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March 4, 2007


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 me.

March 4 , 2007

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 drugs” and 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 on.

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?

David Soares, Albany County District Attorney

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 you.

David Soares, Albany County District Attorney

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 John Burke:

"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 to operate?

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 minorities?

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 it end.

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 you?

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 magically disappear.

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.

David Soares, Albany County District Attorney

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 20 counties.

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.

 David Soares, Albany County District Attorney

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?

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