On Saturday, Ashley O’Donoghue walked along 125th Street in Harlem holding a clipboard. The 25-year-old grocery store worker was asking passersby a single question, “Do you know about the Rockefeller drug laws?”
There are people who said no, they had no idea what it was but they did stop to hear him explain the law. There was one man who said, “Not yet.” without breaking stride. While Mr. O’Donoghue was surprised by the man’s matter-of-fact reply, he could tell that the reaction may be due to ignorance. “Until it hits home, that’s when someone starts worrying about it – at least someone like that.”
The said state law was significant for Mr. O’Donoghue. A month before, he was released from state prison after serving a five-year jail time. He was convicted for the same drug laws that were enacted in 1973 when Nelson A. Rockefeller was still governor of New York and the city still sported a high crime rate. While the state laws had been amended in 2005, they still had minimum mandatory sentences that are said to be one of the harshest drug laws in the country.
That Saturday, Mr. O’Donoghue took part in a petition and education campaign to appeal to the public to push for the amendment of State drug laws. The said campaign covered 20 neighborhoods all over the city including Crown Heights, Jamaica, Queens, Brooklyn and South Bronx. All these areas have been found to be especially affected by the laws.
According to the critics of the state legislations, the mandatory sentences did not really work in fighting drug abuse or even drug-related crime. The problem is that state officials still have yet to come to an agreement on the specifics of offering drug treatment instead of jail time.
While there are those who agreed to sign their names on the petition, there were also people who declined. Lucy Taylor from Newark felt that amending the laws would be a treat to drug dealers. Ms Taylor’s brother died a few years back from health problems brought about by his drug addiction. “Do I want to put my name on a list for someone who is not going to turn their life around?” she asked. “No. The answer is no.”
“Organizers of the campaign said 5000 signatures were gathered throughout the city on Saturday, including about 500 in Harlem. That raised the total number of signatures since the drive began to 17,000 which is a little less than half the goal of 35,000.”
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