Pubdate: Sun, 27 Jan 2013
Source: Oakland Press, The (MI)
Copyright: 2013 The Oakland Press
Author: Leonard Pitts Jr.


Dear Mr. President: Congratulations on your second inauguration.
Let's talk about drugs. As it happens, today's festivities fell on
Martin Luther King Day. This isn't the first time you and Dr. King
have encountered one another on the calendar. You first accepted your
party's nomination for the presidency on the 45th anniversary of his
"I Have a Dream" speech.

Though King is a hero for you, one suspects you find mild annoyance in
that confluence of dates, given that it draws attention to that which
you have assiduously ignored. Meaning, of course, race and the
milestone your presidency represents.

Not that anyone should blame you for this. Your predicament is
reminiscent of a fairly obscure comic book character named Black Bolt.
Because his merest whisper can shatter mountains, he is doomed to live
as a mute. That's an apt description of you with regard to race. The
social and political dynamics of your unique position are such that
whatever you say on the subject is magnified a hundredfold,
reverberates through the echo chamber of media until it drowns out
everything else. And any racially related action you take is magnified
beyond even that, as your opponents will surely use it in an effort to
shrink and delimit your presidency.

On the other hand, when have they ever needed an excuse to do

Mr. President, one should always be cautious in speculating what might
happen "if so-and-so were alive today," if only because it is unfair
to "so-and-so," who gets used like an advertising mascot and has no
say in the matter. But, that said, one cannot help but believe that if
your hero Martin - our hero Martin - were with us today, he would be
deeply concerned about the inequities and iniquities of the so-called
War on Drugs.

For over 40 years, it has fallen on African-American men like a
hammer, a litany of selective enforcement and incarceration funneling
white drug offenders into diversion programs or otherwise giving them
the benefit of judicial discretion, while locking up black ones in
numbers that are nothing less than a national scandal. In some states,
a black drug offender is as much as 50 times more likely than a white
one to be incarcerated

For the African-American community, it is a state of affairs that has
implications far beyond the injustice system. It touches on poverty
(former felons are often denied employment); father absence (it is
hard to be a father from behind a glass barricade); housing (former
felons can be banned from public housing); education (drug offenders
can be denied student loans); voting rights (former felons often lose
the ballot).

A handful of your predecessors, Mr. President, at significant
political risk, struck away most of the legal strictures binding
African-Americans to lives of paltriness, penury and pain. But this
one remains, and it falls to you.

Granted, you have other things on your plate as your second term
begins: immigration reform, gun control, war, the economy. Put this
there, too.

African-Americans gave you 93 percent of their vote. Yes,
conservatives often read into that number some conspiracy of racial
solidarity against them. And yes, like so much of what conservatives
say these days, that's both silly and antifactual. John Kerry got 88
percent of the black vote, Al Gore got 90 and neither man has ever
sung an Al Green song at the Apollo Theater.

Still, it is obvious there is in the African-American community a
great affection for you and pride in you. If that holds any meaning
for you, you must address this issue. At some point, the failure to do
so amounts to nothing less than moral cowardice.

Dismantle the failed War on Drugs, Mr. President. In so doing, you
would honor Dr. King's legacy. And help ensure your own.
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