Town Hall Meeting on War on Drugs Attracts Packed House
Rev. Jackson Calls for End to Complicity with Oppressive Policies
Organizations to Form D.C. Justice Collaborative
A large audience packed the lower auditorium of the historic Mt. Carmel Baptist Church in downtown Washington, D.C. Thursday, May 3rd for a Town Hall Meeting to discuss the War on Drugs and other criminal justice policies a growing number of leaders feel have had destructive effects on Black families and communities. Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, President, Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, set the tone by lamenting the growth of the prison-jail industrial complex as a result of criminal justice policies which target Black communities. Rev. Jackson charged that the War on Drugs and repressive criminal justice policies are part of a conservative strategy to undermine the economic and political empowerment of Black people. He suggested that “the same forces that support “Stand Your Ground Laws” that led to the death of Trayvon Martin, are the same forces pushing repressive Voter ID laws and the privatization of prisons to profit economically and politically from the mass incarceration of Black people.”
Rev. Jackson also decried the lack of outrage and action against policies antagonistic to the Black community. “We’re like a patient infected by a life threatening disease,” he said. “The only question is do you want to get healed? If so we have to fight to change the structures and policies that are making us sick.” In addition to Rev. Jackson’s moving address, the audience viewed power point presentations that provided historical background on the War on Drugs and data on criminal justice policies and incarceration rates in the District of Columbia. A panel of criminal justice and drug policy reform experts and advocates also detailed the racially biased nature of the War on Drugs and its devastating impact on Black communities and challenged the attendees to adopt less harmful approaches to coping with drug abuse and trafficking.
Dr. Ron Daniels, President of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century, the organization that convened the Town Hall Meeting, summed up the outcome of the event: “I was not only impressed with the turn-out, but the broad diversity of audience. There were faith leaders, grass-roots organizations, Black professionals and Black elected officials in attendance. This indicates that more and more of our people are concerned about the adverse effect of criminalization and mass incarceration on Black communities. Increased awareness is the first step towards action.” Dr. Daniels noted that forty-three (43) individuals representing thirty-two (32) organizations participated in the Debriefing and Strategy session at the Church the next day to discuss follow-up. “I am pleased to report that after a very substantive discussion, an amazing array of organizations and leaders agreed to create a D.C. Justice Collaborative to explore ways of making the District of Columbia a model for criminal justice and drug policy reform for the nation.” The group will meet in mid-June to devise a plan of action. IBW is planning Town Hall Meetings in Pittsburgh, May 11th and Baltimore, May 18th.
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