
KZ: Just to add two final points of the Guaido tragic comedy, after he lost the election in the assembly then he went to an opposition right-wing journalist outlet and held another vote and claimed he won the National Assembly with a hundred votes at the right-wing media…
MF: At El Nacional, right.
KZ: At the right-wing media outlet but that didn’t fly very well with most people. So the next day, he got into the assembly, took the stage and took the oath of office.
MF: With like a few dozen, I think they were more media there than there were actually delegates.
KZ: More media then delegates. It was definitely not a quorum. So he swore himself in just like Guaido swore himself in as a president a year ago. He swore himself in and says he’s going to create an alternative assembly.
MF: He’s a fake president with a fake assembly and a fake Supreme Court that operates out of Miami.
KZ: This is such a comedy and yet the US media portrays it as if it’s real. People in the US media actually called it a coup against Guaido. It’s just like so obscene what we’re told in this country. You know, this is part of the fantasy and you know we’re being prosecuted in a federal court case for our protection of the Venezuelan Embassy
MF: In Washington DC.
KZ: And in that prosecution the government just submitted a motion to say what we can tell the jury. They don’t want the jury know Maduro’s president. They don’t want the jury to know that Guaido is illegitimate and not the president. They don’t want the jury to know that we were in the embassy with the permission of the elected government of Venezuela. You can find out more on Defend Embassy Protectors dot-org. Check it out.
MF: And we’re going on a speaking tour. Let’s talk about Iran. We talked about it a lot last week on our program but information continues to come to light. One of the most recent findings is that the assassination of Soleimani was actually ordered months ago.
KZ: President Trump approved the killing of General Soleimani in June. So this claim that there was an imminent threat and that’s why they assassinated him, the Secretary of Defense Esper said that he saw no evidence of what Trump claimed. He saw no evidence that four embassies were being threatened by Soleimani. That was Trump’s basis for the assassination of Soleimani.
MF: Last week President Trump made his speech about how the US would respond. Fortunately no military attacks, but the US is imposing more sanctions on Iran. But it was interesting how Trump said oh our sophisticated intelligence was able to detect this attack was coming hours in advance so that we could get our troops out of the way. In reality, it was Iran that alerted the US….
KZ: Gave them three hours warning before the attack so the US and Iraq could get people and troops out of the way of the response by Iran. And so this was really Iran protecting human lives, but letting the Trump Administration and the world know that it is capable of sending its ballistic missiles through any air defense the US may have and hitting their targets. One thing that President Trump said was that we don’t need to be in the Middle East anymore, we’re the number one oil and gas producer. That’s a very positive statement. And then for the Iraq Parliament to say US get out.
MF: And Iran is saying that one of their goals is to get the US out of the Middle East.
KZ: And so a lot of pressure and Trump could then live up to a campaign promise and say we’re leaving Iraq and if we leave Iraq you’re leaving Syria too because you need Iraq in order to have the troops in Syria. If that begins, it could be a very positive spiral of the US getting out of the Middle East, which is the number one demand of the peace movement United States.
MF: The base that Iran bombed in its attack was the base where that drone or helicopter came from that assassinated him. So that was you know, there was a direct connection there and even with notice, the United States wasn’t able to stop Iran’s missiles. So, so much for our superiority there. Now, a very sad thing that came out of that whole situation, a very tense time. People in Iran were expecting the US to retaliate against that attack. President Trump had threatened to hit 52 sites in Iran if Iran launched an attack and there was a mixup in communication and a civilian Ukrainian Airline was shot down by the Iranian military. A hundred and seventy-six people who were killed on that flight and Iran owned up to it, a very different response from how the United States acts.
KZ: During the George HW Bush Administration, the first Bush, an Iranian airliner was shot down by a US missile killing 290 people and still the US has not taking responsibility and George HW Bush said I will never apologize for the United States no matter what the facts are and the person who shot the missile was given an award.
MF: Another thing that we want to talk about quickly is we have an article on Popular Resistance, it was written by Federico Pieraccini in Strategic Culture looking at some statements that the Iraqi prime minister Abdul Mahdi made to the Iraqi Parliament about what was happening behind the scenes and how the United States told Iraq that they would only repair the infrastructure that we destroyed in the war if Iraq was willing to give 50% of their oil profits to the United States. Iraq said that wasn’t acceptable. They went to China to make a deal with the Chinese to do those infrastructure projects. Trump then pressured Abdul Mahdi to get out of that China deal or we’re going to make mass protests in your streets and what happens, mass protests. Trump also threatened Abdul Mahdi saying that we’ll have snipers killing you know protesters and state actors, something the US has done in other countries before to cause chaos and confusion. Then voila that starts to happen.
KZ: Well, it’s interesting that Trump would tell the Prime Minister that he would have mass protests in Iraq and have snipers. People were wondering when those Iraq protests were going on, were these real protests? What was really happening? Why are they targeting Iran? The protests really were strange and now we understand from the Prime Minister what really happened. It was a US-inspired protest in order to pressure the Prime Minister and the government of Iraq not to make a deal with the number-one competitor of the United States, China.
MF: and I think we have to look at the protests happening in Iran with a critical eye right now because there are protests, people are upset about the plane being shot down, rightly so, but the United States uses these kinds of opportunities to push things in a direction that the US wants it to go and so it’s weird that these vigils and protests against the shooting down of the plane are now, some of the social media is reporting that the people in the street want the shah to come back.
KZ: It’s like the Hong Kong protesters calling for British colonialism to come back. It’s so obviously a western-inspired message.
MF: That shah was backed by the US was brutal.
KZ: He was not very popular. There was a revolution against him, but there are issues in Iran. They have a very difficult economy. They’re under economic war. They have been since 1979.
MF: Let’s quickly add that our newsletter this week on Popular Resistance is about sanctions. If people want to check that out and learn about why these unilateral coercive measures are economic warfare that the United States is using are illegal and what we can do about them. There’s some days of action coming up. January 25th is an international day of action. No war on Iran. Stop the sanctions. US out of the Middle East. And then March 13th to 15th is another big day of action against these sanctions and unilateral coercive measures.
KZ: A lot to do. Lots of opportunities for impacting the direction of the country. So get involved.
MF: You’re listening to Clearing the FOG, speaking truth to expose the forces of greed with Margaret Flowers.
KZ: And Kevin Zeese.
MF: And now we turn to our guest Jacqueline Luqman. Jacqueline is the editor-in-chief and co-host of Coffee, Current Events and Politics in Luqman Nation. She’s also a host and producer at the Real News Network and a longtime activist in Washington DC. Thank you for taking time to join us, Jacqueline.
Jacqueline Luqman (JL): Thank you all so much for having me.
KZ: This is an important topic. We really are pleased that you’ve been monitoring it and reporting on it already. Can you tell us what Operation Relentless Pursuit is?
JL: Operation Relentless Pursuit is this DOJ, Department of Justice, Federal Law Enforcement initiative that is supposed to be targeted at seven of the country’s quote-unquote most violent cities, the seven cities that are recording or going through levels of violent crime that are higher than the national average. At least that’s how the DOJ is describing it. Right now, they’re targeting this effort at Albuquerque, Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit, Kansas City, Memphis and Milwaukee. And what they claim they are doing is to combine resources of the ATF, Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms Department, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the FBI, US Marshals to provide additional manpower and also seven million dollars to hire more officers at the local level for local law enforcement in these seven cities. So that’s what the Department of Justice under William Barr announced this operation as and it’s interesting that somewhere down in the weeds of this announcement, they announced that this will be just an initial effort. So if in their estimation whatever they do is successful and we don’t know how they intend to measure success, then they will, of course, expand this and unleash it on other cities in the country. And I think I need to just correct myself because I said seven million dollars, but it’s 71 million dollars in federal funding that is going to be shared amongst these seven cities for hiring new officers paying overtime and benefits and federally deputizing Task Force officers. It’s really kind of frightening.
MF: Yeah. It is really frightening and using this kind of military terminology as if the people they’re targeting are enemies and four out of the seven cities are majority-black cities so there’s probably going to be an element of focusing on poor and communities where there are people of color. What do you think about this whole kind of military approach to what the police are doing?
JL: Being someone who lived through the increase in police presence in predominantly black and predominantly poor neighborhoods that were hardest hit by the crack epidemic, I mean, it really terrifies me. It really scares me what is about to happen to the communities that are the targets of this effort. This is not going to be an effort where the federal government is going in to help anybody. The federal government is unleashing federal law enforcement agencies, expanding the reach of several federal agencies, merging them pretty much into one effort, providing material support to already problematic local law enforcement agencies in the these cities and just giving them more hardware, more money and more cover to ramp up abuse of an already abused and marginalized population of black, largely native and largely poor people. And we’ve seen what comes of this. We’ve seen that it just feeds into the surge in mass incarceration of those groups of people. It continues to perpetuate the destabilization of communities. It rips families apart. It criminalizes low-level nonviolent activity among people who are really just trying to survive in a society that’s already decided that it’s not going to invest any resources to provide jobs, decent housing, equitably funded and quality education, health care that people need including substance abuse and other community resources that people need and that this government full well knows are required to support a stable and thriving community. The government doesn’t want to provide funds for those things, but it can surge 71 million dollars to hire more cops and to pay overtime, you know, to basically to terrorize these communities because that’s what I’m very afraid is going to happen.
KZ: I’ve worked in this area of mass incarceration, racially unfair policing, the drug war since 1980 when I got out of law school and it has been a major focus – I’ve seen this happen over and over again. It’s an election-year gimmick really that you’ve seen in the Reagan Era, under the first Bush, under Clinton, this increased spending for increased enforcement leading to mass arrests, leading to mass incarceration, leading to dividing families in those communities that they target and live in. Coming at this from Baltimore, I know, you know Baltimore too because Real News who you are on is based here and looking at it from a Baltimore perspective, we have the East and West Baltimore neighborhoods, which we call the Black Butterfly neighborhoods, and these are neglected for multiple generations, neglected as far as good schools, jobs and…
MF: Shutting down recreation centers.
KZ: Basics Transportation, everything but they are militarized. I know you’re active with the Black Alliance for Peace and one of the concerns BAP puts out is essentially bringing militarization home. And so what you’re concerned about is proven by the history of these kinds of programs. If you were able to be in charge of how to confront these neighborhoods that have been neglected and the crime in those neighborhoods, what would be a more approach that you would recommend as opposed to this law enforcement approach?
JL: I mean the interesting thing about this whole issue of crime in these predominantly black neighborhoods is that unfortunately some people feel like they need more police because people are afraid, right, people are legitimately afraid from some of the criminal element in these neighborhoods. And I don’t want to dismiss the fact that yes, there is a problem with crime in some of these neighborhoods. But history itself shows us, like I said before, that we know what reduces crime. First, I would say that crime exists in every neighborhood. So if the federal government is going to surge resources to combat violent crime in most of these cities that are predominantly black, four out of the seven are predominantly black neighborhoods, then I would counter with okay, so where are the federal resources that are being surged to combat human trafficking of sex slaves that are being imported from places in Asia and Europe? There’s no massive rollout of a surge of law enforcement and resources to combat that. There is no surge against communities where white-collar crime, identity theft, you know insider trading but those crimes are not seen as you know dangerous to the fabric of society. But again history has shown us that decent-paying jobs that people can support their families on, quality housing, access to healthcare, quality education that prepares children to be able to participate in society so they can get a job, those things combat crime because why do people largely commit crime because they have to feed themselves and they can’t find a way, a legitimate way to make money. Crime is largely about commerce. It’s the black market commerce. And a lot of this crime is driven by illicit drug sales. So one of the things that I would absolutely do other than to provide the other things we talked about is to legalize a lot of the drugs that are sold on the street because if you take the criminal element out of the drug trade, then you reduce crime. Other cities are looking at taking that approach. If you look at Chicago and Illinois in general, they are pursuing a pretty robust effort to not only legalize marijuana, but also to ensure that the people who were previously criminalized through illegal marijuana sales are able to now benefit from the legal sale of marijuana by making sure that people in the communities hardest hit by the war on drugs are able to get licenses to open up their own dispensaries. So I mean there are some pretty common-sense responses. Provide people jobs. Stop taking people’s homes. Make sure that people have affordable places to live. Increase the number of actually truly affordable housing in areas, provide some type of tax benefit for working people so that they can keep their homes. Definitely invest in public schools. Provide resources and programs for kids and recreation centers. Restore the recreation centers that were closed especially in places, like Baltimore. Provide mental health, subsidized mental health treatment and substance abuse treatment for people who need it. Do those things, crime will go down. It’s been proven. And then also pursue legalization or at least the decriminalization of nonviolent drug offenses and expunge people’s records so that they can get jobs even if they have been convicted of a crime because we know in this society we continue to punish people who have been convicted of crimes even after they’ve served their sentence by punishing them because they have a criminal conviction on their record.
MF: Yeah. It’s all like such common sense, right? Provide, you know, opportunities for people and the basic things that they need and you’ll see a significant reduction in violent crime and property crime. Baltimore spends three times as much money on police as they do on the health department and twice as much as they spend on education. So it just shows you where the priorities are. I want to get into the, what you raised about drug legalization because I know that’s really important and I think Kevin can comment on that but before we get to that I just wanted to comment on, you know white-collar crime. You know, since the financial crash in 2008, nobody except a few low-level employees have been held accountable for that crash that devastated the economy and caused so many people to lose their homes, lose their pensions and their savings. If you look at the, you know, kind of structural policies that are discriminatory towards black and brown people and that are partly responsible for the wealth divide that we see, the severe wealth divide between white people and black and brown people, you know, you’ve got landlords that are, you know, just getting away with charging high amounts of money for apartments that they don’t maintain. Other kinds of fraud, you know that goes on and we don’t see the police prioritizing that right now.
KZ: Yeah, and you have the history of finance client crimes like in Baltimore redlining.
MF: Right, exactly.
KZ: That started in Baltimore. You know, keeping black people in certain communities and not letting them come in and then the police are used as a militarizes force to enforce those boundaries.
MF: Right, for our listeners just quickly, redlining as where the banks literally drew lines around certain neighborhoods and would not give mortgages to black people for certain neighborhoods in Baltimore City. So basically confining them as you said to this kind of hyper segregated areas.
JL: Yeah, I mean and it’s interesting that most of the people who live in the mostly poor neighborhoods in Baltimore and in other cities like that are renters. Right they are renting their homes from someone else and most of those landlords are largely absent. They don’t live in the city and it’s hard to find out who those property owners are but the property owner who’s an absent landlord and who’s usually a slumlord actually gets all these tax benefits and tax breaks that make them money, additional money on top of the rent that they make, from owning these properties, but the people who live in the properties who pay their rent every month who also usually have to pay utilities, they don’t get any kind of tax benefit or any other benefit other than they’re not homeless for paying their rent every month and that is incredibly unfair. And it is a system that outside of redlining also still benefits a particular class of people and who are largely non-black people in this country across this country. Baltimore is a particularly saturated example of that but so is Washington DC and a lot of cities that have a high concentration of poor and black people in this country. So there are some kinds of real estate and investment focused problems that are modern in nature that have happened since redlining has been committed that continue to exacerbate this problem where there is a small group of rich mostly white people who are benefiting from holding a bunch of largely poor black people hostage in these neighborhoods that they’re paying their rent to live in these places, but they’re getting no benefits from the rent they’re paying. They’re not getting any benefits from their taxes. They’re not getting any benefit from their money going into the public schools to provide a decent education for their kids. They’re not getting support from the police because the police see them as the enemy largely and they treat them that way so they don’t get a lot of respect from the police and they get no respect from the elected officials who may come around their neighborhoods every once in a while every 4 or 2 years to take pictures and to make some promises but no one ever goes after the people who are literally taking advantage of these people every month because they need a place to live. That’s another one of those issues that people don’t think about when they think about crime and white-collar crime and the crime that’s committed in these same neighborhoods that actually is a very large contributor to one of the problems that people in these neighborhoods face.
MF: Oh absolutely and I think a big part of the racial wealth divide is the difference in home ownership because for most people their homes are their major asset and that’s something that they build equity in and pass on to their children. And then that’s the huge source of wealth for the children.
KZ: And the crash under Bush and Obama, Obama’s response to the crash didn’t stop this massive transfer of wealth from poor mostly black and brown communities, people who lost their homes in foreclosure that instead they bailed out the banks who caused the problem and so it just keeps on repeating itself over and over again. I want to talk a little about the the drug war aspect to this. I just saw last week Atlanta announced its going to disband its Drug Squad and focus on real crimes, especially violent crimes. That’s a major change. I mean a number of cities you mentioned, Chicago, the San Francisco DA that was just elected, the district attorney out there has announced he’s going to be putting forward a very different program than when Kamala Harris was DA. And the Philadelphia DA has stopped arresting marijuana offenders as has New York, so there is a big transition. But Atlanta is saying we need to focus on violent crime and in Baltimore, you keep mentioning Baltimore, we’re down to a 30% solving murders, down to thirty percent. Nationwide, it’s 50%. Back in 1965, the clearance for homicides was 90%. Now today with all this new technology with cameras everywhere in these neighborhoods, you know, we’re down to 30 to 50% depending on the city in clearing murders. You know, a lot of that could be attributed to the drug war. And that’s why Atlanta’s decision is so interesting because the drug war essentially moves police to focus on the much easier enforcement of street drug sales and that usually means poor communities because in the wealthy communities the white students in white the communities do it in their college dorm, or they do it inside their homes. In the poorer communities, people do it on the street. And so it’s much easier for police to make those arrests. And it leads to police corruption. It leads to violations of people’s rights against search and seizure, use of informants. There’s so many aspects for you know of drug enforcement that really are undermining the quality of policing and are taking police resources. And while we’re not solving murders, rapes, robberies, burglaries, a low solution to all those crimes because police are not focused on them. What do you think about this idea from Atlanta to disband the drug unit?
JL: I think that is a critical step toward, you know, solving actual violent crimes. I mean drug use in this country, well drug use anywhere is not about criminality, drug use is not about criminality, drug sales really are not about criminality. People use and buy drugs, aside from recreationally, people who are addicted to drugs use drugs to escape a reality that they can’t deal with. Nobody wakes up and decides I’m going to be an addict or I’m going to be a drug dealer. That’s not how that works. Drug trafficking, drug sales, especially at the low level and I won’t even say trafficking, drug sales at the low street level is an act of economic desperation. And if you want to call it a crime, okay fine. It’s a crime of opportunity. It really is a crime of this is all I have left to do in order to make the money that I need to survive. So, I think police departments as much as they can really need to get out of the business of the war on drugs because as Atlanta I think obviously has seen it’s not a business that’s been good for them because it’s a business that never ends. And as the economy continues to go downhill regardless of what this administration says about having the lowest unemployment among African-Americans that we’ve ever seen, unemployment among black people is still twice as high as the national average and that is because there are no jobs in neighborhoods where poor black people live. That’s why poor black people exist. And that’s a manufactured condition. When you factor in the unemployment, the lack of job opportunities, the lack of infrastructure to get people to jobs that might exist somewhere not close to where they live, the lack of educational opportunities, the lack of healthcare, people are despondent and depressed and sometimes a substance to take someone out of their really difficult reality, is all that people have. That’s a societal and a mental health issue. That’s not a criminal issue. And I think some police departments are recognizing that and they are wisely focusing on dealing with actual crimes. The problem is that the societal and the mental health issue is still left unaddressed, but the police can’t do that. That’s not their job. And as much as I am for community control over the police rather than giving the police more responsibilities because I don’t want the police to be responsible for looking out for people’s mental health or societal issues. I do respect police departments that recognize what they can’t continue to do is punish and criminalize people for problems that are not actually criminal. So what now has to happen in places like Atlanta and other jurisdictions that hopefully follow their lead, is that the local and the state and the federal response has to be toward addressing the societal and the mental health issues because it was the government and elected officials and policy that created those issues that led to those societal problems. The issues that predominantly poor, black and native communities face, that was done to us. Those were not things that we did. So somebody needs to step in and address those issues and it’s not the cops.
KZ: And it’s been seen for so long, you go back to the Kerner Commission back in the 1960s yjat talked about the need for investment in inner-city neighborhoods. And it’s gotten worse rather than better. Rather than taking the advice of Kerner, we fought the Vietnam war and that absorbed the resources rather than putting money into our urban areas. On the drug issue, I think you’re making some great points and I just wanted to throw out to our listeners some ideas that cities should be considering. In addition to police not being able to solve the health and social problem of drug use, drug addiction and drug trafficking, those are economic and social issues, only law enforcement because they’re, we have chosen to use laws to combat a health and social issues. We need to put in place policies that confront the drug issue and a lot of the things that you talked about. But I’d also add some specifics on drug policy. Harm reduction, the goal of reducing harm from drug use, reducing overdose deaths, reducing the spread of disease. Programs like needle exchange, which have finally gotten more widespread in urban areas after many years of effort, programs like allow a public space where there’s a health professional observing people using their drugs to prevent overdose, to prevent spread of disease. We need to even start to go toward what’s known in Switzerland as heroin-assisted treatment. It started out as legal heroin. People who are addicted to heroin and who had failed on methadone, had failed on drug treatment, they wanted heroin. They were allowed to go to a government-controlled space, buy heroin at a legal price, which is about 10% of the illegal price, buy heroin, use it at the site and be put in touch with various counseling for education, housing, the social services, housing, jobs. I mean, you know, so it was a wraparound program and what they found that made it move from legal heroin to heroin-assisted treatment was not only was there a tremendous reduction in crime. I mean tremendous reduction in crime, tremendous reduction in prostitution, tremendous reduction in trafficking and dealing because many people who sell drugs do it to support their own drug use. If you can buy heroin at a legal price, you don’t have to sell and so that reduces trafficking, so all those positive. But the big surprise was about a year into the program the people who were part of this program got tired of using heroin and they wanted to stop using heroin. They had been able to put back their life together because they had gotten social services, education services, housing. They had rebuilt relationships with family and friends. Their lives were coming. They didn’t need the crutch of heroin anymore and heroin became a burden for them because they didn’t need to escape the pain of life. They were actually starting to fulfill their lives. And so people a year into the program who are getting legal heroin were choosing not to want it. So there’s a lot we could learn in addition to the police not solving the problem, there are health and social programs that can. So I just urge people to think about in addition to the police, we should talk about community control of police but in addition to policing the issue is what do you put in its place.
JL: Exactly, just last week, I think, I did an interview with Brandon Walker who is an organizer with Ujima People’s Progress Party, there in Baltimore, about the surge but we also talked about how Baltimore in particular is now one of the most surveilled cities in the United States with this pilot program that is going to have drones surveil the city in order to combat crime. So, you know, even this Federal initiative from the DOJ, it’s really not new because cities across the country have been trying these what they call innovative measures to combat crime and what they really end up doing is catching a lot of people in you know, low-level street drug sales and criminalizing people really because they are suffering because of the economic sanctions that have been placed on them and their communities by this government. So it is an ongoing battle for marginalized communities in this country to combat the marginalization that always finds a way to especially in this capitalist society, always finds a way to not just maintain itself the marginalization and the oppression but to kind of metastasize and grow into these different and new ways to continue to keep people who have already been pushed onto the margins in the margins. So issues that these communities are starting to take up like community control over the police are very important to people in these communities reconnecting with their revolutionary spirit, but also very important in them advocating for themselves against that system of oppression where people recognize that not only does the police department not serve them but is also the law enforcement arm of the oppressive system. So communities are now saying instead of this system imposing upon us who polices us we should control who is hired, fired and how discipline for offenses against the community are handled. Community members should control the police departments in our communities. That’s not something that the city council should do and it’s certainly not something that police unions and the police departments should be control over, the community should be control over who polices them and organizations like Ujima People’s Progress Party in Baltimore are focusing on that and other efforts as well as organizations like Black Alliance For Peace, nationally, I know Pan African Community Action is focusing on that here in DC and I bet you in every city that this Operation Relentless Pursuit is about to be unleashed in, I bet you every city has an organization like it that’s focusing on something like community control over the police. Nationally, there is the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repressionthat was just relaunched and control over the police is a focus of their national campaign. So this is a very important step in communities that have been marginalized through government policy and police abuse to advocate for control of one aspect of that equation that we are really starting to I shouldn’t say focus on because I believe it’s a refocus because this is something that black organizations and radical organizations have been demanding for decades. But it’s especially important now that we have another push from the federal government to reassert a military-like control of law enforcement in these communities.
KZ: I was at that conference you mentioned by the way. Community control of policing is an essential issue. I want people to understand this is not community policing. This is community control of policing. Chicago is the most advanced on this. We’ve covered this on Popular Resistance dot-org. You can read about it there. But there’s a detailed plan for this and Chicago is very advanced. There is an incredible movement that’s working for years out there and we can all learn from.
MF: So yeah, and I just have to say I agree so strongly well with everything that you’ve said Jacqueline, but when you were speaking about community control of police and you talked earlier about the stress that people go through and here in Baltimore, you know our police train with the Israeli Defense Forces. They use those techniques. They literally occupy neighborhoods. They have their police cars parked there with their lights flashing all the time watching people and I remember an evening we had in Palestine in the village of Nabi Saleh where we were talking with Palestinian activists there and they were talking about the whole idea of being a victim versus being someone who has agency, who takes action to change things and how you know, when you’re a victim you feel stressed by that, you feel like you have no control and that’s how you know, this occupation kind of makes people feel like you’re just being watched all the time, anything you do could be the wrong thing could lead to trouble but if you actually have control over that situation, if you have agency, that’s a huge stress reducer for people and that in itself would have positive impacts on health. It feels like so much what we’re doing in this country is counterproductive and I’m glad that you’re bringing some sanity to what we should be doing instead.
JL: Well, I appreciate that. I’m not sure if I’m bringing sanity to it, but I know that I am fascinated and honestly, I’m honored and just always in awe at the tireless work that a lot of people that I come in contact with are doing on so many different fronts because it does seem daunting. We have the same issues here in DC with the police. The Metropolitan Police Department is trained by the IDF also in Israel, and they do the same tactics. I will walk out of my house right now and go up the street and I guarantee you there are at least two police cars from two jurisdictions posted up on opposite corners of one street, and if I go to the other end of the street, it’ll be the same thing. So it’s against that backdrop that there are those of us in these communities who are so incredibly defiant because we know that we have to keep fighting on so many different fronts for a lot of our people who are just tired and beaten down, but we cannot give up. So I hope that the work that I do when to talk to people on the Real News or talk about these issues on By Any Means Necessary or you know on our own platform when I talk to you guys, I hope that when people hear it if they were tired, they’re at least encouraged to try one more time. If that’s what comes from anything I say and anything I do, then as far as I’m concerned I’ve won.
KZ: Exactly, so where can we? Obviously you can be heard on the Real News where you have a regular show. Where else can people catch your work?
JL: My husband and I have our platform on Facebook and YouTube. It’s Coffee, Current Events and Politics in Luqman Nation and we’re usually live every Sunday night at 7 p.m. And then I’m also on By Any Means Necessary on Sputnik Radio every weekday from 2 to 4 p.m. You can listen live to Sputnik Radio on the website SputnikNews.com, but you can also catch us live on Facebook at Sputnik on Facebook every day from 3:00 to 4:00. I’m also a member of Black Alliance For Peace, Pan-African Community Action and anywhere else that I can talk about these issues.
MF: Thank you so much for everything that you’re doing and thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to speak to us today.
JL: Thank you so much for having me.