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Interview With Russell Simmons, Armstrong Williams

Aired June 4, 2003 - 20:42   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well there was a rally here in New York today calling for the repeal of some 30-year-old state drug laws. Critics say the so-called Rockefeller Laws passes during the administration of the late Governor Nelson Rockefeller are out-moded, draconian and, frankly, discriminatory.
The repeal drive has picked up a lot of strong supporters from the entertainment world. One of them is with me tonight, Def Jam Recordings' co-founder Russell Simmons. Also joining us from Washington, D.C. is nationally-syndicated radio show host Armstrong Williams. Gentlemen, thanks for being with us.

Mr. Simmons, let me start off with you. Why do you want -- and there are many people, we should say, all sides of the political aisle who want these laws repealed. Why?

RUSSELL SIMMONS, HIP HOP SUMMIT ACTION NETWORK: Well, 90 percent of the New Yorkers believe it should be repealed or at least reformed dramatically. And discussion is about what is the change. I've had great discussion with the governor and he said some good things that we're hoping he'll turn into a bill or we'll see it on paper hopefully tonight or tomorrow and it'll turn into a bill.

COOPER: But you're saying they should be repealed because?

SIMMONS: Well, there's a guy who's on television the other day, spent 15 years in jail, he's in a wheelchair. He was in a car with someone who had drugs. The judge had no choice but to send him away for 15 years. Cost taxpayers $1.5 million to keep him there.

Now had he been a drug user or ever touched any drugs, then maybe we could have spent $5,000 to reform him. My brother went to jail under the threat of a Rockefeller drug law, prosecutors have used to put innocent people in jail. They say it's a conspiracy charge, and you ought to get 20 years in jail. You don't fight that, you just go right to jail.

So, I mean, there's so many reasons that everyone who looks at this closely knows has to be changed. The question is what is the change?

COOPER: Mr. Williams, what do you think the change should be, if you think there should be a change?

ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS, TALK SHOW HOST: Well obviously laws should be blind and justice should be blind to all Americans regardless.

But I think repealing a law is certainly not the answer. I think reforming or going in addressing some of the inequities in the law certainly can be addressed.

But I think some of the issues that I have with gentlemen like Mr. Simmons is that they get so worked up, they talk about repealing these laws for it's unfairness. But I wish they'd take responsibility in their music and their words to these young people to encourage them not to commit these crimes. That they should be accountable and responsible at some point for their actions.


WILLIAMS: We don't talk about the open-air drug factories that are brewing in these communities where grandmothers and single mothers are forced -- almost forced into sort of like...


SIMMONS: You know I don't know why we find another African- American when 95 percent of the people who are incarcerated under this law are African-American. And the fact is that whites and blacks sell and use drugs at the same rate. That's a fact. And that 95 percent of the people in there are black and brown points to a racial issue that is obvious. I mean it is -- there is no greater example of racial profiling than the way the prisons have taken only African- Americans to jail.


SIMMONS: That's another inconsistency.

But the fact is a guy was in jail for ten years for selling a dime bag of crack. I just think that George Bush's kids aren't going to jail. Only poor people. Because black people and brown people. But really it's about poor people. And the fact is that the choices that they made 30 years ago has proven not to be effective, it's proven to be a waste of the taxpayer's money. And it needs to change.

COOPER: Well, Mr. Williams, do you believe that these are inequitable laws? That they unfairly target poor people or people of one ethnicity?

WILLIAMS: I absolutely agree these laws target people who -- it's a class issue. Certainly. And for those who cannot afford it and certainly for those with low income backgrounds...

COOPER: So why do you say they should be repealed then? You say -- what should happen?

WILLIAMS: Because, listen, strengthening these drug laws -- I mean it really impacts the poor. On the one hand you say repeal it because it's the poor that is affected by it. But it's the people in these inner cities who are really the ones who are really tormented by these drug users who have taken over their community. And these are the people who are calling law enforcement asking for help. Get these people out of our communities.


SIMMONS: When probably 95 percent -- or 98 percent of African- Americans are definitely in favor of a dramatic reform or repeal, where do we find an African-American to put on television like this? Where'd you find him?

WILLIAMS: Yes, because you've turned this into a race issue.


SIMMONS: ... one on one. You're assuming maybe that someone thinks like him. But the fact most African-Americans don't. And the perception that most people have at home is this person is speaking for some group of people. He's not.

WILLIAMS: Who made you the spokesperson...


SIMMONS: The fact is 95, 98 percent of African-Americans believe it should be repealed. So this guy's on television, he's a waste of your time.


SIMMONS: The fact is the governor is going to give us a proposal tonight or tomorrow. It's going to be a draft of a bill by Monday. It's going to and big change.

And the fact is that if they don't do it, the politicians whose job it is to listen to the people, and the people are now being educated on this matter, are going to make a dramatic change. And what they don't want to do, I think, is have everybody understand how crazy these laws are and know they haven't done anything.

COOPER: All right, we're going to have to leave it there.


SIMMONS: ... the politicians who don't take their cue, or their opportunity right now that we've gotten the stars in line and all the people are in line...


COOPER: All right, Mr. Williams, the final thought?


COOPER: Come on, let him get his final thought in.

WILLIAMS: Right. I mean, drugs are illegal. They've known this for a long time. We should at least respect the laws that are on the books.


WILLIAMS: Why don't you be responsible for your actions?


COOPER: We're going to have to end it there.


COOPER: We're going to end it there, gentlemen.


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