"When the police department can't put the drug dealers in jail, they ask me to take the grandmother's house."
James Anthony has seen first-hand the destructive impact of the "War on Drugs" on both inner-city neighborhoods and on police officers; and Oakland, CA - where he has spent three years as an award-winning Neighborhood Law Corps attorney - is a ground zero for that damage.
James understands that residents of Oakland's poor neighborhoods are scared of the menacing street dealers and their customers - and of the random violence that goes along with any black market (such as the one created by Prohibition three-quarters of a century ago). Yet all he has been able to offer them in his capacity as a drug prosecutor is more police and more property seizures - a strategy that has failed time and again. "I tell people that I can make the problems on their street go away . . . by moving them down a few blocks into the next neighborhood. Then the people in that other neighborhood will call me, and I'll go to their meeting and give them the same speech. In a few years, the problem is back where it started - only worse (the occasional bust of a crack-house notwithstanding)."
James has also seen the negative impact of the "War on Drugs" on the integrity of the police force. Oakland is the location of the notorious "Riders" gang of four police officers accused of corruption and brutality in waging the "War on Drugs" (one of whom is still a fugitive from justice, having fled to Mexico). The Riders cost the city over $10 million in legal settlements of claims by citizens framed and brutalized by these so-called drug warriors. And James notes what the "War on Drugs" has wrought on morale of the officers who haven't been corrupted. "Most of the officers I work with are bright and good-hearted. They really believe in 'community policing'; but they realize that it's impossible to get the community's trust when you have to arrest teenagers and take houses from senior citizens. It's a lose-lose situation."
James is now looking forward to going to those same neighborhood meetings and engaging the residents in discussions of long-range solutions based on a sensible drug policy.
James received his B.A. in American Studies from San Francisco State University; his Law Degree (J.D.) is from University of California at Davis School of Law. He now lives in Oakland with his wife and daughter.