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The Impact Of America’s War On Drugs On African-American Men And The Black Community (VIDEO)

Launched in the early 1970s, the War on Drugs is the nation’s longest, most expensive battle — 40 years and hundreds of billions of dollars spent and millions of lives destroyed. It continues, even though most experts say it can’t, and will never, be won. And though whites are more likely to use or sell narcotics, African-Americans, and black men in particular, have become the war’s primary casualties.

Federal government stats show African-Americans make up 14 percent of regular drug users, but are about 37 percent of those arrested for drug crimes. From 1980 to 2007 — the height of the crackdown — 25.4 million adults were charged with possession or use of illegal narcotics. 8.5 million of those were African-Americans, nearly three times the percentage of blacks in the general population. Of the nearly 1 million African-Americans behind bars, about two thirds are there for nonviolent drug offenses, even though whites are more likely than blacks to use illegal drugs.

President Obama and drug czar Gil Kerlikowske have made tentative steps away from the Drug War. In 2010, President Obama signed a law reducing disproportionately tough sentences for crack cocaine, but that went from 100 to 1 to 18 to 1, and Kerlikowske has pushed treatment for drug offenders instead of incarceration.

Yet, the number of black men behind bars continues to spiral as the war grinds on, keeping men out of college, out of the workforce and out of their homes. Over the last 20 years, studies show about one out of every ten black children has had a father in a prison cell.

Roland Martin talked with Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project; and Neill Franklin. He’s a Baltimore ex-police officer who is executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition about the impact the War on Drugs has had on the African-American community.

 

MR. MARTIN:  Welcome back.

In a moment, we’ll talk to a former Baltimore police officer who wants to legalize street drugs and end the War on Drugs; but first, some background.

Launched in the early 1970s, the War on Drugs is the nation’s longest, most expensive battle – 40 years and hundreds of billions of dollars spent and millions of lives destroyed.  It continues, even though most experts say it can’t, and will never, be won.  And though whites are more likely to use or sell narcotics, African-Americans, and black men in particular, have become the war’s primary casualties.

Federal government stats show African-Americans make up 14 percent of regular drug users, but are about 37 percent of those arrested for drug crimes.  From 1980 to 2007 – the height of the crackdown – 25.4 million adults were charged with possession or use of illegal narcotics.  8.5 million of those were African-Americans, nearly three times the percentage of blacks in the general population.  Of the nearly 1 million African-Americans behind bars, about two thirds are there for nonviolent drug offenses, even though whites are more likely than blacks to use illegal drugs.

President Obama and drug czar Gil Kerlikowske have made tentative steps away from the Drug War.  In 2010, President Obama signed a law reducing disproportionately tough sentences for crack cocaine, but that went from 100 to 1 to 18 to 1, and Kerlikowske has pushed treatment for drug offenders instead of incarceration.

Yet, the number of black men behind bars continues to spiral as the war grinds on, keeping men out of college, out of the workforce and out of their homes.  Over the last 20 years, studies show about one out of every ten black children has had a father in a prison cell.

Joining us to talk about impact the War on Drugs has had on African-American communities is Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project; and Neill Franklin.  He’s a Baltimore ex-police officer who is executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

Folks, welcome to the show.

MS. JUDITH BROWNE DIANIS:  Thanks, Roland.

MR. NEILL FRANKLIN:  Thanks for having me, Roland.

MR. MARTIN:  When you look at those numbers, and you see how dramatic it is, what jumps out is the fact that you have folks who are nonviolent offenders who are filling up state prisons, filling up federal prisons at a time when, frankly, we can’t afford to be able to house, and continue to house, more and more folks in prisons.

When do you believe politicians are going to gain their senses and say, “This policy makes no sense”?

MS. DIANIS:  Well, I think we’re seeing it now.  I do think that there are some states that are taking up a different approach to the War on Drugs; because we see, you know, that we’re, like, burgeoning.  I mean, you know, there’re too many people.  It’s costing too much.  In fact, it’s interesting that Republicans have been taking up this issue, because they know that we’re spending too much on prisons.

But we haven’t gotten there yet.  We really do need for the Administration – the Obama Administration – to really take leadership on this issue and start to change the frame to prevention and treatment.

MR. MARTIN:  A major civil rights leader told me that they have gotten more support on sentencing reform and issues like this from Republican governors than they have from Democratic governors.

MR. FRANKLIN:  Right.

MR. MARTIN:  Those Republican governors are looking at it from a fiscal standpoint.

From my vantage point, I don’t care what your motive is.  It, frankly, is right.

MR. FRANKLIN:  Right.  But the numbers that you just mentioned, you know, this is truly an issue about race and class.  And that is my motive.  That’s my motivation for doing the work that I do.

MS. DIANIS:  Right.  And I think, Roland, the thing is that, while we want them to take up this issue – and maybe they’re it up for fiscal reasons – when you have the wrong motive, sometimes you have the wrong remedy.  Right?

MR. FRANKLIN:  Right.

MS. DIANIS:  And so what we need to make sure is when they’re taking up this issue, are they making sure that the prevention and treatment is in place.  Are they also dismantling certain policies that lead to this?  So, for example, you can’t just say, “Let’s get people out of prison” and not take care of stop-and-frisk.

MR. FRANKLIN:  Right.  The reason – [crosstalk]- –

MS. DIANIS:  I mean you have to take care of these other issues that lead to –

MR. FRANKLIN:  Right.

MS. DIANIS:  — this pipeline.

MR. FRANKLIN:  Right.  The reason I’m afraid of this [is] because what happens when our fiscal situation improves?  Okay?  Do we go back to more prisons, more police, more correctional officers?  So, we have to dismantle the systems that are in place for putting so many people in prison in the first place; and that, number one, is the drug war.

MR. MARTIN:  And we talk about that.  When I hear folks say, “Let’s legalize drugs,” the reality is that’s not going to happen, frankly, when you have parents, when you have folks out there who already have this view in terms of, “This is how I sort of feel [about] drugs.”

How will legalizing drugs somehow fix this problem?

MR. FRANKLIN:  Well, I mean just go back to the 1920s with alcohol prohibition. That was the other time in our nation’s history when homicides were literally through the roof.  We had the running gun battles back then.  We had the drive-by shootings back then, but when we ended alcohol prohibition, so did the homicide rate go down drastically.

Now, with drug prohibition, we brought it back up again.  Violent crime, the gangs in our communities fighting each other over market share for the drug trade.

Let me ask you a question.  What part[s] of our current policies of drug prohibition are working?  Do we have less crime?  Less addiction rates?  Less disease?  Less overdose deaths?  No!  None of it’s working.  And the only solution to ending the drug war is to end the prohibition of drugs.  That means legalization.

MR. MARTIN:  Judith?

MS. DIANIS:  The other thing is that we have to get back to the other kinds of things that people need to give them hope, to get them out of a cycle –

MR. FRANKLIN:  True.

MS. DIANIS:  — of drugs in their lives – right?  We need better schools.  We need opportunities.  People don’t have jobs!  So, we have to give people the other kinds of things – the wrap-around kind of services – but also programs in ’hood that actually get people out of that life and give them other opportunities.

MR. FRANKLIN:  Very true, because the drug trade right now is not only attractive to our young people.  They have better recruitment programs – these gangs – into the drug business.  They have better recruitment programs than many of our Fortune 500 companies.

MR. MARTIN:  All right.  Judith and Neill, we certainly appreciate it.  Thanks a lot.

MS. DIANIS:  Thanks.

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  • blackchild140

    Eric Holder disappoints me when it comes to this. He was born and raised in Harlem. He sure as hell knows adding baking soda to cocaine does not warrant a punishment 18 times over it being just powder. The real puzzling part is the powder cocaine is the substance that can be manipulated to be abused in numerous ways, but also the drug of choice for affluent whites therfore it could never carry a heavy penalty for low level amounts. The exact opposite applies to crack.

  • Jeebus

    Why does someone get arrested?

    They get *caught breaking the law*. Race has nothing to do with that.

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