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This week I wrote to Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and asked him to speak out against the ‘War on Drugs’ and the Incarceration Generation. This was my email:
News coverage of the events in Baltimore have driven home the deadly, oppressive failure of the ‘War on Drugs’ and the Incarceration Generation. The U.S. has just 5% of the world’s population, yet we confine 25% of the world’s prisoners.
A recent New York Times study found that 1.5 million black men are ‘missing’ from society. Of those, 650,000 are in prison, most for minor drug crimes. Marijuana convictions alone account for 25% of our prison population. An ACLU study found whites and blacks are equally likely to use marijuana, yet blacks are almost four times more likely to be arrested, charged, and prosecuted for marijuana possession. The painful truth is that the ‘War on Drugs’ is really a War on Black Americans … especially black men.
The burden of a prison record does not end with release. A recent study that sent out identical resumes – except for racially-identifiable names and criminal records – found that a white man with a felony record was as likely to be invited for a job interview as a black man with no criminal record. Conversely, a black man with a misdemeanor conviction was unlikely to get even a single interview.
Employment discrimination is hardly the only lasting penalty. Florida is one of only 12 states that does not automatically restore the right to vote when a prisoner completes probation. Nationwide, 1-in-13 black citizens cannot vote because of a prior felony, and fully 25% of our nation’s disenfranchised former felons are here in Florida. Thus, the ‘War on Drugs’ and the Incarceration Generation function as racial voter suppression … under color of law.
The New York Times study also found that black men are far more likely to die young. Contrary to right wing myth, only 200,000 of those 900,000 early deaths are due to homicide. Most are due to higher death rates from illness and diseases that disproportionately affect the poor, such as asthma and diabetes. And contrary to right wing myth, most of the racial disparity in single motherhood is due to those 1.5 million ‘missing’ black men, who aren’t available to be husbands and fathers.
Urban poverty is no accident. It is the result of federal, state, and local policies – like the ‘War on Drugs’ – that disproportionately target communities of color. It is the result of institutional plunder, and too many police departments have become instruments of that plunder.
And when the plundered communities finally rise up in anguish and rage, as happened in Baltimore last week … too many white Americans care only about burned cars and broken shop windows. In a nation that began with Black Lives as White Property, too many of us still value White Property over Black Lives.
For these reasons, I plead with you to speak out against the ‘War on Drugs,’ the Incarceration Generation, and other policies that disproportionately impoverish and imprison our communities of color.
I also ask you to add “Equal Opportunity,” “Poverty,” and “Criminal Justice Reform” to your list of email topics.
Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you.
I also hope to raise these issues next week in my local Democratic Party meeting. As Democrats, we need to work for a nation where “equal opportunity” is more than a buzz phrase.