Pubdate: Mon, 11 Jul 2011
Source: Athens Banner-Herald (GA)
Copyright: 2011 Athens Newspapers Inc
Author: Leonard Pitts, Athens Banner-Herald, 2004 Pulitzer Prize


Dear President Obama: Right after your election, somebody asked if I thought having a black president meant black people's concerns would now receive attention at the executive level. I told them I expected the opposite.

There used to be a saying -- only Nixon could go to China. Meaning, of
course, that only he, as a staunch anti-communist, had the credibility
to make overtures to that nation without accusations of being soft on
communism. By the inverse of that political calculus, I never expected
that you, as a black man, would do much to address black issues.

And the limitations of your presidency where African-Americans are
concerned have never been more obvious than they are on this year's
40th anniversary of the aforementioned President Nixon asking Congress
for $155 million to combat a problem he said had "assumed the
dimensions of a national emergency." Thus was born the War on Drugs.

Seven presidents later, the war grinds on. And if it has made even a
dent in drug use, you could not prove it by me -- nor, I would wager,
by most observers.

Recently, the Global Commission on Drug Policy, a group of
international leaders including Kofi Annan, the former
secretary-general of the United Nations, issued a report that begins
with this unambiguous declaration: "The global war on drugs has failed."

Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a group of cops, judges and other
law women and men, calculates we have made 40 million arrests and sunk
a trillion dollars into that failure. In its recent report, LEAP
criticizes you for talking a good game but doing precious little when
it comes to reframing drug abuse as a matter of public health -- not
criminal justice.

Frankly, Mr. President, you should take this one personally. As you
must know, the War on Drugs has been, in effect, a war on black men.

Though whites are the nation's biggest users and dealers of illicit
drugs, blacks are the ones most likely to be jailed for drug crimes
and to suffer the disruption of families and communities that comes
with it.

You have done little to address these and other racial inequities of
the criminal injustice system.

Here's the exception that proves the rule: Until recently, sentencing
guidelines treated one gram of crack cocaine (i.e., the "black" drug)
the same as 100 grams of regular cocaine (i.e., the "white" drug). You
signed a law changing that 100-to-1 disparity. It is now an 18-to-1
disparity. Pardon me if I don't break out the confetti.

Here's the thing, Mr. Obama: Our last three presidents are known -- or in George W. Bush's case, strongly believed -- to have used illicit drugs when they were young. None of you were caught.

But what if you had been? They might have been given a second chance
by some judge who saw merit or potential in them. They might still
have gone on to become productive men.

Mr. President, what do you think would most likely have happened to

You know the answer as well as I do.

And what you know should compel you to do something about

No, that might not be politic, but it would definitely be

The most fitting way to mark the 40th anniversary of the War on Drugs
is to ensure the 41st never comes.
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.