Raver Madness

Scare tactics, uniformed soldiers, clueless social workers, and a compliant Miami Herald

Regardless of what Dancesafe members discover from their testing, members of the group's thirteen nationwide chapters do not seize pills. They say doing so would discourage people from ever having the drugs tested. Their immediate goal is to prevent more PMA- or DXM-related deaths, not to pass judgment. A controversial approach? To some. But then that's the whole point of the Harm Reduction Conference: to air these matters and promote discussion.

One would think the conference's controversial nature would make it ripe for coverage in the Miami Herald. Or at least a mention. But despite repeated calls and faxes to the paper from conference organizers, and despite the fact that it was held literally next door to the Herald's offices, the newspaper did not write one word about the event.

Not that everyone at the Herald chose to ignore the Harm Reduction Conference. As the conference's second day began on October 23, that morning's Herald featured a dramatic half-page Miami Coalition advertisement on page five of the “Metro” section. A boldface headline took a not-so-subtle jab at Dancesafe, declaring, “To Dance Safe Dance Drug-Free.” The ad went on to specifically attack the conference: “Miami reminds those who claim to reduce harm while promoting drug use that they send complex, confusing, and erroneous message [sic].” Beneath an ominous "Welcome to Miami, we'll be watching out for you" was an anti-rave jeremiad that warned, “Our children are being lured into a dangerous and deceptive late-night culture of “techno' music and laser lights at “Raves....' Attending or supporting these activities is like playing Russian roulette.” It was signed by figures such as Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas, Miami Beach Police Chief Richard Barreto, Florida Office of Drug Control director James McDonough, Barry University president Sister Jeanne O'Laughlin, and University of Miami president Edward T. Foote II. (A number of individuals from UM's department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, as well as its school of medicine, chose to attend the conference as featured speakers.)

Careful with those glow sticks, son; they're deadly drug paraphernalia
Brett Sokol
Careful with those glow sticks, son; they're deadly drug paraphernalia


The advertisement ended with a plug for the Miami Coalition's upcoming “mock rave” on October 28. And there at the bottom was the Miami Herald-El Nuevo Herald logo, an acknowledgement, says Bernie Diaz, of the Herald's cosponsorship of the event and its decision to partially donate the ad space.

Just as eyebrow-raising, on October 29 the Herald would find room to cover this “mock rave,” citing Diaz's dubious assertions on Ecstasy without comment while conveniently omitting any mention of the paper's cosponsorship of the event or parent company Knight Ridder's ongoing funding of the Miami Coalition.

The article's author, Eunice Ponce, and her editor apparently don't read their own newspaper. Both told Kulchur they were unaware of the Miami Coalition ad and the Herald's cosponsorship of the “mock rave,” as well as the Harm Reduction Conference's very existence. Herald health writer Christine Morris says she did speak with a conference organizer but chose not to write about it. “There was a lot going on [that week]; there are a lot of conferences,” she reports. “It's a question of my time.”

It remains unclear, then, if the Herald's use as a propaganda tool for Miami's drug warriors is deliberate or borne of editorial ignorance. Either answer is disturbing.

“It's important to address the political ramifications of this hysteria,” 22-year-old Dancesafe community organizer Theo Rosenfeld told the crowd sitting around him at a conference workshop. Holding the Miami Coalition's Herald ad aloft, he continued, “On a subtle level, condemning media such as this shuts down communication. The more the media demonizes us, the less we're going to be able to save lives.” Not that he's feeling deterred in the slightest. As soon as the conference ended, he was off to the Midwest to help set up a new Dancesafe chapter.

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