The ROC Gets Ethered Again -or- Rockefeller Drug laws to be repealed
This time by New York’s Governor Patterson.
One of the most ironic lines in rap music come from one of the greatest emcees to hold a mic:
“I used to push snowflakes by the O-Z. I guess even back then you could call me, C.E.O of the R-O-C.”
Chance are that if you’re reading this, you probably already know this but I’ll spell it out anyway. The R-O-C has double-meaning: #1 Rock cocaine or crack #2 Rockafella, a Hiphop empire whose namesake is the Rockefeller oil empire. Politics and business go hand in hand and in 1958, oil magnate John D Rockefeller’s grandson Nelson, became governor of the great state of New York.
The early 70’s kicked off a crazy time in NYC. The crime rate fought neck and neck with ballooning inflation. The going murder rate was about 4 to 5 bodies a day. If you’ve seen any movie that was filmed just about anywhere in the five boroughs at the time, you’ve seen a glimpse of what I’m talking about. The scene in 2007’s ‘American Gangster’ when Harlem was zombied out over Frank Lucas’s Blue Magic showed a NY that had succumbed to drug addiction in an effort to escape the harsh realities of inner city life. What made matters worse was that the drugs and the violence went hand in hand. Seeing a situation out of control, Governor Nelson D Rockefeller and NY State legislators passed a drug law, commonly known as the Rockefeller Drug Laws that imposed incredibly stiff prison sentences for small amounts of illegal drugs, even for first time offenders. Many states followed suit with their own draconion drug laws.
I’d known about the Rockefeller drug laws but hadn’t really understood their impact until I read ‘Life on the Outside’ by Elaine Bartlett. Barlett was convicted of selling cocaine to undercover cops and spent 16 years in prison. This was her first offense. Elaine had been having money issues and was looking for a little extra cash to get her through. An acquaintance of hers, overheard her and made a proposal that sounded simple enough: Bring some coke to a hotel room Upstate and make a couple thousand dollars. She and her boyfriend, who went along to make sure that she didn’t get hurt by some shady drug boys, got popped by undercover police. They’d been set up by the aquaintance who was actually an informant trying to work off his own dirt.
Because the arrest took place in Upstate NY, the local press went crazy and fueled a firestorm of the city’s drugs and violence trickling up and soiling their pristine land. The judge, working with the law’s minimum sentence of 15 years for their offense, threw the book at them after they refused to take a plea. She got 20-to-life, he got 25-to-life. Elaine Barlett was a single mother with four young children and needless to say, her immediate family and her kids’ lives were left in shambles. I’m not going to go through the details of her life because it’s all in the book and on the internets. But the evils that is the Rock drug laws are laid bare in the pages of ‘Life on the Outside’ and in the lives of countless others whose crimes weren’t violent in nature and showed more of a lapse in judgment and greed than anything malevolent.
Last Friday New York’s Governor David Patterson (who’d been arrested as a state senator for protesting the laws) announced that the state is ready to repeal the 70’s era minimum sentencing structure and looking at treatment instead of prison time for non-violent and first time offenders. The biggest crime in Bartlett’s story is that no one listened to her story until she was freed and her book was published. No one cared that she was locked up for the criminal equivalent of killing another human being -by being set up. It’ll be great to finally have drug laws that make sense.
If I were Barack Obama, I’d say this:
“Uh.. Look. This change may in New York may cost more financially in the short term, but it will be cheaper than incarcerating our young in the long run on so many levels. And while a lot of damage has already been done… it’s obviously better late than never. I applaud it. Uh.. and it’s funny: If JayZ had been caught up in the Rockerfeller drug laws while he “dabbled in crazy weight” there would never have been an R-O-C.”