Stop the war, bring our men back home
I’ve been fighting the drug wars since the 1970s. After working with addicts for seven years, I realized that making war on drugs was really about making war on people. The history of our drug wars, and the laws that support them, makes that clear.
The first anti-opium laws in the 1870s were directed at Chinese immigrants. The first anti-cocaine laws, in the South in the early 1900s, were directed at Black men. The first anti-marijuana laws, in the Midwest and the Southwest in the 1910s and 1920s, were directed at Mexican migrants and Mexican Americans. Today, Latino and especially Black communities are still subject to hugely disproportionate drug enforcement and sentencing practices.
There is a myth, prevalent in our culture, that certain drugs are dangerous, and therefore should be illegal. This is an excuse used to go after heroin, cocaine, and marijuana users, particularly those who are members of minority communities.
I believe in the American ideals of truth and justice for all.
But I also care about my own children and grandchildren. For me, the drug laws in the U.S. are personal. My wife and I have five children and fourteen grandchildren. Our daughter is African American. We adopted her when she was three months old. She’s now grown up with four children of her own, and I worry about her kids getting involved with drugs more than the other grandchildren. They all need love, support, and mentoring.
We know it is the nature of being a teenager to try out new things, take risks, and rebel against authority. Drugs have been around since the dawn of time, and I’m sure teen-age cavemen were trying whatever was available while their parents and communities tried to stop them. That much hasn’t changed much. I experimented with cigarettes, alcohol, and marijuana when I was a teenager. My kids did it, and so have my grandkids.
The experimentation isn’t the problem. That’s normal and most of us learn what works and what doesn’t. The problem is that the war on drugs causes more problems than it solves. It also targets some of my grandkids, my Black grandkids, much more than my White grandkids. Of course, the girls experiment too, but it’s the boys who take the most risks and are most likely to get caught by the police.
Here’s a startling statistic that makes me cringe with concern for my African-American grandsons:
In 1993, in the death throes of apartheid, South Africa imprisoned 853 black men per hundred thousand in the population.
The United States imprisons 4,919 black men per hundred thousand (versus 943 white men.)
Journalist Johann Hari, author of the highly researched and readable book, Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs, says,
“So, because of the drug war and the way it is enforced, a black man was far more likely to be jailed in the Land of the Free than in the most notorious white supremacist society in the world. Indeed, at any given time, 40 to 50 percent of black men between the ages of fifteen and thirty-five are in jail, on probation, or have a warrant out for their arrest, overwhelmingly for drug offenses.”
Some might think that more African American men are in prison because they use drugs more than Whites. But that isn’t the case:
About 14 million Whites and 2.6 million African Americans report using an illicit drug.
Even though 5 times as many Whites are using drugs as African Americans, African Americans are sent to prison for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of Whites.
Why is that? As the lies that keep the drug war alive begin to come unglued, many of the police officers and government agents who made it possible are now going public with the truth of their experience. Matthew Fogg, a former US Marshal, and DEA agent is one of those people. Ever since leaving law enforcement he has been speaking out against police brutality, profiling, and the drug war. He is a member of the group, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. These are people who have been on the front line of the War on Drugs and know that it causes more harm than good.
After going out on hundreds of drug raids, it became evident to Fogg that they were primarily targeting minority neighborhoods, even though drug use was going on in White neighborhoods as well. He confronted his captain and got an unexpectedly honest response which Fogg has now shared publicly:
“We were jumping on guys in the middle of the night, all of that. Swooping down on folks all across the country, using these sorts of attack tactics that we went out on, that you would use in Vietnam, or some kind of war-torn zone. All of the stuff that we were doing, just calling it the war on drugs. And there wasn’t very many black guys in my position.
So when I would go into the war room, where we were setting up all of our drug and gun and addiction task force determining what cities we were going to hit, I would notice that most of the time it always appeared to be urban areas.
That’s when I asked the question, well, don’t they sell drugs out in Potomac and Springfield, and places like that? Maybe you all think they don’t, but statistics show they use more drugs out in those areas than anywhere. The special agent in charge, he says ‘You know, if we go out there and start messing with those folks, they know judges, they know lawyers, they know politicians. You start locking their kids up; somebody’s going to jerk our chain.’ He said, ‘they’re going to call us on it, and before you know it, they’re going to shut us down, and there goes your overtime.’”
It’s time we stopped making war on our young men of color and began treating them like the rest of our children. We need to tell the truth. The war on drugs is working. It’s scapegoating those we fear and its making a lot of money for those who engage in the war on both sides of the divide—law enforcement and law violators. But its keeping us from solving the real problems we face. I’ve been pointing this out since the 1970s. Change takes time and the times are truly a-changin’.
After working in the drug abuse field for seven years, I wrote an article in 1973. Here’s a short bit:
“The drug problem in his country continues to get worse, and the programs that we have developed to combat the problem are actually adding fuel to the fire. The laws that have been developed over the past 100 years have done nothing to discourage the use of drugs. Their effect has caused the criminalization of millions of otherwise law abiding citizens. Legal restrictions on mind altering drugs have produced a new industry that has proven extremely profitable to legal drug manufacturers and salesmen as well as the illegal drug entrepreneurs. The huge profits to be made in the drug business have caused corruption in large segments of society.”
That’s beginning to change now. If you want to join with others who are committed to ending this needless war, here are some of the best resources. I appreciate your feedback. You can contact me directly at www.MenAlive.com
Photo: Official U.S. Navy Imagery/Flickr