BOTH SIDES NOW : Shift From 'Tough' to 'Smart' on Crime After Holder & Scheindlin?

By Mark Green

For decades pols pushed a "tough on crime" agenda that swelled prisons and angered communities of color. Shrum & Cosby debate last week's breakthrough decisions on drugs and frisks as Bloomberg throws both a dart and a fit.


Author/speechwriter Bob Shrum and WOR710 author/host Rita Cosby debate Holder's new policy on drug prosecutions and Judge Scheindlin's decision declaring stop-frisk unconstitutional as enforced in NYC. But these same-day judgments did not occur in a vacuum: from Michelle Alexander's best-selling The New Jim Crow to Eugene Jarecki's The House I Live In (and Adrian Grenier's How to Make Money from Selling Drugs and Netflix's hit Orange is the New Black) -- and Gov. Jerry Brown having to release 10,000 inmates because Attorney General Jerry Brown was so enthusiastic for three-strikes-and-you're out -- the issues of race and justice are now hitting critical mass.

*On Holder and Drug Prosecutions. Thoughts on AG Eric Holder's new rules for his 93 U. S. Attorneys about how to prosecute first-time, low-level drug offenders?

Shrum strongly agrees with fewer prosecutions and more treatment and alternatives to incarceration because of fiscal pressure on the states -- "it costs more to house a prisoner in California than send him to Harvard!" He sees Holder in the tradition of Bill Buckley and Milton Friedman who called for the legalization of soft drugs years ago... and Nixon's war on drugs has proven to be as big a failure as his war in Vietnam."

The Host notes the collaboration of the ACLU and "Right-on-Crime" to reduce the cost of mass incarceration but Rita will have none of it. "Holder's been vague about whether his policy could include small amounts of heroin and large amounts of marijuana if not connected to cartels or gangs." Ok, assume that he would, as is likely, prosecute such kinds and amounts of drugs. She responds: "You've got to be careful that you're not implicitly condoning this behavior by only slapping people on the wrist... and I think that this administration is politically pandering to it base."

Does either agree with Charles Krauthammer who concludes that Holder is acting in an "illegal and shocking way" by simply ignoring the letter of the law, as Obama is allegedly doing in delaying implementation of one aspect of Obamacare? Shrum thinks that the decision not to go after people selling small amounts of non-hard drugs is entirely consistent with the "prosecutorial discretion" that all prosecutors possess. In any event, adds Bob, Charles always hammers Obama no matter what his administration does or says. (On the other hand, Stephan Colbert seems to like a policy that "treats all suspects like white college students.")

*On Bloomberg and Racial Profiling. Why did Bloomberg act as if a federal judge had stopped and frisked him in a ruling last week? Rita, again, eagerly referring to "Giuliani's well known tough-on-crime" positions, says that stop-frisks have helped reduce the murder rate by 80 percent since 1990. Bloomberg is only trying to seize guns from people who are walking in high crime neighborhoods. Shrum replies that crime started coming down when Mayor Dinkins started hiring more cops and that Giuliani did not have a stop-frisk program. Also: "it was breathtakingly arrogant to personalize the federal decision by saying that cops would die as a result" of the judge.

Host: Indeed, Bloomberg's rebuttal is an example of rooster-dawn thinking since there's no serious data linking stops and murders -- e.g., the number of stops has fallen from 800,000 down to an annualized 500,000 yet crime has continued uninterrupted its decline. And even if profiling young minority men reduced crime, so would chopping off hands but we don't do that. How can 40 years behind bars be defended for a young mother carrying a few grams of crack cocaine?

Nor has the Mayor offered any serious constitutional arguments against the judge's ruling that his program violated both the 4th and 14th amendments.

*On NSA/Obama/Snowden III. We listen to Obama saying, accurately though defensively, that he had ordered a review of the NSA metadata program before Snowden's leaks. Should we mend or end these programs?

Says Bob: If the "needle in the haystack is stopping even one 9/11 that could transform the country and the world, it's worth it." He adds that we should allow adversarial pre-warrant proceedings in FISA courts and be more transparent to congressional intelligence committees but also concludes that Snowden put American lives at risk and hurt our relations with allies.

Rita adds that keeping such information in private telecommunications firms rather than the NSA would just add another layer of bureaucracy in case of a crisis. She doesn't like the inconvenience of lines at TSA metal detectors but urges that we err on the side of security in all matters dealing with potential terrorism. (Which is not cost-free. Ted Koppel last week wrote a WSJ piece about how much it harmed America when our leaders overreact to all acts or threats of terrorism (see Iraq and Afghanistan.)

*Quick Takes: Three issues produce a beyond left-right consensus.

First, is it illegal or unethical for an employer to fire an attractive long-time female assistant because he worried about having an affair with her? An Iowa court upheld the right of a dentist to do this. Our panel is unsure what the law should do but agree that it's ethically wrong for an employer to hire or then fire anyone because of looks alone.

Second, pick-your-poison? They agree that the President has no good choices in Egypt now that there's a Tiananmen Square-level confrontation between the Military and Muslim Brotherhood. Reading between the lines, however, neither seems willing to break just now with the un-elected brutal military government because of larger security issues with Iran, Israel and terrorism.

Third, there is no support for a complete boycott or shift of the 2014 Winter Olympics because of a new Russian law that encourages violence against the LGBT community. Shrum sees the best revenge like in 1936 when Jesse Owens went to the Summer Olympics and won gold, infuriating Hitler.