Saturday, February 21, 2009

Good for Carol Ruth

I like Carol Ruth Silver, I always have. But my respect for Carol has increased substantially. Carol Ruth was a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. And while there were many issues where Carol Ruth and I would be on opposite sides I never once questioned her motives: her conclusion, perhaps, but not her motives. She was elected the same year as Harvey Milk and was still on the Board when I meet her.

Carol Ruth, while on the political Left, has long been a supporter of Second Amendment rights. When I first met her it was after she penned an article (a wonderful article) entitled “Self-Defense, Handgun Ownership, and the Independence of Women in a Violent, Sexist Society.” Carol Ruth is still a vocal defender of gun rights and is a member of the Pink Pistols. Carol and her friend, Don Kates, an ACLU attorney, co-wrote many articles defending Second Amendment rights over the years.

Carol was good friends with Harvey Milk and served on the Board of Supervisors with him and Dan White, his murderer. That November day, in 1978, when White crawled through a basement window at city hall, in order to avoid the metal detectors, he intended to kill Harvey Milk, San Francisco mayor George Moscone and Carol Ruth Silver. White told a fellow police officer, years after the killings: “I was on a mission, I wanted four of them. Carol Ruth Silver, she was the biggest snake...”

In recent years Carol was the directing attorney for Prisoner Legal Services of the Office of Sheriff. But she resigned her position effective today. Carol has said: “I was participating in a system that made me feel criminal.” She told of one experience where a woman, who was in jail, needed Carol’s help to place her children in foster care. The woman was is in prison for pot charges. That upset Carol: “She should not be prosecuted, she should not be in jail, and here I was helping to place her children.” Silver announced that she was joining Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and would campaign to end the war on drugs.

I have excerpted some of Carol’s resignation letter below.
This is my letter of resignation and retirement, effective the 21st of February 2009.

In serving as the Directing Attorney at Prisoner Legal Services, I have found myself having to bite my tongue in talking to some prisoners about their charges -- at least half of them with nonviolent drug charges. I find it difficult to discuss the financial or child custody problems of a prisoner, when I cannot look them in the eye and justify their being in jail. His or her incarceration is as a result of their own actions, but much more so as a result of a mistaken, unfair, and unjust set of laws which criminalize drugs in our society, based on the failed model of Prohibition of alcohol which we enacted and then repealed.

Each of such prisoners is in our jail only because of our bad politics of drug regulation. It is this set of policies which is the most direct cause of the continued excessive incarceration rates in the US.

I find myself even more particularly distressed at prisoners incarcerated with charges of felony possession of marijuana for sale. Other charges are often added, to be dismissed before trial, just for the sake of pressuring the prisoner to plead guilty and accept a prison sentence for – what?

When it comes down to it, he or she is in jail for possession of marijuana, a substance scientific evidence shows definitively to be less harmful than alcohol or tobacco. The most dangerous attribute of marijuana is the US criminal justice system.

...I am anxious to have the opportunity to speak out against our present drug laws, and to work on the campaign for Repeal of Prohibition, Again – for repeal of the set of laws of Drug Prohibition which is as foolish, ineffective and counterproductive as was alcohol prohibition.

Photo: This photo shows Carol Ruth the day Harvey Milk was shot. On the left is then acting mayor Dianne Feinstein. Quiet honestly I'd rather have seen Carol be the one of the two to end up in the Senate, instead of Feinstein. But Carol was too principled for that. (Which is not to say I thought her principles were always right.)

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