Pubdate: Tue, 02 Aug 2011
Source: Post-Bulletin (Rochester, MN)
Copyright: 2011 Post-Bulletin Company, LLC
Author: Leonard Pitts Jr.
Note: Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for
commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald.


There was a quake last week, but you likely didn't feel it. See, this
particular quake was not of the Earth, involved no shifting of the
planetary crust. No, what shifted was a paradigm, and the implications
are hopeful and profound.

On Tuesday, you see, the NAACP passed a resolution calling for an end
to the War on Drugs.

Said NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous in a written statement,
"These flawed drug policies that have been mostly enforced in
African-American communities must be stopped and replaced with
evidence-based practices that address the root causes of drug use and
abuse in America."

Here's why this matters. Or, more to the point, why it matters more
than if such a statement came from Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton. The
NAACP is not just the nation's oldest and largest civil rights
organization. It is also its most conservative.

That word is used here not in the modern sense of tea party antics or
Fox "News" rantings but, rather, in the original sense, denoting a
propensity toward caution and a distrust of the bold, the risky, the
new. And that's the NAACP all over.

Let the Universal Negro Improvement Association go back to Africa. Let
the Nation of Islam preach black supremacy. Let the Congress of Racial
Equality launch Freedom Rides.

The NAACP went to court.

Yes, the comparison is simplistic, but it's essentially apt. Nor is
the point of it to disparage - after all, going to court produced a
landmark ruling in 1954. No, it's only to say there has always been
something determinedly middle class and cautious about the NAACP. This
is the group whose then-leader, Roy Wilkins, famously detested Martin
Luther King for his street theatrics.

For that group, then, to demand an end to the Drug War represents a
monumental sea change.

Interestingly, a number of other conservative - again, in the old,
intelligent sense of the word - observers have also questioned U.S.
drug policy. That includes George Schultz, Ronald Reagan's secretary
of state; Kathleen Parker, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist; and the
late William F. Buckley Jr., founder of the National Review.

And why not? By now, two things should be neon obvious where the Drug
War is concerned.

The first is that it failed. Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, an
advocacy group, reports that after 40 million arrests and a trillion
dollars spent to fight drug use, the number of those who have used
drugs is up 2,800 percent since 1970.

The second is that it has come down like a hammer on the
African-American community while leaving the white community, which
does most of the buying, selling and using of drugs in this country,
unscathed. The Sentencing Project, another advocacy group, reports
that while two-thirds of regular crack users are white or Latino,
better than 80 percent of those sentenced in federal court for
crack-related crimes are black. That is absurd, obscene and unjust.

It is time to concede what has long been apparent: you cannot jail
people out of wanting what they want. But, you just might be able to
treat and educate them to that purpose. Granted, that will require a
paradigm shift some of us will find difficult to get our heads around.

But if the NAACP can do it, you and I have no excuse.
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.