Russell Simmons and his Hip-Hop Summit Action Network held a Countdown to Fairness press conference and rally today to urge New York Governor George Pataki to repeal the state's infamous Rockefeller drug laws. Simmons was joined by Run-DMC's Rev. Run, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, the Rev. Al Sharpton, former gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo and Lava Records president and CEO Jason Flom at the rally. Following the conference, the coalition moved to Pataki's New York City offices for a protest that drew hundreds.
The controversial laws were enacted thirty years ago at the behest of then-Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who instituted stringent prison sentences for drug-related crimes, with the logic that the penalties would be a deterrent. For decades, protestors have singled out examples of non-violent drug abusers who drew mandatory sentences that exceeded those handed down to rapists and those involved in murders. "We're talking about reform," Simmons said. "Let's give it back to judges to decide [sentences]."
Added Sharpton, "This is not about decriminalizing drugs. This is about a fair and equitable criminal justice policy." Several speakers pointed out that ninety-four percent of those incarcerated under the laws are black or Latino, a fact Simmons called "the worst case of racial profiling we've ever seen." Sharpton, who is also in the early stages of a presidential run, suggested that such laws would have been quickly repealed in Florida to aid President George W. Bush's troubled niece.
Simmons has put together a large coalition of entertainers to support the cause, including Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, Damon Dash, Irv Gotti, Ludacris, Redman, Method Man, Cam'ron and politicians including New York Senators Chuck Schumer and Hilary Clinton.
"I'm finding support everywhere," Simmons said. "Rappers are the voice for disenfranchised poor people. And this hits home for the rap community."