Pubdate: Tue, 12 Jul 2016
Source: New Mexican, The (Santa Fe, NM)
Copyright: 2016 The Santa Fe New Mexican
Author: Danielle Allen
Note: Danielle Allen is a political theorist at Harvard University. 
She wrote this for The Washington Post.


Without a doubt, we Americans are in a bad way. The senseless deaths 
last week in Baton Rouge, La., Falcon Heights, Minn., and now Dallas 
are devastating beyond comprehension for the victims and their 
families. Each shooting also is 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 decadeslong.

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 nonviolent 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 AfricanAmericans, all of which permits the cycle to 
deepen and continue.

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 in this country who 
is not personally impacted by this through extended family relations; 
and plenty of white Americans also are 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 doing so, 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 or 
bystanders. We should put aside our political disputes and dig deep 
into the constitutional question of whether we can hold ourselves 
together as a people. President Barack Obama, Speaker Paul Ryan, Sen. 
Mitch 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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