Movement Hijacked by Hiphop?

Activists Fear a Compromise on Rockefeller Repeal

But it is just this rush on Simmons's part to make a deal that has activists fearful. "There's a mixed message out there," said Credico. "Someone says that he'll take any deal. He's a deal maker. Well, you got to talk to the people you are making that deal for."

Simmons reacted strongly to the tensions that have arisen since the rally. "I've heard a lot about that. I don't give a fuck about them. All I care is that I appreciate their hard work and they are the true heroes," said Simmons. "I love Randy Credico's work. He's been excellent. But to criticize somebody for coming and adding to your effort, creating awareness of your effort— I'm not saying he's done that, but anybody who does that is missing the point. I don't give a fuck. I want to get people out of jail. That's my only objective. Get people out of jail and make the laws more fair."

"There was a breakdown in communications to Russell Simmons," said Anthony Papa, MNYD co-founder, who served 12 years under the Rockefeller laws. "Russell's a businessman. I have nothing bad to say about him. What he did was take as his adviser Deborah Small to see the governor, and we don't agree with her philosophy. She wants to make a deal; we call it a sellout because it's watered-down reform."

Russell Simmons is no doubt sincere, but is he rushing to make a deal?
photo: Cary Conover
Russell Simmons is no doubt sincere, but is he rushing to make a deal?

Although Simmons has gone on record as saying the difference between repeal or reform is semantics, he appears aware of the nuances: "What does total repeal mean, anyway? That no law exists at all? We know that we want to return some discretion to the judges and we know that we want to send people home retroactively. We want to get thousands of people out of jail now."

Papa says recent budget concerns will bring 800 prisoners home, so there are higher stakes involved in changing the laws to stop others from just taking the places of those who are released. "We want the judge to have [full] discretion to look at the totality of facts," said Papa, noting that state prosecutors have hampered efforts at true reform out of their own personal interests. The current makeup of the drug laws allows prosecutors of A-1 drug felonies to control the outcome of the case. "Prosecutors live and die by their conviction records. This is not a case of what's just and what's the correct thing to do. It's about judicial economy. This is not about a business deal. This is about people's lives."

Sources close to all parties involved said that other high-profile coalition members are dissatisfied with the direction negotiations seem to be heading, but remain silent for fear of sabotaging the current chance to change the Rockefeller laws. "Understand, there may be tensions and disagreements among the overall coalition," said Gangi. "That is often the case. And that doesn't mean that we trash each other or stop talking to each other."

At press time, a draft resolution was being prepared by legislators to be circulated among all parties. "If we can't get repeal, which nobody believes we're going to get," said Cuomo, "there may be a divergence depending then on the deal. But you're going to have to wait and see. There may be a deal that everyone can take."

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