Pubdate: Mon, 11 Jul 2016
Source: Albuquerque Journal (NM)
Copyright: 2016 Albuquerque Journal
Author: Danielle Allen, Special to the Washington Post
Note: Danielle Allen is a political theorist at Harvard University.


Without a doubt, we Americans are in a bad way.

The senseless deaths this week in Baton Rouge, La., Falcon Heights, 
Minn., and now Dallas are devastating beyond comprehension for the 
victims and their families. Each shooting is also an act in a shared 
national tragedy.

The problems go down to the very roots.

The question of whether, as a country, we are headed in the right or 
wrong direction can no longer be answered simply with reference to 
policy matters such as the economy, education or foreign relations. 
Instead, we face the fundamental question of whether we, the people, 
as a single people, are holding together and can hold together.

What has brought us here? You will be skeptical of my answer but, in 
the years since I published a book called "Talking to Strangers," I 
have been watching the course we were on and I keep coming back to 
the same answer.

I truly believe that the war on drugs is responsible for the level of 
violence in our cities, the militarization of the police, a 
concomitant distortion of policing habits and a process of 
degradation of inner-city minority communities that is now decades long.

Americans of all races use drugs and do so, with the exception of 
Asian Americans, at roughly the same rates; yet our laws are 
disproportionately enforced against African-Americans and Latino 
Americans. Our hypocrisy has cut into our soul.

The judicial system is swollen with non-violent drug offenses, 
leading to a reduction of resources for investigating and prosecuting 
homicides, which in turn has dramatically reduced homicide clearance 
rates in all major cities.

The failure of the criminal justice system to clear homicides in 
major cities leads to an acceleration of violence in those cities, 
and a trigger-happy environment in which police and civilians are 
more likely to misuse lethal force.

Violence in inner cities reinforces negative stereotypes of 
African-Americans as dangerous and threatening, making unarmed 
African-Americans disproportionately vulnerable to police violence 
and feeding implicit bias that negatively affects the employment 
prospects of African-Americans, all of which permits the cycle to 
deepen and perdure.

The combination of the criminalization of drugs and the concomitant 
impacts on levels of violence in our community have filled our 
prisons to a level the world has never before seen. It is hard to 
find an African-American or Latino person in this country not 
personally impacted by this through extended family relations; and 
plenty of white Americans are also personally impacted by it.

Police have been on the front lines of the war on drugs. As such, 
they, too, must be recognized as being among its victims.

They are obliged to enforce foolish laws and in so doing incur the 
wrath of their fellow citizens. They are obliged to meet their 
obligations of service and the calls of duty in conditions of great 
violence that we, as a people, have generated with both our laws and 
the widespread habit, among drug users of all races, of disregarding 
those laws.

The conditions of violence in which the police operate have distorted 
their roles.

If we care to build a peaceful, prosperous and just society for all, 
we must end prohibition; we must end the war on drugs. We must learn 
how to achieve narcotics control as a matter of public health policy, 
not criminal justice.

This, I believe, is what it will take for us to establish the 
conditions in which we can effect the safety and happiness of all 
Americans, whether they are African-American motorists, police on or 
off duty, or bystanders of one or another kind.

We should put aside our party disputes and dig deep into the 
constitutional question of whether we can hold ourselves together as 
a people. President Obama, Speaker Ryan, Senator McConnell, can you 
for once do something together?

We cannot be a people and be at war with ourselves. The war on drugs must end.
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