President Obama agrees to end war on drugs
By Roger Caldwell
America has the largest number of incarcerated citizens in the world. There are 2.5 million citizens in jail, and there are 5 million citizens on probation. This is an international embarrassment and the conditions in the jails are appalling with overcrowding, gang violence, and rampant health diseases such as hepatitis and HIV.
Forty-five percent of the prisoners are Black, 20 percent are Hispanic and only thirty-five percent of the prisoners are white. In the late fifties and early sixties the rates were reverse, but during the Regan administration the war on drugs was started and mandatory sentencing was initiated. It was easier for police to go into the Black community, harass the citizens, find drugs, and put them in jail.
Over the last 30 years, the rate of Blacks and Hispanics has exponentially increased, and millions of families have been destroyed as a result of small amounts of drugs. The majority of Blacks and Hispanics in jail were convicted under a non-violent drug related case, and their sentencing is too harsh and too long.
NAACP President Ben Jealous says, “It’s time to get smart on crime. Our country is not better off or safer when we lock up otherwise productive citizens and leave their children to become inmates for the next generation.” Mass incarceration is helping to create single adult families with the majority of mothers as the heads of households, forcing teenagers to make bad decisions.”
At the beginning of April a coalition of 175 celebrities, Civil Rights activists, scholars, and athletes signed a letter to urge President Obama to end the failed “War on Drugs.” This powerful coalition was organized by hip-hop and business mogul Russell Simmons and scholar Dr. Boyce Watkins. This letter was signed by the presidents of Morehouse and Spelman, Ben Jealous, Rev. Al Sharpton, Rev Jesse Jackson, Brad Pitt, Chris Rock, LL Cool J, Jennifer Hudson, Wilmer Leon, Justin Bieber, and many more who believed in the cause.
In the last week the Obama Administration has announced its plan to end the “War on Drugs” that was started during the Regan Administration. This is a significant announcement because the legal system, the health system, and the educational system will begin to focus collectively on prevention, education, and rehabili-tation.
Gil Kerlikowske, director of the National Drug Control Policy says, “I think the important part is that a lot of criminal justice experts, police chiefs and sheriffs recognize that with a drug problem you can’t arrest your way out of the problem, so we really need to be smart on the drug problem. Millions of people in the U.S. will be eligible in less than a year for treatment under the new health care overhaul.”
But I wonder if things are really going to change in the prison industrial complex because prisons are big business. People have always used drugs since the beginning of time, but pharmaceutical companies and the government have decided what drugs are illegal and what drugs are legal. Legal drugs help pharmaceutical companies make billions of dollars, and illegal drugs put the drug dealers in jail or dead.
In the present prison system forty percent of the prisoners were convicted on a marijuana charge. It is easy to talk about a fundamental change in the system, but it is extremely hard to make that change a reality. For thirty years the “the War on Drugs” was organized to put minorities in jail and throw away the key, and now President Obama is talking change.
I applaud President Obama on his new drug initiative. It will be important that more citizens put pressure on our leaders to improve the conditions in our prisons and release non-violent drug offenders. We all have a responsibility to rebuild American families that have been devastated by drugs and the penal system.