Don’t Mention The Drug War. We Must Decriminalize Being Black Because Black Freedom Matters
Don’t Mention The Drug War. We Must Decriminalize Being Black Because Black Freedom Matters Richard Cowan

“Chaos Theory” is the idea that very small events can have major consequences. It is often illustrated by what is called the “Butterfly Effect,” where the fluttering of tiny wings could set off a series of events leading to a major storm halfway around the world. Of course, even though there are millions of butterflies, they don’t have cameras, so there is no way to monitor these events, but there are plenty of real world examples.

For instance, try to imagine that the cruel and incredibly stupid action of a policeman in a very liberal city would kill a suspect by keeping his knee on on the suspect’s throat until well after he was dead. And all of it was caught on a camera and immediately broadcast around the world. What could possibly go right?

But what if there had not been a camera? The victim’s family would still grieve. There might even have been some disciplinary action taken against the police. But if there is an injustice and it isn’t photographed, does it have any real world consequences?

In fact, even this death caught on camera would not have provoked a global reaction if there had not been literally countless examples of injustices burning in the collective consciousness of the African American community. This was not an “isolated event”, but rather all too familiar to all too many people with all too much real world experience.

It began when the community that witnessed the death, and then witnessed what looked like another official coverup of the crime. And, as we should have learned from Watergate, “It’s not the crime. It’s the coverup.”

African Americans have seen so many unarmed black Americans killed by the police, who were then acquitted, if they were even prosecuted. In the land of the free and the home of the brave where all men are created equal with Liberty and Justice for All? Say it ain’t so.

So the protests and demonstrations began. Freedom of Assembly and Freedom of Speech. So far, so good.

But then the looting and arson began, helped by apparently well organized criminals, then the “usual suspects”, political provocateurs from both the Left and the Right, saw their opportunity and joined in. But isn’t that why we have the police?

Well, in the real world, elements in the police saw their opportunity and began to attack peaceful demonstrators, and even the media. As reported, “U.S. police have attacked journalists more than 130 times since May 28.”

Although the asphyxiation of an unarmed suspect is inexcusable, these “isolated actions by a few bad apples” pale by comparison with the systemic violence of the sustained low-intensity state terrorism that is the substance of the decades the Drug War, of which marijuana prohibition is the key element, and the Black underclass is the main target.

But these arrests, while devastating to those involved, are only a small part of the violence injected into everyday life by marijuana prohibition.

From Race and The Drug War :

“Nearly 80% of people in federal prison and almost 60% of people in state prison for drug offenses are black or Latino.

Research shows that prosecutors are twice as likely to pursue a mandatory minimum sentence for black people as for white people charged with the same offense. Among people who received a mandatory minimum sentence in 2011, 38% were Latino and 31% were black.

One in 13 black people of voting age are denied the right to vote because of laws that disenfranchise people with felony convictions.

One in nine black children has an incarcerated parent, compared to one in 28 Latino children and one in 57 white children.”

The Queens Eagle reported that last year:

“Nearly every single person arrested for weed in NYC… was black or Latinx.

Black and Latinx New Yorkers accounted for 94 percent of all low-level marijuana arrests in New York City during the first six months of the year, according to NYPD arrest data compiled by the state.

The NYPD arrested 1,436 people for fifth-degree marijuana possession or fourth-degree sale from January to June — and 1,349 of the people arrested were identified as black or Hispanic, according to the NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services. The state agency publishes quarterly reports on race and ethnicity data for certain felony and misdemeanor charges.”

Obviously, we have created a new class of for whom looting is a form of political expression. That is not an excuse for the inexcusable, but it is a fact of life... and death. We have created entire generations of Americans for whom ¨law enforcement¨is a source of community cynicism and personal fear.

The good news.. Well, in polite society we are once again talking about “ Criminal Justice Reform ”, but that is just another excuse for ignoring the Drug War, which is the core of our “criminal justice system.” Now the mayor of Los Angeles is threatening to cut the city's police budget by $150 million, but that is simply another way to avoid the really difficult decisions about the Drug War.

We can only decriminalize being black by greatly decreasing occasions for African Americans interacting with the police by ending the Drug War. Otherwise, the police will be in the impossible position of ignoring the law while trying to protect their communities.

Almost twenty years ago, Portugal decriminalized the possession of personal use amounts of all drugs.

The conclusion :

¨Overall, this suggests that removing criminal penalties for personal drug possession did not cause an increase in levels of drug use. This tallies with a significant body of evidence from around the world that shows the enforcement of criminal drug laws has, at best, a marginal impact in deterring people from using drugs.17 18 19 There is essentially no relationship between the punitiveness of a country’s drug laws and its rates of drug use. Instead, drug use tends to rise and fall in line with broader cultural, social or economic trends…

Additionally, decriminalisation does not appear to have caused an increase in crimes typically associated with drugs… Decriminalisation significantly reduced the Portuguese prison population and eased the burden on the criminal justice system.¨

The alternative for America is ¨business as usual” with continued violence from both law enforcement and contraband businesses disrupting communities. For violence to hit millions, it must threaten tens of millions, and not just marijuana users. Because there is no "typical marijuana user," everyone must live under suspicion, and anyone can become a target. Everyone is subject to random stops, urine testing, and surveillance. But blacks are the targets of choice.

Children have been —and still are — lied to in a sustained prohibitionist propaganda campaign of an intensity unequalled in a democracy in peacetime. Politicians are allowed to prattle meaningless cliches about " sending the wrong message" to children – but the children know that they are being lied to – even when they do not know what is true. There is no worse "message" than that.

"Authorities" lie to the media, who then lie to the public, while pretending to be "watch-dogs" for their victims. At least when they lie to us, they are acknowledging that it somehow matters what we think. Perhaps even worse, the media generally still ignore almost all of the elements of marijuana prohibition. The numbers of arrests are almost never reported, even though marijuana arrests outnumber the total number of arrests for violent crimes.

“According to the FBI's Uniform Crime Report, police made 663,367 arrests for marijuana-related violations in 2018. That is more than 21 percent higher than the total number of persons arrested for the commission of violent crimes (521,103). Of those arrested for cannabis-related activities, some 90 percent (608,776) were arrested for marijuana possession offenses only.”

Silence can be the worst lie.

Beyond that, words have their meanings subverted until communication is impossible. As Orwell observed in 1984, when words become meaningless, censorship becomes unnecessary, because people are no longer able to express their ideas. "Drug" means marijuana, except when it does not. The very word "prohibition" is never used to describe the current policies. Marijuana prohibition is the hate that dares not speak its name.

The best lack all conviction: Even when good people do honest research and announce that marijuana is far less dangerous than the legal drugs, alcohol and tobacco, as well as most common over-the-counter drugs, and that users should not be arrested, these fine souls still cannot bring themselves to say that it should be legalized so that marijuana-users won’t have to deal with the black-market and confront corrupt police.

While the worst are full of passionate intensity: When the laws are changed, as with medical marijuana in some states, "law enforcement" simply refuses to obey the law.

Can all of these things be happening without consequence? Can the flutter of a butterfly’s wings be thought to have an effect, while this massive evil has none? Given all of these elements of violence to body, mind, soul, community, and polity, don’t Minneapolis and Louisville fit right in?

In a society that uses the welfare of children to justify the worst of crimes, can it be surprising that children become the victims, and then the victimizers?

Seen in this context, is the "inexplicable violence" of our society really so inexplicable?

For all that, there are a number of reasons why we will win. However, the most important reason is transcendent.

The Truth Shall Make Us Free, but only if we have the courage to speak

--Richard Cowan is a former NORML National Director and co-founder at Real Tested CBD