Pubdate: Wed, 14 Aug 2013
Source: Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN)
Copyright: 2013 The Commercial Appeal
Author: Leonard Pitts Jr.
Note: Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald.
Page: 6A


It's been a war on justice, an assault on equal protection under the

And a war on families, removing millions of fathers from millions of

And a war on money, spilling it like water.

And a war on people of color, targeting them with drone-strike

We never call it any of those things, though all of them fit. No, we
call it the War on Drugs. It is a 42-year, trillion-dollar disaster
that has done nothing - underscore that: absolutely nothing - to stem
the inexhaustible supply of, and insatiable demand for, illegal
narcotics. In the process, it has rendered this "land of the free" the
biggest jailer on Earth.

So any reason to hope sanity might assert itself is cause for
celebration. Monday, we got two of them, a coincidental confluence of
headlines that left me wondering, albeit, fleetingly: Did the War on
Drugs just end?

Well, no. Let's not get carried away. But it is fair to say two of the
biggest guns just went silent.

Gun 1: In a speech before an American Bar Association conference in
San Francisco, Atty. Gen. Eric Holder announced that federal
prosecutors will no longer charge nonviolent, low-level drug offenders
with offenses that fall under mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines.
Those Kafkaesque rules, you may recall, got Kemba Smith, a college
student with no criminal record, sentenced to almost 25 years without
parole after she carried money for her abusive, drug-dealing boyfriend.

Gun 2: A federal judge ruled New York City's stop-and-frisk policy
unconstitutional. The tactic, more in line with some communist
backwater than with a nation that explicitly guarantees freedom from
random search and seizure, empowered cops to search anyone they deemed
suspicious, no probable cause necessary. Unsurprisingly, 84 percent of
those stopped were black or Hispanic, according to the Center for
Constitutional Rights, a civil rights group, which says illegal drugs
or weapons were found in less than 2 percent of the searches.

Michelle Alexander wrote the book on the drug war - literally. "The
New Jim Crow" documents in painful, painstaking detail how policies
like these have been directed disproportionately against communities
of color with devastating effect.

She told me via e-mail that Monday's headlines leave her "cautiously
optimistic" they reflect an emerging national consensus that "war on
certain communities defined by race and class has proved to be both
immoral and irrational, wasting billions of dollars and countless lives."

But, she warned, "tinkering with the incarceration machine" is not
enough. These are important first steps, but only that. She'd like to
see the resources that have been wasted in this "war" redirected to
help the communities it decimated.

"We've spent more than a trillion dollars destroying those communities
in the War on Drugs; we can spend at least that much helping them to
recover. We must build a movement for education, not incarceration;
jobs, not jails. We must do justice by repairing the harm that has
been done. In that process, perhaps we will finally reverse the
psychology that brought us to this point and learn to care about poor
people of all colors, rather than simply viewing them as the problem."

We can only hope. At the very least, Monday's headlines suggest maybe
a sea change is under way. Maybe we're ready to stop using criminal
justice tools to solve a public health problem. Maybe we're ready to
end this "war."

It's about time. Indeed, it is past time. Our stubborn insistence on
these foolish, unworkable policies has left families bereft,
communities devastated, cops and bystanders dead, money wasted,
foreign governments destabilized, distrust legitimized and justice

We call it a War on Drugs. Truth is, drugs are about the only thing it
hasn't hurt.
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