Declaring War on the War on Drugs
African Americans Must Be in the Forefront of the Fight
by Dr. Ron Daniels
There was a veritable explosion of information, energy and events around the 40th Anniversary of the War on Drugs. Numerous reports were released (including one by the prestigious Global Commission on the War on Drugs), and there were countless interviews, town hall meetings and forums in scores of cities across the country. Throughout the flurry of activity, one fact consistently emerged: African Americans and Latinos have bourne the brunt of the War on Drugs. As Rev. Jesse Jackson pointed out at the Institute of the Black World 21st Century´s (IBW) Forum at the National Press Club, the “war” has been even more devastating on Black communities because in large measure it was politically motivated – a contention that Dr. Michelle Alexander confirms in her extraordinary book The New Jim Crow. The “law and order” strategy fit the Republican Party´s playbook for galvanizing and recruiting White voters based on perceived lawlessness and criminality in the Black community. These biased perceptions also made it easier for Republicans to call for and implement an agenda that shredded vital social and economic programs of benefit to poor people of all races but disproportionately of value to Blacks in urban inner-city neighborhoods.
With the law and order mantra building to fever pitch and the withdrawal or drastic reduction of federal resources, depressed urban inner-city neighborhoods increasingly became the battleground for the War on Drugs. Utilizing aggressive paramilitary policing methods, advocated by New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, all across the country police departments were unleashed to “stop and frisk” young Black and Latino men with little regard for the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure. The targeting of Black communities also meant that arrests for drug offenses skyrocketed, literally sending millions of mostly young Black males into a burgeoning prison-jail industrial complex. To add insult to injury, many depressed neighborhoods were further disempowered by the disenfranchisement of formerly incarcerated persons. Clearly this “double jeopardy” had the effect of diluting Black voter strength as a vehicle to reverse policies which have severely damaged Black communities.
At IBW´s Forum Deborah Small, Executive Director of Break the Chains: Communities of Color and the War on Drugs, cited what may be the most debilitating consequence of the War on Drugs, the Black community has yet to mount the kind of fight-back movement to nullify the policies and practices that have brutalized our community. This is not to say that there are no efforts, projects or initiatives aimed at ending the War on Drugs. The problem is that these efforts are disjointed and insufficient to decisively turn the tide of decades of disastrous policies. Indeed, much of the Black community seems almost numb, anesthetized into grudging acceptance and inaction. Young Black and Latino men have become so accustomed to being stopped and frisked by the police that many have come to accept this humiliating practice as a fact of life in America´s “dark ghettos.” However, as Dr. Betty Shabazz, wife of Malcolm X used to say: We may be oppressed, but we do not have to cooperate with our oppressors.”
If the War on the War on Drugs is to achieve victory, then African Americans must awaken and take our place in the forefront of the fight. IBW has initiated an Online Petition Campaign to recruit an Army of Advocates and Organizers to end the War on Drugs (www.ibw21.org). And, we will be working with the Black Family Summit to educate and mobilize African centered Black professional organizations to actively engage this issue. Though this will be an important contribution, ultimately those most affected and their families, neighbors and friends must emphatically resolve that enough is enough. Formerly incarcerated people must be galvanized as a crucial constituency in the fight. Unfortunately, it is often those who are most adversely affected by negative government policies who are missing in action in the struggles to defeat draconian laws or to advance just and humane policies for change. This is understandable because the affected are often the most oppressed in terms of poverty, unemployment, underemployment and a myriad of maladies that often lead to apathy and inaction. This is particularly true of the formerly incarcerated who are compelled to struggle to survive in a society where they are frequently deprived of opportunities for employment, education and social services. Notwithstanding these barriers, organizations like All of Us or None and the Center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions have emerged and are committed to organizing the formerly incarcerated. We must encourage and support these kinds of organizations by all available means.
Young people must also be on the frontlines of this struggle. My understanding is that hip hop artists have been incorporating this issue into their music for years. Now more than ever it is of paramount importance that the hip hop community develop a “Jena Six intensity” against the War on Drugs and devise strategies and tactics to openly express opposition to a War that has produced the “realness” described in the lyrics of their songs. Moreover, a generation so adept at using social media must employ this 21st century tool to inspire young people to take to the streets and march on ballot boxes. In addition, social media should be utilized to identify legions of young people who are willing to do the kind of “back in the day” door to door, face to face, person to person organizing to motivate and move masses of affected people to act to end the War on Drugs.
As I noted in my remarks at the National Press Club, the “war on us” has been broader than the War on Drugs. Therefore, ending the War on Drugs, though necessary, will not be sufficient to heal the devastating damage of decades of blatant neglect of Black communities. Accordingly, IBW´s 10 Point Action Agenda calls for massive government investment in social and economic programs to eradicate poverty, joblessness, inferior education, health disparities, crime and incarceration in the dark ghettos of this nation. Those directly affected by the disinvestment in social and economic programs have also largely suffered silently, perhaps feeling too dispirited, disillusioned or disempowered to act. It is precisely this apathy and inaction by the oppressed that conservatives are counting on, calculating to further impose their pro-rich, anti-worker, anti-poor and anti-Black and people of color agenda.
Hardly a week passes without the forces of reaction shamelessly advancing their cause at the local, state and national level. From the assault on public sector workers in Wisconsin, Ohio, New Jersey and other States around the country, the defaming of teachers, reductions in food programs for women and infants, brazen efforts to weaken the federal Consumer Protection Agency to resistance to other regulations of the bandits on Wall Street to the arrest of more than 60,000 Black and Latino young people for possession of miniscule quantities of marijuana in New York, the “War” continues. And, with the 2012 presidential election approaching, the conservatives are poised to totally recapture the reins of government in Washington so that the democratic “coup” executed by Bush-Cheney can be consummated. With the selection of just one more Supreme Court Justice, the kind of decision rendered on the substance of the Wal Mart case will become common place. It will be equivalent to the Plessy vs Ferguson era when the Supreme Court provided judicial sanction to the roll-back of rights gained by formerly enslaved Africans during Reconstruction.
With the “new Jim Crow” in place and the growing dismantling of the “culture of rights” won through generations of painstaking and painful struggles, we are facing another “Post-Reconstruction” moment. Under these circumstances the voices and feet of Black people must not be silent. We must use any and all legitimate means to mobilize/organize to resist the reactionary tide. We must march in the streets and march on ballot boxes to end the war on drugs, fight for just and humane alternatives and demand the kind of Economic Bill of Rights Martin Luther King was advocating when he was killed on a balcony in Memphis. This is not about simply defending President Obama and the Democrats. It´s bigger than that. It´s about mobilizing and organizing on all fronts so strong, so irresistibly that Obama, the Democrats and Republicans will be compelled to heed the demands of the majority of working people, the middle class, the poor, Blacks and people of color for a more participatory democracy and socially responsible economy.
This is a perilous moment in the history of this nation, one in which African Americans and advocates for social justice and social change might well heed the words of Frederick Douglass: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will. Find out just what a people will submit to and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue until they are resisted with either words or blows or both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” African Americans must be in the forefront of the fight to end our oppression and the degradation of all marginalized people in this country!
Dr. Ron Daniels is President of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and Distinguished Lecturer at York College City University of New York. His articles and essays also appear on the IBW website www.ibw21.org and www.northstarnews.com . To send a message, arrange media interviews or speaking engagements, Dr. Daniels can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org