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Hip-Hop Fridays: Mandatory Minimum Drug Laws Challenged By Unprecedented Coalition (June 5, 2003)


Mandatory minimum drug laws throughout the United States face a stronger than ever challenge as a result of a successful rally and mobilization in New York to repeal the Rockefeller Drug Laws.

Defying all odds and inclement weather, Russell Simmons and the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, together with Randy Credico and the Mothers of the NY Disappeared, Andrew Cuomo, Tom Golisano and numerous elected officials successfully mobilized more than 60,000 people to call for the repeal of the Rockefeller Drug Laws. Yesterday's rally marked the end of a 30-day Countdown To Fairness campaign that called upon Governor Pataki, New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and New York Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno to take legislative action now to repeal the 30-year old Rockefeller Drug Laws which have been deemed unfair, unjust and racially discriminatory.

Thirty years ago, the State of New York passed into law the Rockefeller Drug Laws, which required mandatory long prison terms, up to 15 years to life, for possession or sale of small amounts of drugs. These laws took away discretion in sentencing from trial judges and, as a consequence, tens of thousands of people have been imprisoned unfairly and unjustly. At a time when many States, including New York, are facing billion dollar deficits, the urgency of repealing these repressive laws will have a significant impact in helping States to resolve their budget crises.

Today marked another important milestone in the evolution of hip-hop. Speaking to the massive gathering, hip-hop moguls Russell Simmons, P. Diddy, Mariah Carey, Damon Dash, Jay-Z, 50 Cent, Busta Rhymes, Erykah Badu, Memphis Bleek, the D.O.C., Capone-N-Noreaga, Fat Joe, The Beastie Boys, Fabolous, Kool G Rap, Joe Buddens, M-1 from dead prez, MIC Geronimo, Lemon (Def Poet), DJ Kid Capri, Grandmaster Caz, Red Cafe and Cherub used their celebrity to educate and mobilize the crowd around an issue for which they are passionate. Most of these artists have seen, firsthand, the devastating impact the Rockefeller Drug Laws have had on their own families and communities. In the state of New York, 94.5% of all those incarcerated are black and Hispanic.

"There are a lot of people in the coalition who want to see change. But nothing happens without the power of the people, and your power is the reason the Governor, the State Senators and the State Assembly are at work today," declared Russell Simmons.

"I am proud of what today's rally represented: we have brought together a coalition that is a new force for progressive politics," said Andrew Cuomo. "We demonstrated an unprecedented partnership among the hip-hop, political and activist communities. It is a powerful force that will get the Rockefeller Drug Laws repealed and continue to bring real change on all issues of importance."

Tom Golisano, former New York gubernatorial candidate, saluted the organizers of the event and stated his resolute support of efforts to repeal the Rockefeller Drug Laws. "All of you have my firm support and encouragement. This is an issue of fairness and we must repeal these laws now."

Throughout the four-hour rally, the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network registered participants to vote as part of its national Hip-Hop Team Vote campaign, which has a goal of registering 20 million new voters. "We are going to change these laws by increasing youth participation in both advocacy and voting at the polls. We've raised public awareness today about this issue. The next step is to translate our increased awareness into voter action." emphasized Dr. Benjamin Chavis, President of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network.

Randy Credico, leader of the Mothers of the NY Disappeared, underscored the momentum that's developed around this issue. "When we first started five years ago, we were 17 people on the 25th anniversary of the Rockefeller Drug Laws. It's amazing that with such hard work and dedication, it's now one of the biggest civil rights movements, and the statement we all made today will be heard and felt in Albany and around the country."

The artists who participated all spoke from the heart about how the Rockefeller Drug Laws devastated their communities. "The laws aren't fair," said Jay-Z as he made his way to the stage. "I personally know a lot of people that's locked up unjustly and unfairly. (The MCs) have got the streets, so we gotta come out here and show our support, our strong voice."

50 Cent commented, "I've got lots of friends and family in jail behind that law. I had to come out today to support the repeal of the Laws. I'm not used to speaking at events like this but I'll come out and try to do as much as I can."

P. Diddy added, "The money it cost to incarcerate these people and keep them housed in jail can be used for our kids to get educated, We're using all this money to lock up people who are nonviolent criminals, who basically made a mistake. Everybody deserves a second chance. You don't get a second chance with the Rockefeller Drug Laws. You get sentenced and there ain't no turning back."

The effects of the Rockefeller laws also have an impact on the rest of society, actor Tim Robbins said. He surmised that putting nonviolent criminals in jail with violent criminals only makes them worse when they are eventually released. "You gotta keep putting the pressure on," he said. "This is about removing Draconian drug laws that are targeting (people) in a racial way. "

Robbins' mate and fellow actor, Susan Sarandon, wanted to clarify that Simmons and the coalition were not saying it's OK to be caught with narcotics, but rather that fairer sentences are needed. "Judges should have the autonomy to make decisions," she said. "It's a glitch that's existed for years and needs to be dropped so that we can save whole generations."

Mariah Carey, standing with Roc-A-Fella hip-hop mogul Damon Dash and Andew Cuomo, said "We all know drugs are illegal, but these laws are antiquated and need to be addressed and I'm here to show my support."

Damon Dash added, "When I was younger, I would see kids get caught with an ounce and do 10, 15 years, I never understood that. I don't think they deserve 10, 15 years. There's a lot of other things that need to be addressed at that time to make the person a better individual and make them evolve as a better human being, rather than come out (of jail) bitter."


Friday, June 6, 2003

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