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Thursday, October 21, 2021

Activists Urge End to War on Drugs


Ron Daniels (black cap, black shirt) president of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and Rev. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (center) lead a march protesting the War on Drugs in Washington, D.C. (Freddie Allen/NNPA).
Ron Daniels (black cap, black shirt) president of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and Rev. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (center) lead a march protesting the War on Drugs in Washington, D.C. (Freddie Allen/NNPA).

 WASHINGTON  (NNPA) – Black activists marked the 42nd anniversary of the War on  Drugs with a protest in front of the White House aimed at ending a targeted  action that has led to the disproportionate arresting, conviction and  incarceration of Blacks for decades.

The  Institute of the Black World 21st Century, an organization dedicated  to the empowerment of the Black community, mobilized a network of community  groups last Monday for the “day of direct action.”

Workers  on their lunch breaks and a few tourists paused to snap cell phone photos of the  group of activists as they marched, led by a police escort, from the  Metropolitan A.M.E. Church in Washington, D.C. down 16th Street NW  and into Lafayette Park for the rally. Event organizers and marchers touted the  symbolism of protesting against the president’s War on Drugs within shouting  distance of the White House.

“The  War on Drugs was started by a president and it needs to end with the president,”  said Courtney Stewart, chairman of The Reentry Network for Returning Citizens a  group that helps ex-offenders find jobs, housing and access to social services.  “Everything starts with leadership. President Obama is the leader of this great  nation. He needs to end the War on Drugs.”

Ron  Daniels, president of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century,  said that the ‘War on Drugs’ is a war on us. Daniels, a veteran social and  political activist, said that the statistics are clear and reveal racial  discrimination in the criminal justice system.

The  Sentencing Project, a non-profit organization focused on criminal justice  advocacy and research, reported that Blacks make up 12 percent of the total  population of drug users, “but 34% of those arrested for drug offenses, and 45%  of those in state prison for a drug offense.” Whites accounted for less than 29  percent of state prisoners incarcerated for drug offenses.

According  to a 2010 study conducted by The Pew Charitable Trusts, one in 12 working-aged  Black men is in prison or jail, compared to 1 in 87 working-aged White  men.

The  report also showed that “2.7 million children have a parent behind bars,” and  most are incarcerated for non-violent offenses. More than 11 percent of Black  children have a parent that is locked up, compared to less than 2 percent of  White children who share the same fate.

“Children  with fathers who have been incarcerated are significantly more likely than other  children to be expelled or suspended from school,” stated the report. When  children spend less time in school as a result of disciplinary action, they  often spend more time in the juvenile justice system, which can lead to a young  person becoming ensnared in the criminal justice system as an adult.

Statistics  associated with the so-called ‘War on Marijuana’ show even deeper  disparities.

According  to a recent report by the American Civil Liberties Union titled “The  War on Marijuana in Black and White,” a Black person is 3.73 times more  likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a White person, even though  Blacks and Whites use marijuana at similar rates.”

States  collectively spent more than $3.6 billion chasing down and arresting Americans  for marijuana possession and in at least one case, for just a seed of marijuana.  According to the ACLU study, there was a marijuana arrest every 37 seconds in  2010. In some states, Blacks were “six times more likely to get arrested for  marijuana possession than Whites.” In the worst counties in America, the  disparity between Black-White marijuana arrests jumped to 30 to 1.

“Just  as with the larger drug war,” the ACLU report said, “the War on Marijuana has,  quite simply, served as a vehicle for police to target communities of  color.”

Ron  Daniels said that the War on Drugs is a targeted, racially-biased program that  is devastating and destroying the Black community.

Jesse  Jackson, founder and president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, abandoned the  usual melting pot analogy often used to describe a diverse group of people  working together.

“Black  people cannot sacrifice the integrity of our Black experience for that  coalition,” said Jackson.

Many  of the criminal justice advocates used their proximity to the White House to  make a point about the current administration.

“The  president has to come out and say that he supports the Black community and that  he understands the issues that affect the Black community,” said Stewart. “He  has to say that he understands the disparities, that he understands the lack of  hope, that he understands the joblessness, and that he understands how this ‘War  on Drugs’ has really decimated our community.”

Stewart  said that until President Obama articulates those concerns on a national stage  and backs those concerns with policy reforms, little will change. Stewart said  that without that, many people won’t fight, because they don’t see their leader  in the White House fighting.

The  network of community organizations and activists called on the president to  intensify efforts to eliminate drug sentencing disparities, to publicly support  the decriminalization of the possession of small amounts of marijuana, and to  allocate more funds for drug education, counseling, and treatment.

Daniels  said that ending the War on Drugs will take a significant mass movement, similar  to the grassroots campaigns that increased national and, at times, global  awareness about issues affecting other minority groups in the United  States.

“How  did marriage equality come about? The immigration question, why is that on the  table now?” asked Daniels. “The dreamers never stopped dreaming. You can’t just  sit back. You have to keep organizing, and organizing, and organizing until your  message is heard.”

Jackson  said that it’s not enough just to have friends in high places.

“At  the end of the day it’s about direction,” Jackson said. “It’s not merely about  complexion.”

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