Pubdate: Fri, 16 Aug 2013
Source: Richmond Times-Dispatch (VA)
Copyright: 2013 The Miami Herald
Author: Leonard Pitts


It's been a war on justice, an assault on equal protection under the 
law. And a war on families, removing millions of fathers from 
millions of homes.

And a war on money, spilling it like water.

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

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, Attorney General 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 town 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 email 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 betrayed.

We call it a War on Drugs. Truth is, drugs are about the only thing 
it hasn't hurt.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom