NEW YORK — Russell Simmons and friends such as Susan Sarandon, P. Diddy, Jay-Z, Mariah Carey, Fat Joe, Tim Robbins, Dead Prez and Dame Dash made their voices heard Wednesday (June 4) at City Hall, where they rallied against New York state's strict drug sentencing laws.
"When I was younger, I would see kids get caught with an ounce [of narcotics] and do 10, 15 years," Dash said. "I never understood that. I don't think they deserve 10, 15 years. There's a lot of other things that need to be addressed at that time to make the person a better individual and make them evolve as a better human being, rather than come out [of jail] bitter."
"The laws aren't fair," said Jay-Z as he made his way to the stage. (Click here for photos from the rally.) "I personally know a lot of people that's locked up unjustly and unfairly. [The MCs] have got the streets, so we gotta come out here and show our support, our strong voice."
Diddy said rappers should pay especially close attention to the state's Rockefeller drug laws — enacted in 1973 when Nelson Rockefeller was governor — because of the enormous impact they've had on the hip-hop community.
"This law has affected hip-hop, our families, our friends, our future," Diddy said backstage. "Ninety-six percent of the people incarcerated by this law are minorities. It's one of the most unjust laws in history.
"The money it cost to incarcerate these people and keep them housed in jail can be used for our kids to get educated," he added. "We're using all this money to lock up people who are nonviolent criminals, who basically made a f---ed up mistake. Everybody deserves a second chance. You don't get a second chance with the Rockefeller drug law. You get sentenced and there ain't no turning back."
The effects of the Rockefeller laws also have an impact on the rest of society, actor Tim Robbins said. He surmised that putting nonviolent criminals in jail with violent criminals only makes them worse when they are eventually released.
"You gotta keep putting the pressure on," he said. "This is about removing Draconian drug laws that are targeting [people] in a racial way."
Robbins' mate, Sarandon, wanted to clarify that Simmons and company were not saying it's OK to be caught with narcotics, but rather that fairer sentences are needed.
"Judges should have the autonomy to make decisions," she said. "It's a glitch that's existed for years and needs to be dropped so that we can save whole generations. The problem with trying to change this kind of policy is that the politicians don't want to be perceived as being soft on drugs. We have to give them the facts so they can do something more constructive. But most people know it's not working, it's just the people [the laws] effect are voiceless people. We have to change that."
The rally's leading voice said he was pleased with the strong turnout, but that he did not consider it a victory.
"There's no success until the drug laws are repealed," said Simmons. "The governor has made verbal proposals we think are worth fighting for. When we see it in the form of a bill we'll see it's serious. It's been dialogue for 30 years. We need more than dialogue, we need action. With the people's support, the politicians can get work done."
Simmons, who a few weeks ago gave New York's governor until Wednesday to repeal the laws, said Gov. George Pataki has three more weeks until he and his coalition take more action.