Dear President Obama:
As concerned citizens committed to sustaining a healthy democratic society, it is our mission to eradicate injustice and continue the fights for human rights and social justice wherever and whenever we can. We are therefore compelled to speak out about the disproportionate impact of your continuation of the “war on drugs” on poor people of color, particularly young African-American men. We believe this is a legal, moral and human rights issue of the highest magnitude.
It’s been almost forty years since President Nixon declared the “war on drugs” a national priority; the war has been waged by every President since with no end in sight. The “war on drugs” is a misnomer as it is not a war on plants but a war on people – fueling the growth of domestic and international criminal organizations, generating violence within our communities and across our borders, compromising confidence in government and our moral values.
It is beyond dispute that communities of color, especially Black and Latino communities have been disproportionately impacted by the “war on drugs.” From arrests, incarceration and post-conviction sanctions, to access to drug treatment, education and employment, poor communities of color are being devastated by enforcement of punitive drug policies. Unequal treatment of minority group members pervades every stage of the criminal justice system. African-Americans and Latinos are victimized by disproportionate targeting and unfair treatment by police; by racially skewed charging and plea bargaining decisions by prosecutors; by discriminatory sentencing practices and by the failure of judges, elected officials and other criminal justice policymakers to redress the inequities that have come to permeate the system.
Public support for the “war on drugs” has waned. Yet the basic punitive paradigm of drug prohibition remains essentially unchallenged. Recently you were asked by a retired deputy sheriff who has soured on the drug war whether you thought there will come a time when we can discuss the possibility of drug legalization – the regulation and control of currently illicit substances – which would eliminate the source of profits for drug cartels and the criminal organizations that rely on them. You replied that while you do not support drug legalization, you do think, “it is an entirely legitimate topic for debate.”
For too many years drug war politics have served to stifle and or marginalize any substantive debate about the disproportionate impact of punitive drug policies on already vulnerable communities. Proponents of alternatives to drug prohibition have been derisively dismissed as “legalizers” who are pursuing personal agendas at the expense of our youth. We believe to the contrary – failure to act to redress the imbalance of our punitive drug policy will result in the continued decimation of poor communities of color and the ongoing cycle of poverty, addiction, crime and imprisonment that has already impaired multiple generations. The real failure would be to allow fear and inertia to shut off debate, suppress critical analysis and dismiss serious consideration of legitimate alternatives to drug prohibition.
Mr. President, we urge you to demonstrate your leadership by initiating an open and honest dialogue regarding the future of U.S. drug policy, one that includes the broad range of views and voices – especially the voices of those who’ve been disproportionately affected by drug law enforcement. We believe such a dialogue will lead to change we can believe in and see – a new drug policy – where fear, prejudice and punitiveness yield to science, public health, compassion and human rights.