Saturday Mailbox


November 01, 2003

Wars on terror, drugs damage civil liberties

Gregory Kane's assertion that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has given short shrift to the civil liberties threats of the war on drugs, relative to the excesses of the war on terrorism, is puzzling and untrue ("Drug war, not the Patriot Act, infringes on our freedoms," Oct. 22).

In addition to lobbying for more rehabilitation and less punitive federal drug sentencing in Washington and the states, the ACLU maintains an in-house Drug Policy Litigation Project in New Haven, Conn., which has been behind some of the most groundbreaking cases in the fight to reinsert norms of due process and equality in the enforcement of our nation's drug laws.

But what's more troubling about Mr. Kane's column is his argument that the Patriot Act and related security measures enacted since Sept. 11 have had a negligible impact on constitutional rights. In reality, the Patriot Act, like many of our draconian drug laws, undermines rights protected by the First, Fourth, Fifth and Eighth Amendments, among other rights.

The federal government's approach to the war on drugs and the war on terrorism treats the Constitution not as guidance for fair prosecution and punishment but as an obstacle to be circumvented whenever possible. Likewise, these "wars" are an assault on the independence of judges.

Even more puzzling is Mr. Kane's dig at the ACLU's position on the Second Amendment. As a gun rights supporter, he should be aware that sections of the Patriot Act that permit no-notice searches and broad access to business records could be used by a future administration to go after gun owners if they remain on the books.

The war on drugs and the war on terrorism are polices that stem from the same flawed premise: that if we abandon civil liberties in the quest for safety, we will rid ourselves of crime and terrorism.

But excessive measures that disregard the Constitution only make us disrespect the rule of law -- sadly, just like the drug cartels and terrorist cells we are battling.

Laura W. Murphy


The writer is director of the ACLU's Washington Legislative Office.

Act now to keep blacks out of jail

I read with interest the article on the overwhelming numbers of people of African ancestry "caught up" in the criminal justice system ("Blacks imprisoned disproportionately in Md., study says," Oct. 23).

Anyone who lives in this city, state or country should not have been surprised by this finding. What is surprising is the number of legislators who appear aghast at the findings. These same legislators have the wherewithal to correct these inequities.

The first step would be to cease arresting individuals sick from the disease of addiction. Why not send them to treatment rather than to prison, where they get no assistance?

The second step would be to ensure that we address this issue holistically. Why clean up an addict if he or she has no marketable skills and cannot read or write? Let's craft programs that can succeed.

And let's put some preventive measures in place. Let's properly fund schools, ensuring that all youngsters, black and white, have a fair shot.

Finally, if all else fails and we find it necessary to incarcerate individuals, we need to offer them hope. Simple low-cost measures such as literacy, GED and job training programs must be offered to ensure that offenders do not re-offend.

Let's not wait for another study; we don't have time. We have lost one generation. Are we going for two?

Jacquiline B. Johnson


Chimes gets clients access to services

In "Disclosure at Chimes puts donors in the dark" (Oct. 22), Jay Hancock presented a perception of nonprofit agencies that doesn't serve readers with disabilities well.

Mr. Hancock's article contained allegations of nonprofit greed and deception. But there is a government agency that decides whether nonprofit agencies such as the Chimes fail to disclose or mislead their donors; this agency is the Internal Revenue Service.

Mr. Hancock admits that the Chimes is "a highly respected, Baltimore-based non-profit group." Its customers will also tell you that it is a first-class agency that provides the support they need to live, work and excel in the community, outside of state institutions.

Finally, readers with disabilities, their families and those who care about them would tell The Sun that terms such as "the disabled" and "the retarded" are simply wrong.

This language continues to reinforce the stigmas, prejudices and attitudinal barriers that people with disabilities have been trying to dispel for centuries.

On behalf of all people with disabilities, please refer to us as people first.

C. David Ward


The writer is chairman of the Maryland Disabilities Forum.

Study excludes most heart-attack patients

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