We need to call for an end to Americas’ two longest wars. Two wars that have dragged on for several years: wasted billions of U. S. taxpayer dollars and contributed to thousands of deaths. The social alienation, loss of family and deterioration of community life has been astronomical.
No, I am not writing about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, although both are certainly worthy of consideration. I am describing the several decades’ long policy debacles known as the ‘War on Drugs’ and the even more politically charged efforts to substantially reduce ‘youth and gang violence.’ The latter has basically become a ‘War on Youth.’
The so-called war on drugs has mostly served as the political masquerade for federal and local governments attack, containment, criminalization and exploitation of poor communities of color.
For decades now, career minded politicians and law enforcement personnel have touted the necessity of winning the so-called war on drugs. Millions of dollars have been allocated to create or expand numerous research studies and task forces.
Law enforcement agencies across the country have been the beneficiaries of billions of tax-payer dollars in the pursuit of a drug free America. These dollars have resulted in the unprecedented militarization of police in urban centers throughout the United States. In cities such as Pittsburgh, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Philadelphia local and regional police are fully equipped with military style weapons, assault vehicles, specialized units (SWAT, DRUG TASK FORCE and GANG TASK FORCE) and sophisticated communications equipment and technology.
The majority of this is not directed toward arresting major drug traffickers and distributors but mostly street-level drug dealers and consumers (addicts and recreational users). The criminal justice system has experienced record numbers of convictions and prosecutions involving relatively petty drug cases. Many of those affected are the urban poor and people of color. Over the last few decades, the prison industrial complex in states like Pennsylvania and California has exploded with steady increases in prison construction and conversion.
Disproportionate numbers of those incarcerated and supervised (probation and parole) consist of Blacks, Hispanics and the poor. As a de facto by-product of mass incarceration: economic development, jobs and political influence are siphoned from the urban centers and relocated to rural areas where many so-called correctional facilities are located and inner-city prisoners are imprisoned. The war on drugs has reinforced racist stereotypes of African-American neighborhoods and communities, in addition to sapping our economic, political and social strength.
Rather than invest quality human and economic resources into education, job creation, family support services and comprehensive health initiatives, as a step towards drug use prevention, our government continues to waste dollars on interdiction, prosecution and incarceration.
Public policy analyst and proponents consistently fail to address the fundamental challenge in addressing substance abuse within the United States: why is America one of the most prolific consumers of illegal and legal drugs in the world? Why are drug lords from around the world so confident that if given an opportunity, their ‘product’ will always sell in the United States of America?
Closely connected to the war on drugs is the war on youth and gang violence. Crips, Bloods, Gangster Disciples, Vice-Lords, Latin Kings, Mexican Mafia, Texas Syndicate, MS-13 and other assorted formations have been engaging in urban warfare for decades. Longer than the Civil War between the Union and the Confederacy: World Wars I &II, the Korean War, Vietnam, Gulf I, and the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, combined.
Approximately, six-thousand (6000) U.S. troops have died over the last 10 years of the Iraq & Afghan wars. Close to that number are murdered every year in this country. Disproportionately, they are young, poor, African-American and Hispanic. We contend that well over 50 percent of these deaths are connected to the drug trade.
They also live in or in proximity to gang affiliated neighborhoods and communities. Many of those neighborhood gangs are involved in the sale and distribution of illegal drugs. It has become a mainstay of the local economy and provides cash, status and a sense of upward mobility for some. The juvenile gang formations of earlier years have transitioned and morphed into neighborhood drug cartels.
Generations of systemic White-supremacy, self/group hatred, failed educational structures, poverty, dysfunctional cultural practices, unemployment and economic marginalization have guaranteed their continued existence and growth.
Where is the political will on the part of public officials to bring this to an end? Where is the outrage? Just as our political leaders march ahead to allocate funds to rebuild Iraq, Afghanistan and other areas of conflict and war: just as the Marshall Plan of post-World War II set about the business of rebuilding Europe: we need a King-Malcolm-Chavez Plan to rebuild urban America. But first, we need to end the misguided War on Drugs and the War on Youth.
Justice in our lifetime,
(Khalid Raheem serves as president & CEO of the National Council for Urban Peace and Justice (www.ncupj.net). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.urban-activist.com.)