Understanding the 40th Anniversary of the War on Drugs


Today marks the 40th anniversary of a declared war on drugs.  To communities of color, this marks the anniversary of a continued war which places more and more men and women of color behind bars at rates much higher than their white counterparts.  These communities also face the greater consequences of broken homes, torn families, and shattered lives, as a result of policies that have done little to reduce crime and violence, in the face of rising drug use. 

Today the Institute of the Black World brought together a panel of coalition partners working on finding solutions to this never ending war on communities of color.  Featured speakers included Hilary Shelton of the NAACP, Jasmine Tyler of the Drug Policy Alliance, Deborah Small of Break the Chains, Neill Franklin of LEAP, and Rev. Jesse Jackson as the keynote speaker. 


Shelton, Director of the NAACP Washington Bureau and Senior Vice President of Advocacy, spoke to the fear generated in our communities by these tough on drugs policies that do little to resolve the problem.   “The current “tough on crime” policies are expensive and ineffective.  We need to be “smart on crime” instead,” explained Shelton.  “That means we need to stop locking up non-violent drug abusers and the mentally ill, and start treating them.”  Shelton continued by asking us to remember the larger consequences of this war on our communities. “The racially disparate implementation of the war on drugs has unleashed a wave of punitiveness that has trapped generations in ghettoes, and branded them criminals and felons.  The arrests of low income people of color have real life consequences,” he said. 

Hamedah Hassan was a young mother of two escaping an abusive relationship when she sought refuge in the home of her cousins.  The house was busted for drug smuggling.  Hassan became a victim of mandatory sentencing for her presence at the home.  With little knowledge of the drugs, Hassan had no information to share with officials in exchange for reduced sentence; despite no involvement she sentenced to serve 27 years , a longer sentence than the organizers of the smuggling ring, for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Hassan is just another example of the failed policies of this ongoing war on drugs.

The NAACP continues the fight against unjust policies and practices that too often target and negatively impact communities of color.  How has the war on drugs impacted you?  Let us know by posting your experience with the war on drugs and its impact on your community.