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A space holder. Text Graphic: 'American Dreams - Wake Up, Black America!'.

by Clifford Thornton, Jr.

Special to the G21

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g21 #336:
Holiday 2002 Special Edition


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[EDITOR'S NOTE: The following article originally appeared in a Hartford, Connecticut, USA, newspaper and was reprinted at the Web site "TidBits" this month. It was sent to G21 for consideration by a friend of the author. Considering our long history of supporting drug reform policy, especially in our long-running ON DRUGS column, this placement seemed important enough to include in our Holiday Special Edition. Reprinted by permission of the author. --RA]

A waving American Flag.HARTFORD, CT, USA - I travel all over the U.S., speaking and organizing trying to change the mindset of the current "war on drugs". Last year, I was in Cleveland to address the Unitarian- Universalist convention. While there, I also spoke at a luncheon sponsored by City News, spoke at other civic functions, appeared on various radio, and T.V. programs.

All speakers look for that current hook to bring one's subject into plain view. With the drug war it's not hard to find. "A Cleveland Police detective while in a hand to hand struggle with a drug suspect, discharges his weapon and critically wounds a six year old boy several yards away" appeared in Cleveland's Plain Dealer. This incident occurred while I was in Cleveland. Every day, on average, in this country, five children age five to sixteen years die because of drug related situations. This is called collateral damage. When are we as a nation going to learn this is an un-winable war? This is and will always be a public health problem, not a law- enforcement one.

Racism, classism, terrorism and the war on drugs are inextricably parts of one huge lie, one cannot address one part effectively without addressing the other. This is not a war on drugs but a war on poor people, primarily people of color. I can talk about the race issue, which is well documented and blacks as usual are the perceived primary pariahs, but what I want to talk about is the burgeoning class separation.

The religious community has always been the backbone of the black community. We have seen this through out our history with slavery, segregation and the civil rights movement.

Is it because the religious community is tied to local, state and federal funding and the authorities forbid discussion? Is it because they have become employers and employees of the drug war through rehabilitation centers and drug counseling, etc.? Is it because they have become gatekeepers where their prosperity depends on not solving the drug problem but perpetuating it?

When one looks at the criminal justice system, it's true that almost two thirds of the six and half million who are on probation, parole, half way houses, jail or prison are minorities. But there is one central theme, they are overwhelmingly of the same socio-economic class, they are poor people. Ten percent of the African American population is in the criminal justice system. Forty percent of the six and half million are there for possession or sale of drugs. When one looks at drug related crimes these percentages jump to the high sixty percentile. Where is the black church and black America on this drug war issue?

According to Rev Beatrice Walkout of Cleveland, "Black preachers have to be educated on this issue. They are basically following what the white establishment tell them to do and it is not to end the drug war" She went on to say, "What we need to do is to study this at length".

My question is; "HOW MUCH TIME DOES ONE NEED?"

This drug war has been going on for over thirty years at a cost of a trillion dollars and we have had almost nine decades of drug prohibition, yet, there are more illegal drugs at cheaper prices on our streets than ever before.

When considering alternatives for the drug war, all conversation has to start with one question: Do you think that people are going to stop using illegal drugs? The overwhelming response is NO. Those that say yes, are not of this planet.

So the next question becomes: How are we as society going to create an atmosphere that will cause the least amount of harm to the people who use these drugs and secondly, the least amount of harm to society?

Anyone that says we should not, could not, would not, or that we would be sending the wrong message to our children, by legalizing, medicalizing and decriminalizing these handful of illegal drugs simply does not have a clue. All of the damage done is not by the drugs but by the DRUG POLICIES. There is no drug known to man which becomes safer when the sale and distribution is turned over to criminals.

Our problem is not the drug dealers or drug cartels, they are just opportunists; our problem is the self-righteous legislators in Washington and the apathetic non-voting public who create the opportunity for the drug cartels and dealers. The people (black preachers, politicians and leaders) who support the drug war are directly responsible for this rise in crime, drugs in our schools, AIDS in our communities and creating enormous criminal empires.

Let us be realistic; marijuana, cocaine and heroin present no problem to me or to anyone else who chooses not to use them, but the illegality of these drugs present a clear and present danger to everyone. Just ask that six year old in Cleveland whom I'm told lost his life. Just ask the thousands of parents who have lost their children to this drug war who had absolutely nothing to do with drugs. Legalization, medicalization and decriminalization of this handful of drugs won't immediately solve the problems of drug abuse or addiction but it will confine that problem to the people that choose to use these drugs. Perhaps the more important question is, how do we as a society of reformers create an exit strategy for the authorities?



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