Pubdate: Wed, 10 Aug 2011
Source: Metro Times (Detroit, MI)
Contact:  2011 C.E.G.W./Times-Shamrock
Author: Larry Gabriel


Not Your Grandfather's NAACP

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People passed
a resolution calling for an end to the War on Drugs in no uncertain
terms a couple of weeks ago during its national convention in Los Angeles.

"These flawed drug policies that have been mostly enforced in African
American communities must be stopped and replaced with evidenced-based
practices that address the root causes of drug use and abuse in
America," the resolution read.

In one move, the NAACP stepped into the fray of one of the most
contentious issues affecting communities of color at a time when many
question the relevance of the 102-year-old civil rights organization.
The resolution cites evidence showing that African-Americans are 13
times more likely to go to jail for the same drug-related offense than
their white counterparts.

The resolution was no surprise to Neil Franklin, executive director of
Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, who has been working with the
NAACP over the past year helping to educate its leadership on the
issue. Franklin, who put in 30 years working for the Maryland State
Police and the Baltimore Police Department, didn't go so far as to
call law enforcement racist, but the statistics speak to his personal
experiences while a part of the system.

"A lot of it is the law enforcement culture, the strategies that are
used," Franklin says. "It's just easier to make arrests in minority
communities even though we know from research that has been done by
the federal government that whites and blacks have the same rate of
use. The efforts in enforcement are to get the numbers that we're
looking for and report to the feds and get funding. Open-air drug
markets and open-air drug activities are in the cities. In suburban
areas drug use is more indoors. You're going to get far fewer
complaints from minority communities than from white communities. We
in law enforcement are not going to go into gated communities or
affluent white communities.

"If we did we would find ourselves working in the supply division, no
longer working in patrol or as a detective. When you make arrests,
barge into someone's home in minority communities, you're not going to
get the complaint. You might get a phone call to the precinct; that's
probably it. If you stop three Latino males and strip-search them on
the corner, you might hear a few choice words. If you stop three young
white males on the way home from school and strip-search them in one
of those communities, you've got problems even if you find something.

"In the minority community, you get more bang for your buck. Blacks
are convicted at a higher rate; blacks also receive longer prison
sentences than whites. All the way through the criminal justice system
you have these disparities."

The NAACP has a long history of successfully dealing with legal
issues, from anti-lynching law to school segregation to the Voting
Rights Act; the organization has been a conservative but effective
force in the civil rights battle. Now the costly, failed War on Drugs
that has had devastating effects on minority communities seems a noble

I wondered how the vote went. Was it contentious and tight? Was it a
landslide in favor of the resolution? What were the arguments against
the measure? What steps and tactics will the organization take as it
follows through on the resolution? I figured some of our local NAACP
officials would want to discuss this "historic" initiative. I called
the Rev. Wendell Anthony, the Detroit Chapter president, but he
declined comment, referring me to interim executive director Donnell
White. I called White and explained what I wanted to talk about to the
woman who answered the telephone. He wasn't available but she put me
through to his voice mail. Except his mailbox was full and I couldn't
leave a message. I called again the next day and successfully left a
voice mail for him although he didn't get back to me by deadline.

Maybe they're not ready to talk because the resolution has not yet
been ratified by the board of directors. That will happen during a
meeting in October. Then the organization will spell out its strategy.
Whatever it is, the NAACP, with more than 1,200 chapters nationwide,
should be a formidable partner in the fight to end the War on Drugs.

Anybody who thinks this is the wrong fight for the NAACP should take a
peek at this note from the diary of H.R. Haldeman, President Nixon's
chief of staff, referring to the launch of the war on drugs 40 years

"[President Nixon] emphasized that you have to face the fact that the
whole problem is really the blacks," Haldeman wrote. "The key is to
devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to."

That system turned out to be the War on Drugs, with marijuana being put
in the same category as such drugs as heroin and morphine. Nixon's White
House counsel, John Ehrlichman, verified the intention of the War on
Drugs in a 1995 interview with author Dan Baum, author of Smoke and
Mirrors: The war on drugs and the politics of failure.

"Look, we understood we couldn't make it illegal to be young or poor
or black in the United States, but we could criminalize their common
pleasure," Ehrlichman confessed. "We understood that drugs were not
the health problem we were making them out to be, but it was such a
perfect issue for the Nixon White House that we couldn't resist it."

That irresistible urge has cost more than a trillion dollars,
destroyed countless lives, and created a prison industry that is
bursting at the seams. There is so much money in the system, from
federal dollars to those taken from arrestees through forfeiture laws
that law enforcement is loath to let it go. But the battle against the
War on Drugs just got some major reinforcements from the NAACP.

"The significance here with the NAACP is that it's an old and
established organization which is well-rooted and well-organized
throughout the country," says Franklin. "This creates a very good
network for getting information out and getting things done. I'm
interested and excited about what happens from here. The one thing
that would serve them well to push for is a proper discussion at the
national level, out of Washington D.C., that's what really needs to
happen. It's time for policymakers to properly address this issue."

These are things that would not have been addressed by your
grandfather's NAACP. 
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