Pubdate: Mon, 06 Jun 2011
Source: Fayetteville Observer (NC)
Copyright: 2011 Fayetteville Observer
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

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

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

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

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. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.