Drugs, civil rights, crime in US: a talk with Attorney General Smith

Attorney General William French Smith says that his recent trip to Europe and Asia has resulted in close working relationships with top government officials in what he calls drug ''source and transit countries.''

Mr. Smith's stops abroad included -Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Pakistan, France, and Italy.

''As everybody here knows,'' Smith says, ''the No. 1 problem in this country is drugs, particularly in combination with organized crime. We have done a great deal already - and a great deal more needs to be done - with respect to this problem.

''We have done such things as getting the FBI for the first time into drug enforcement; such things as the south Florida task force; and, of course, the new program that was announced by the President, which is a major new effort in this area, namely the establishment of some 12 new task forces based upon the same pattern as what has happened in south Florida.''

''But,'' Smith added at a breakfast with reporters, ''the drug problem is not a domestic problem. It is an international problem. And it is important that on a frequent and regular basis we express our strong concern to top officials . . . in drug source countries the importance of their doing something about it.''

Mr. Smith says he has received what he regards as credible assurances from these leaders that they are now cooperating in curbing drug trafficking. On related and other subjects, the attorney general had this to say:

One of the areas where drugs seem to be in very heavy use is in the entertainment industry. Do you have any ideas on how to reduce the use of drugs there?

That situation is particularly unfortunate because people in that industry and people in athletics and so on are role models for the young. And as a result , to the extent that drugs are used and publicized in those areas, it has a magnifying effect which is highly unfortunate.

Ultimately the answer to this overall problem of drug use is to eliminate demand. And that is not within our operating function. Ultimately, too, the answer has to be education. And that could be a long process.

It is interesting that Japan used to have a heroin problem. It does not have a major heroin problem now. There are other areas of drug use - amphetamines - that Japanese organized crime is involved in. But I asked them over there how they have been able to substantially reduce their heroin problem. And the response I received was ''two ways.''

First, to impose very heavy penalties on drug use. Second was education. And what we were told was that by the use of those two approaches the use of heroin was greatly limited.

Do you have the general feeling that a movie star or athlete charged with the use of drugs does not get the same kind of justice that, say, a black receives?

That I really cannot answer. Those cases are so individualized that it is hard to generalize.

When you deal with the Pakistanis (on curbing that country's providing of drugs headed for the US), what kind of leverage do you have?

Among other things we provide substantial financial resources to Pakistan - and other countries in a similar position.

Are you threatening not to provide this assistance?

Well, if what we are providing these resources for is not working, needless to say we will stop providing them. Also, we have our DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) people in those countries assisting in the law-enforcement efforts there. Also there is a high addiction rate in some of these countries - and this provides an additional, a domestic incentive, for doing something about this problem. And that is very evident in Pakistan.

There's always been a problem of those involved in drug supply bribing public officials. Is this the major problem in some of these countries? And what assurance do you have that our officials may not be bribed?

Whenever you are dealing with the sums of money involved in the drug business , you are going to have a problem of corruption. We have it here. Other countries have it. We are very certain that the people we talked to [on the attorney general's recent trip to Europe and Asia] were very high-level people who are very honest and determined to do something about this problem.

Rightly or wrongly some of your civil-rights policies have come under criticism. Have you been making policy changes?

A good deal of the accusations have no foundation whatever. We have made two changes in civil-rights policy. Other than those two changes we are enforcing the civil-rights laws in the same way they have been enforced in the past.

We have about 300 people who are, full-time, enforcing the civil-rights statutes, substantially the same number as during the previous administration. Our changes in civil-rights policy were announced early in this administration. And what we have done since is to follow precisely what we said we were going to do.

[The first change has] to do with mandatory busing. We don't believe it has been a success. We think it has been counterproductive. We think that if the money that had been spent on busing had been spent on trying to improve the quality of education, we would be much farther on down the road than now. And we are looking for alternate, more successful approaches, and we think those approaches are already showing signs of success.

The second change has to do with what are referred to as quotas. We don't think they have been successful or effective. We think they are demeaning. We think they tend to set ceilings, not foundations. Quotas were the original basis for discrimination rather than for the elimination of discrimination.

There is one procedural change we have made. That is, we believe in talking and then suing rather than suing and then talking, on the grounds that if you can work something out on an amicable basis, the chances for ultimate success are far greater than if the solution is imposed by compulsion.

On such matters as criminal civil-rights actions: We have filed more than any prior administration. We have more institutionalized persons investigations than any prior administration. We have had more actions under the Voting Rights Act.

You mentioned that some alternatives to mandatory busing are proving successful. What are they?

Primarily magnet schools, also voluntary busing, also some changes in closing schools.

Can you say where some of these alternatives have been successful?

Well, Chicago, for example. It's too early to come to any conclusions - but we are optimistic that these approaches are going to be much more successful than has been true with busing.

There has been a lot of speculation that you may not stay the course. What do you say to that?

I guess there has been that speculation for about the last year. I'm content to do just exactly what I am doing. My present intention is to stay (on the job).

The murder rate in this country is appalling: It is the wonder of the world. I believe it is higher than that of any other country. . . . What do you intend to do about it?

The responsibility for those murders is essentially a state and local responsibility. The federal government is only involved in a certain respect. But not only murders: The crime rate has been deplorable, almost a disgrace when compared with other countries.

I know the figures, but we don't seem to be doing anything about it. Do you have any feeling about a gun control law?

Well, we don't think that kind of a law is going to solve the problem you are talking about. We're against gun-control in the sense that it is usually used.

We think, for example, a far more effective way to get at that problem is, first, to more strictly enforce the laws we already have and, second . . . (increase) the penalties, that is mandatory prison sentences for the use of a gun in crime. . . .

But there is a slight glimmer of hope. The most recent figures that came out showed a slight decline in the crime rate. It is far too early to say it represents a trend. But we certainly hope it does.

What are you doing with regard to the problem of terrorism?

We are reviewing domestic security guidelines right now, and we would expect to be coming up with some changes before long.

What is your view of the recent assembly of the Ku Klux Klan - and of the Nazis in Skokie, Ill., in the previous administration?

They have their First Amendment rights like everyone else does. We all agree that it is important to protect that right despite the fact that the opinions expressed may be abhorrent to all of us.

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