Black Leaders Urge Obama to End War on Drugs

Michelle Phipps-Evans | 4/10/2013, 9 p.m.
African-American leaders recently announced a day of direct action to pressure President Barack Obama to end the longstanding war on ...
African-American leaders hosted a press conference to urge President Barack Obama to end the war on drugs, on April 4, 2013, the 45th anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr./Photo by Khalid Naji-Allah

African-American leaders recently announced a day of direct action to pressure President Barack Obama to end the longstanding war on drugs, which historically led to the mass incarceration of young black men and women; and to instead invest in jobs, economic development and social programs in black communities.

"To say we're disappointed in some of the policies of this president is not an understatement," said Dr. Ron Daniels, president of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century (IBW), an advocacy organization based in New York. "We're disappointed in his stance on the War on Drugs. This is his second term. What's he waiting for?"

Daniels convened a press conference on April 4 at the National Press Club in Northwest to bring attention to the upcoming day of action on Monday, June 17, the 42th anniversary of the War on Drugs. More than 30 individuals attended the press conference in the Zenger Room to show their support for the upcoming day of action.

Daniels has enlisted a group to spread the word.

Leading up to the day of action, faith leaders and other community organizers will educate congregations and the community in the greater Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, Md., areas to mobilize participants to take part in a rally at Lafayette Park near the White House.

The IBW, a national network of scholars and advocates, believes the War on Drugs is actually a "War on Us," a racially biased policy and strategy, the "New Jim Crow," which has devastated black families nationwide. This war led to policing tactics such as the stop-and-frisk programs, tougher and unequal sentencing for drug possession, and mass incarcerations. The mass incarcerations subsequently led to higher levels of joblessness, underemployment, crime, violence and fratricide within communities of color, said Daniels, a lecturer at York College, City University of New York.

There was, in fact, a different philosophy when it came to policing largely African-American communities years ago, said Ronald Hampton, a 20-year veteran of the Metropolitan Police Department. Hampton, who has since retired from the police department, and focuses much of his energy on educational issues, said a double standard, existed.

"It wasn't written policy in terms of what they wanted us to do, but it was an unwritten policy," said Hampton, a native Washingtonian and Ward 4 resident. "There were brutal civil rights violations in our community. But when we were fighting crime in Ward 3, these oppressive tactics were not [utilized]." Hampton said that in poorer communities, residents weren't involved in solving crimes; but in affluent ones, there was an emphasis on "community policing."

"Poor people don't complain," he said. "It's part of the environment and part of public policy."

Hampton, who is a member of a justice collaborative, including IBW, made his comments following the press conference on April 4, the 45th anniversary of the death of civil rights icon, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The justice collaborative comprises social justice, drug and criminal reform advocates, organizations that have partnered with IBW to ensure that the day of direct action is a success.