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.”