Pubdate: Mon, 06 Jun 2011 Source: Fayetteville Observer (NC) Copyright: 2011 Fayetteville Observer Contact: http://www.fayobserver.com Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/150 Author: Troy Williams, Independent management consultant. Can be heard on the "Wake Up" radio program on WIDU 1600 AM on Thursdays at 11 a.m. and can be reached at IS IT REALLY A WAR ON DRUGS? The United States has the highest documented incarceration rate in the world. With less than 5 percent of the world's population, we have almost a quarter of the world's prisoners. Experts point to several factors for explanation, but it's clear that a large number of people are imprisoned for drug-related crimes. Officially declared the "War on Drugs" by President Richard Nixon in 1971, this has become the longest and most costly war in American history. The question has become, how much more can we tolerate? America's drug war has failed to curb demand and I suspect we will never become a drug-free society. You're walking a tightrope when you're discussing crime and incarceration in America. It's impossible to tell the truth without discussing race too. And frank conversation about race comes with the risk of offending and angering both whites and blacks. However, real progress will require a pointed discussion in blunt terms that both sides can see and understand. This country's national drug-control strategy continues to miss the mark by focusing too much on locking up minor drug offenders, who are disproportionately African-American. The War on Drugs in reality has become a war on African-Americans. Whether you agree with my premise or not, the truth is that continuing the practice of targeting small-time drug dealers rather than working to curb drug use will only serve to increase the prison population and further divide our communities. We can't arrest our way out of this mess. However, mandatory sentencing for those found possessing and selling drugs is the response most Americans support. The change in sentencing laws came about in the 1980s in the height of the War on Drugs. Mandatory sentencing successfully took the judge's gavel and replaced it with a rubber stamp. The one-size-fits-all sentencing scheme overcrowds our prisons and contributes to a growing financial crisis. A person sentenced to five years for possession or sale of $50 worth of illicit drugs costs the taxpayers more than $100,000, not including prosecution expenses. Can you wrap your brain around that? There is a certain arrogance, I suppose, for anyone living outside of the black community who presumes to generalize about how African-Americans ought to think and what they are likely to do when many of them are engaged in a daily war of survival. Crack cocaine distribution networks present an enormous social threat to our communities, especially poor black neighborhoods. The quest for drugs and the love of money fuel an extraordinary crime rate that includes shootings, homicides and unsavory paths for many unwilling victims. The vicious cycle between the seller, the addict, the enabler and family is a familiar one to anyone acquainted with underprivileged neighborhoods. Law enforcement and others also need to understand that being labeled an informant or snitch can result in serious intimidation, threats and even death. When self-preservation is at stake, individuals do what they believe is in their immediate best interest. Real solutions demand that people on both sides of the color line understand each other. The greater society often pre-judges and sustains prejudices that obscure a fair and accurate perception of the circumstances. For example, there is the ridiculous belief that black people are more apt to sell or use drugs. Any perception of a propensity to use drugs based on race is an unfair calculation and a departure from objective reality and empirical data. I'm not a liberal who wants to tone down accountability for criminal behavior by giving hoodlums a crutch. I am a proponent of classic police work and I believe in its value when applied appropriately. Furthermore, I am a realist and my views are from a frontline perspective. Fighting this war in the current manner is unwinnable. I am not accusing police officers of racism and I don't believe drug laws were created with racist intent either. But no one can deny the negative consequences - and the disproportionate effect that current policing policies have on the black community. While I will acknowledge that the majority of the street drug dealers arrested are black, it's also true the drug trade is primarily fueled by consumers from the white side of town. Black folks don't make up enough of the population; if the drug problem was a "black only" thing, it could be easily solved. And I am sure disproportionate stops and searches of black motorists without giving persuasive reasons is not the answer. All this does is create more wannabe thugs and make some black children not respect the police. Drugs are destroying our community and have become an obstacle to better race relations. City leaders must make a choice. It must be about people and not about defending failed policies. - --- MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.