The Institute of the Black World 21st Century (IBW), in conjunction with the Black Family Summit, has decided to join the fight to dismantle the repressive and discriminatory strategy that has disproportionately damaged Black communities. Working collaboratively with organizations like the African American Drug Policy Coalition, Break the Chains: Communities of Color and the War on Drugs, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, Criminal Justice Program of NAACP, Black Leadership Commission on AIDS and groups affiliated with the Drug Policy Alliance, IBW will seek to broaden the base and intensify the opposition to the War on Drugs with a focus on the Black community.
Through strategic conversations and orientation sessions with a broad cross-section of national leaders, workshops at the national conferences of participants in the Black Family Summit, Town Hall Meetings in selected cities and the regular dissemination of educational information through the Black press, IBW will mobilize support for a 10 Point Action Agenda including: Ending the criminalization of drug abuse which disproportionately impacts people of color and the poor and utilize a public health model to create just and humane alternatives to the War on Drugs; Supporting the promotion of evidence-based approaches to address drug policy, including treatment instead of incarceration, harm reduction and decriminalization models; Ending racial profiling which results in Blacks being stopped, frisked and arrested more often than other races, causing the disproportionate criminalization and incarceration of Black people; Supporting changes in laws and policies to allow people with felony convictions and criminal records who have served their time to be gainfully employed, adequately housed, successfully reintegrated into society and have their voting rights restored; Supporting a dialogue on the pros and cons of the regulation of drugs to decrease crime, violence and fratricide in Black communities.
The latter point is controversial because it involves consideration of legalizing and regulating drugs, perhaps beginning with marijuana to remove the drive for illicit profits, criminal activities and horrific violence often associated with the trafficking of drugs. Drugs trafficking and drug abuse/addition has caused so much damage in the Black community that for some it is inconceivable that drugs should be regulated. The cold reality is that prohibition has not stopped drug abuse or trafficking in drugs in our society in general and in the Black community in particular. What has occurred is the targeting of Black communities and the criminalization and mass incarceration of Black people. Therefore, at a minimum a reasoned national dialogue on regulation of drugs should be on the table. The bottom line is we must find a way to end the scourge of the war on drugs and heal our communities.
However, healing Black communities will require more than ending the War on Drugs. As noted earlier, the War on Drugs became a calculated substitute for the kinds of investments required to achieve social, economic and racial justice in America’s dark ghettos. Therefore, the fight for just and humane alternatives must include a demand for the end of the era of “blatant neglect” which has characterized urban policy for decades. Nothing short of the adoption of “Domestic Marshall Plan” type social, economic and jobs initiatives is needed to create wholesome urban inner-city communities. As Richard Moore, a Latino environmental justice activist once put it, the people residing in the urban inner-city areas of this nation are “the wrong complexion to get the protection!” Race still matters in American society. Accordingly, the demand for targeted social, economic and jobs programs is an indispensible part of IBW’s Action Agenda.
To implement the Action Agenda, IBW is launching an online petition campaign to recruit an “Army of Advocates and Organizers” to End the War on Drugs (www.ibw21.org). Winning the war against the War on Drugs will not be easy. There are entrenched forces that have a vested interest in the policies that have produced mass incarceration of African Americans and spawned the prison-jail industrial complex. Moreover, it is difficult for segments of the American electorate, including some liberals, to confront the reality of the racial dimensions of crime and punishment in our society. Despite these misgivings, study after study has shown that racial bias in America’s criminal justice system is a fact of life. Indeed, in a brilliantly researched and written volume on this subject, Dr. Michelle Alexander has called the phenomenon of mass incarceration of African Americans the “New Jim Crow.” Accordingly, something akin to Martin Luther King’s “coalition of conscience” will be required to inform, educate and persuade a majority of Americans to press for reforms to rectify the wrongs of the War on Drugs and decades of blatant neglect that have wreaked havoc on so many communities and ruined the lives of so many families. If we are to achieve the “dream” of “a more perfect union,” then the “New Jim Crow” must be abolished!
Dr. Ron Daniels is President of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and Distinguished Lecturer at York College City University of New York. His articles and essays also appear on the IBW website www.ibw21.org and www.northstarnews.com.
Part II of Dr. Daniels' commentary on the nation's "War on Drugs"