A weblog about the politics and affairs of the old
and glorious City of Albany, New York, USA. Articles written and
disseminated from Albany's beautiful and historic South End by Daniel
Van Riper. If you wish to make a response, have anything to add
or would like to make an empty threat, please contact
David Soares And The Old Boys
The DA upsets the apple cart by following the law to the letter
Albany County District Attorney David Soares roared into office
by an overwhelming electoral margin . . . twice in one electoral
season. He managed this by presenting himself as a no-nonsense
tough guy who believed in enforcing the letter of the law, while
at the same time pointedly
criticizing the failed “war on
the ridiculous Rockefeller Drug Laws that have packed our prisons
with nonviolent offenders.
He pulled off this seeming contradiction by the best possible
way: he meant every word that he said. In his time as DA he has
proven decisively that these were not campaign poses. He really
is a tough guy who enforces the law and he really continues to
demand reform of bad law.
Naturally, he seems to spend as much time battling the local old
boy network as he does prosecuting criminals. Politicians, police
management, and of course the corporate media bosses and their
content providers take
every opportunity to fling mud at the man. But time and again the DA brushes off their filth and soldiers
Like most people, I was surprised by Mr. Soares’ multi-state
prosecution of steroid distributors that apparently originated
in Albany County. My initial reaction was to wonder why the hell
he was doing this. Was this grandstanding, a career move?
Perhaps. But there’s more than mere political showmanship
here. From everything I’ve seen and heard of the man, he
strongly believes in equal application of all categories of the
law. As DA he is doing exactly what he said he’d do when
he campaigned for office.
The Hearst Times Union partially recorded the DA’s clear
and precise justification for the raid delivered at the airport
out in Colonie, enough to get the idea:
The district attorney didn't pull punches in response
to police criticism. "They can do a street-level rip, never focusing
on anything other than the guy they can pick up and make $500 in
overtime," he said.
"My position has not changed," regarding the drug trade,
he said. He wants law enforcement to go after "upper management
and upper distribution channels."
In other words, an illegal drug is an illegal drug. As far as
District Attorney Soares is concerned, the law is the law and if
you break the law it’s his job to prosecute you. It doesn’t
matter who you are or where you live, he’s coming to get
Almost anybody else would would have sat around with a finger
stuck in a nether orifice and whined that this multi-state steroid
case was outside his/her jurisdiction and nothing could be done.
Instead, Mr. Soares did not do the easy thing and collect standard
accolades. He defied the old boy system with their own laws and
ran up against a crap storm.
Now let’s be open and honest. The underlying unspoken complaint
by the police managers and the “hostile press corps” that “badgered” him
is that he is going after a drug used by nice respectable WHITE
MIDDLE CLASS PEOPLE instead of a drug like crack which is used
by POOR AND BLACK PEOPLE.
The Hearst Times Union article last Friday unintentionally makes
this institutional hypocrisy very clear. Steroids and crack are
both illegal, so what’s the difference? Don’t the cops
and the media think that the law ought to be equally enforced?
If not, then why are these drugs illegal?
Check out this rambling quote from Albany County Sheriff's Detective
"Have we had any wars over turf because of steroids? Have
we had any shootings over steroids?” ...Steroids are "not
a big problem in this county," Burke said. "Is it a
problem for kids in high school? Maybe. Would we take action
if we got a call? Absolutely."
"We have murderers running around, dope dealers on the street,
kids chasing people all over the streets getting shot in Albany,
and he's down in Florida," Burke said.
No disrespect intended, Detective Burke, but why do you suppose
there isn’t a lot of shooting and turf wars over steroids
in Albany County? Could it be because steroid dealers have been
allowed by law enforcement to operate in a virtually free and open
manner? Perhaps the dealers don’t have to shoot each other
for what is basically an unlimited “turf” in which
Another question, Detective Burke, one that I hear people ask
all the time. Why don’t you go after what the DA calls "upper
management and upper distribution channels?"
Why do you confine your law enforcement to selective and occasional
sweeps through poor and minority neighborhoods, picking up hapless
individuals who are more victims than anything else and throwing
them in prison for decades? I’m sure, Detective Burke, with
all your experience, you know much better than I do that this sort
of end-user “enforcement” will never, ever stop the
street level crack trade.
Could it be, perhaps maybe, that the “war on drugs” is
really an endless pointless profitable war against the poor and
There is a widespread belief, an opinion that almost never makes
it into the corporate media, that the police are not allowed to
investigate and arrest the top level distributors. There is also
much justification for the belief that the authorities themselves
are very much part of the drug trade and don’t want to see
Of course, crack cocaine is a nasty drug much more akin to alcohol
than to steroids. It would be more appropriate to compare steroids
to marijuana, another widespread illegal drug that is used by the authoities to deprive
individuals of civil rights and pack the prison industrial complex. Both drugs
have proven medical uses, yet both, like any substance, can cause
harm if used to excess.
But look at legal prescription drugs. I’ve heard that something
like ten percent of the population uses mood enhancers like Prozac,
going about their lives with a hazy buzz. (For the 90 percent who
don’t know, Prozac and other mood enhancers do indeed get
you high. Try them yourself sometime.)
I know a fellow who feels that he has become dependent upon prescription
mood enhancers, an addict. He tried attending Narcotics Anonymous
meetings, but no one there would take him seriously. In fact, they
treated him like an idiot because most of the attendees, he found
out, were using these legal drugs! Last I heard he was trying to
wean himself off the mood enhancers with lowered dosage, a doomed
enterprise in my opinion.
So what’s the big difference between legal and illegal drugs?
The idea is that the authorities want to control what you dose
yourself with. You are not allowed to self-administer your pills,
powders and potions because... well, because.
We the authorities are in charge of your life and we do not think
that you are competent enough to decide what you are doing to yourself.
But unlike you, we are competent. We know how to run your life
better than you do, despite our stupid contradictory laws.
We the authorities can show you proof. Look at the economically
disadvantaged parts of Albany, places like the South End, neighborhoods
deliberately neglected and run down, looted by suburbanites and
corrupt politicians of anything of value and reserved for disenfranchised
minorities and the indigent.
See how a significant number of the people confined to those places, angry, desperate
and without hope, dose themselves numb with high powered substances,
illegal drugs that we the authorities allow to flow unimpeded into
their looted neighborhoods. Look how we chase down and capture
these end-users and throw them in prison.
See what happens when you use drugs. See what happens when you
defy the authorities. You’re a nice, middle class white person.
You don’t want to end up like one of THOSE PEOPLE now, do
I am repeatedly shocked and surprised at how many otherwise intelligent
people sincerely believe that crime and poverty are caused by illegal
drugs. The authorities exploit this strange belief to maintain
their regulatory stranglehold upon our society and our bodies.
And they do their best to keep this illusion alive.
One hundred years ago it was widely believed that most crime and
poverty was caused by alcohol. After this drug was declared illegal
throughout the United States in 1919, whole new categories of crime
arose to meet the demand for the substance. Meanwhile poverty,
which is tied directly to the economics of exploitation, did not
Today the drug alcohol is legal and readily available to anyone
over the age of 21. Alcohol addiction does indeed disrupt lives
and is occasionally a factor in crime, mostly stupid type crimes.
But excessive use of this mind-altering substance is treated mostly
as a health and social problem. That is the only effective way
to deal with substance abuse of any kind.
I know for a fact that Mr. Soares quite sincerely and passionately
believes that currently illegal drugs should be suppressed for
the good of the community. Like many people, I strongly disagree
with his point of view. But admittedly his attitude is very much
a requirement for the job of DA in this day and age. His job is
to uphold the law, such as it is.
As District Attorney Mr. Soares is in a position to apply and
uphold laws in a a manner in which he sees fit. According to suburban
Guilderland defense lawyer Warren Redlich, Mr. Soares is coming
down hard on marijuana possession cases:
Since he took office, low-level marijuana offenders often face
the demand for community service in order to get the ACOD (Adjournment
in Contemplation of Dismissal). For someone who's supposed to be
going easier on low-level drug offenders, this is not what was
expected. His office is being tougher on marijuana than any other
DA's office I know of - and I've handled marijuana cases in roughly
Now, that’s a surprise. What’s the point
of doing that?
It could be that Mr. Soares is trying to force
a change or clarification of marijuana laws by enforcing them
strictly across society. That would be an unconventional method
of making the public and the authorities take action with a problem
that is slowly wrecking our society. By coming down hard on white
suburbanites who run afoul of ridiculous marijuana laws, then perhaps
the outcry for reform will become greater.
But is that a valid way to operate? Does that not turn the subjects
of his prosecutions into victims of his policy? I will tell you
right now, if all of the marijuana users are rounded up and thrown
in prison, then society will come to a standstill.
You see, we the citizens do not exist to serve the law. The law
exists to serve the citizens. If the law runs counter to the wishes
of the citizens, then the law has no right to exist.
I got a chance to express this basic American principle to Mr.
Soares. It was one of my more idiotic run at the mouth moments.
I met Mr. Soares at a reception and fundraiser for him at attorney
Peter Henner’s spread out in Clarksville in July of 2004.
At the time Mr. Soares was a long-shot outsider candidate for District
Attorney considered unlikely to beat the old boy political system
that had an apparently unassailable lock on the elections.
Out on the deck, overlooking Peter’s pond, I expressed the
opinion that the main reason we have such problems with illegal
drugs is that they are illegal. “If they declared toilet
paper illegal,” I told him, “the next thing you know
we’d have the Charmins on one corner in my neighborhood and
the Scotties on the other fighting over turf. And they’d
be selling their product to a steady stream of suburbanite autos
riding into ‘the hood’ to get their fix.”
He didn’t like my opinion.
And then, once again not knowing when it was high time to STFU,
I suggested to the future District Attorney that perhaps maybe
at some point I myself may have had, um, some exposure to, um,
marijuana in the past and that it had not adversely affected me
at all. Hypothetically speaking, that is.
Ooh, you should have seen the look he gave me.
How was I supposed to know he was going to win?