Mothers from around the country joined law enforcement and students in the nation’s capitol, recently, to launch a new campaign comprised of national organizations seeking to end the drug war.

Representatives from several organizations shared powerful stories of losing loved ones to drug prohibition-related violence, incarceration, overdose and addiction. The group also unveiled the “Mom’s Bill of Rights.”

“The war on drugs is really a war on families,” said Gretchen Burns Bergman, member of Moms United to End the War on Drugs Campaign and founder of A New PATH. “It is time to end the stigmatization and criminalization of people who use drugs and move from arrest and mass incarceration to therapeutic, health-oriented strategies.”

Bergman continued. “Moms were the driving force in repealing alcohol prohibition and now moms will play a similar role in ending the war on drugs,” said Bergman, a San Diego mother of two sons who have both struggled with heroin addiction and repeated incarceration.

Joyce Rivera, founder of St. Ann’s Corner of Harm Reduction, in New York, said all the presidents since Nixon put forth failing strategies to end the war on drugs. “Stop incarcerating thousands of people for drug use. It fractures families and gives our children unnecessary criminal records,” said Rivera. Her sister died from HIV/AIDS associated with injecting heroin.

Rivera also believed marijuana should be legalized nationally. “In New York, we should immediately cease the ‘stop and frisk’ policy that allows the police to search a person based on a computer probability. So many lives have been ruined as a direct result of it,” said Rivera.

Joy Strickland, a mother in Dallas, Texas and CEO of Mothers Against Teen Violence, whose son was killed by drug prohibition-related violence sent President Obama a message through Youtube about changing his stance on the decriminalization of drug use.

“If the president can ‘evolve’ his position on gay marriage which doesn’t kill anyone, surely he can ‘evolve’ his stance on the drug war. The current policies are harmful to individuals and families. Many people have died. It ruins peoples’ lives forever. It creates a caste system against people of color,” said Strickland.

As pointed out in a book entitled, Dorm Room Dealers: Drugs and the Privileges of Race and Class by Rafik Mohamed and Erik Pritsvold, white middle class college students have the highest rates of illicit drug use and many of these youth are “invisible” to law enforcement because they do not fit the common stereotype of a drug dealer frequently portrayed in the media. From extensive research, the authors conclude, “the abuse of drugs, like oxycontin, kills more people than crack cocaine yet, as indicated by the intensity, or lack thereof, of arrests and prosecution, the criminal justice system views crack cocaine as the greater harm to society.”

Nina Graves a former assistant police chief in Florida said as part of their duties, officers are forced to arrest people for possession of drugs, no matter how small the quantity. “The policies and enforcement seem directed at people of color. We keep arresting the same people for the same crime of personal possession that should be channeled to other agencies to address addiction,” Graves said. “We are fighting something that we can’t change by continuously arresting users.”

According to the Sentencing Project, policies brought about by the “war on drugs” resulted in a dramatic growth in incarceration for drug offenses. At the Federal level, prisoners incarcerated on a drug charge comprise half of the prison population, while the number of drug offenders in state prisons has increased thirteen-fold since 1980. Most of these people are not high-level actors in the drug trade, and most have no prior criminal record for a violent offense.

The US Department of Justice reports about 2.2 million people are incarcerated in prisons with non-violent drug offenders accounting for approximately one quarter of the inmates. ‘We invite mothers from across the nation to join us in speaking out to end the war on drugs that has been so disastrous to our families, and to sign our Moms United Bill of Rights on our website: www.momsunited.net,” said Bergman.

Valencia Mohammed

Special to the AFRO