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Nassau County Chapter — Rally for Rockefeller Reform

Rally for Rockefeller Reform

March 25, 2009 — Hundreds of people gathered in front of Governor Paterson’s Manhattan office today urging the governor and legislative leaders to enact a sweeping overhaul of the Rockefeller Drug Laws, the state’s infamous mandatory-minimum drug sentencing scheme. Speakers -– including hip hop mogul and reform advocate Russell Simmons and the Rev. Calvin Butts of Abyssinian Baptist Church –- called on lawmakers to seize this historic opportunity to end the unjust and ineffective laws. “New York’s drug sentencing laws are the Jim Crow Laws of the 21st Century,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “The Rockefeller Drug Laws have failed by every measure. They tear apart families, waste tax dollars and create shocking racial disparities Enacted in 1973, the Rockefeller laws mandate extremely harsh prison terms for the possession or sale of relatively small amounts of drugs. Though intended to target drug kingpins, most of the people incarcerated are convicted of low-level offenses. Many of the thousands of New Yorkers in prison under the Rockefeller laws suffer from substance abuse problems; many others struggle with issues related to homelessness, mental illness or unemployment. About 90 percent are black or Latino even though most people who use and sell drugs are white. “Today we stand at the doorstep of change, and we call on the governor, the state assembly leader and the senate majority leader to fulfill their promise to make that change to end the Rockefeller Drug Laws once and for all,” Simmons said. “We have all been working hard for too many years to not restore full judicial discretion and give judges the option to send people with addictions to treatment rather than prison. The hip-hop community will continue to seek the change that we all know is right.” Despite modest reforms in 2004 and 2005, the state’s drug sentencing scheme remains intact. These laws deny judges the authority to place people suffering from addiction, mental health issues and homelessness into treatment programs. In 2002, Paterson, then a state senator, was arrested in an act of civil disobedience promoting the sweeping overhaul of the Rockefeller Drug Laws outside of the New York City offices of then-Governor George Pataki. “Seven years ago, David Paterson, then a State Senator from Harlem, was handcuffed in an act of civil disobedience aimed at pressing Governor Pataki to end the Rockefeller Drug Laws. Five years ago, as Senate Minority Leader, he proposed sweeping changes to the harsh statutes” said Caitlin Dunklee, coordinator of the Drop the Rock Campaign. “Now, as Governor, his constituents are rallying to urge him to exercise the leadership he was once known for.”  

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