[sixties-l] Re: critique of Bruce Franklin; marijuana persecution

From: Michael Rossman (mrossman@igc.org)
Date: 11/03/00

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    Sorrento95@AOL.COM writes: "I see no reason why the same kind of evidence
    [showing that white activists were treated more harshly than black] could not
    be obtained for any American campus of the Vietnam years."
    As a white activist of the time, and typical in these regards, I was quite
    impressed by media accounts of harsh treatment of black activists
    (particularly Black Panthers), but knew more directly about the treatment of
    my own kind. To bolster Sorrento's argument, and display perhaps the earliest
    of its roots in that era, I can cite the case of Lenny Glaser, whom the
    university contrived to send to prison for three years soon after the FSM
    began at Berkeley in 1964. To counter it, I can cite the case of a black
    community organizer in Champaign-Urbana, where I visited often in the late
    60s. John Lee, as I recall his name, became a special target in part for
    linking his community to anti-war organizing led by my white student friends,
    who were not jailed but went his bail.
    For I must say, this argument seems to me not simply silly, but malign. What
    reductionist purpose is served by arguing whether white persecution or black
    were more grievious? One might choose such argument as a didactic or dialectic
    device, to cooperate in assembling the dimensions and tensions of the whole;
    and sensible lurkers will read it thus in any case. Yet unless their cosmetic
    rhetoric of affect deceives me, the protagonists seem genuinely to care about
    who "wins" in this debate. Isn't it more sensible, as well as more accurate
    and compassionate, to agree that activists and activism of each and every hue
    were persecuted widely and damaged deeply, in ways that will never be fully
    accounted; and to assemble the collective evidence to learn what we can about
    the past and for the future?
    I myself am interested in a certain thread of this fabric of persecution, in
    some ways particular to its era. Sorrento offers one illustration:  "Political
    busts against white activists [in Norman, OK] started . . . in January, 1966,
    with . . . the "Great Marijuana Raid" [when s]everal SDS members and friends
    were arrested." Lenny Glaser's case illustrates it further. Glaser was
    notorious to the campus cops and administration, not only as a political
    firebrand and front-line Civil Rights activist, but as the earliest noteable
    advocate of marijuana legalization hereabouts. Glaser had received a suspended
    sentence for having been found with a roach during a C.R. arrest the previous
    year. The university's aggressive complaint about his involvement in an early
    FSM sit-in resulted in revocation of his parole. The deep impropriety of the
    university's role in this never received public attention, but lingers still
    at the heart of one of so many key, untold stories of the time.
    During the period1967-72, I visited seventy college campuses and perhaps two
    dozen fledgling "counter-communities" across the nation, returning to many and
    lingering often in some. My impression -- from innumerable conversations long
    gone to compost, with few specific notes -- is that persecution for possession
    of marijuana and psychedelics played as widespread, fundamental, and vital a
    role in governmental repression of activism of all kinds, political, social,
    and cultural, as income from sale of these agents did in bankrolling the
    defense of activists and seed-funding their enterprises.
    As I have never seen a systematic treatment of this last theme (seed-funding),
    and can hardly recall the few scattered comments I've seen in print, I'd be
    grateful if anyone can offer references even to such remarks, let alone to
    more careful observations.
    As for marijuana/psychedelic persecution, I am sure that it was the most
    widespread and frequently-exercised theme of the entire persecutory scheme.
    Whether it were more frequently accomplished through radicals' actual
    possession of banned substances, or through their planting by police and
    associates, is unclear to me. I heard plenty of tales of both sorts, and often
    had good reason to believe the latter kind, beyond my natural inclination
    (from sufficient evidence) to believe that many governmental agents had the
    opportunity, motive, immorality, and subcultural custom to plant such false
    evidences. (I trust that some readers' kneejerk reflex to scold me for
    "kneejerk" distrust of peace officers will be inhibited by news reports of the
    current Oakland Police Department scandal, demonstrating precisely this
    pattern of misconduct, which has prevailed since at least the mid-sixties, if
    not from the start.) 
    One may argue that radicals brought this plague on themselves by indulging in
    "intoxicants" in the first place, and by being downright sloppy (if not also
    subconsciously self-betraying) in how they handled the actual substances. But
    one may argue also that in many important contexts, it hardly mattered whether
    one kept one's car-ashtray and desk clean of marijuana debris, or even one's
    lungs, given that police were so freely liable to plant weed when bent on
    disrupting activities. I imagine that if an effective survey of this species
    of misconduct had been compiled during that era, it would have served to
    establish "reasonable doubt" in many jury trials, and to persuade judges to
    dismiss many cases before decision or after appeal. Indeed, I suspect that
    this gambit was tried independently by many defense lawyers -- probably some
    hundreds in aggregate -- for client activists of all stripes. Could their
    case-files be assembled, I imagine that by virtue of their decentralization
    this trove would constitute the most comprehensive source of data on
    application of this species of misconduct to activism's suppression.
    If anyone knows of any such briefs, I'd appreciate hearing. Absent this, I'd
    be grateful for any references to published treatments, howsoever fragmentary,
    of either theme here -- the broad one, of the use of marijuana/psychedelic
    prosecution to persecute activism, or the narrower one of misconduct to this
    end -- as well as personal anecdotes and references to unpublished writing. If
    no one has yet published a broad dossier of such examples, its compilation
    would be an important service to historiography of that time, and of the
    cultural drug wars since.
    	Michael Rossman <mrossman@igc.org>

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