PITTSBURGH JUSTICE COLLABORATIVE—Local residents march to end the War on Drugs.


For Kayla Bowyer the War on Drugs is personal. Like many others in the Black community who attended a recent rally in Washington D.C., she has seen family members’ lives torn apart by drug abuse and the resulting consequences.

“I attended the rally in D.C. because I think the War on Drugs is not the right solution to America’s drug problem,” Bowyer said. “I attended the rally for my mother, who has served time in jail before she ever received treatment for her addiction, and she still struggles today.”

The Institute of the Black World 21st Century’s “Day of Direct Action” rally in Washington D.C., on June 17, called on President Barack Obama to issue an executive order ending the War on Drugs.  Chanting “jobs not jail,” the more than 500 supporters also called on the government to provide the Black community with alternatives to the drug culture prevalent in urban areas.

“I attended the rally for cousins and former classmates who only saw opportunities through drug use and drug dealing,” Bowyer said. “I’m returning to Pittsburgh ready to learn more about what I can do to help end a war that has taken away money, time and resources from schools and education while incarcerating Black youth by the masses.”

According to the ACLU, African-Americans are disproportionately arrested for drug offenses. They are also incarcerated in far greater numbers as African-Americans make up 50 percent of the state and local prisoners incarcerated for drug crimes.

“My message is very simple. We have to end the War on Drugs because it is a war on us. The statistics are clear, the ACLU report said 3 out of 4 marijuana arrests are Black people,” said Ron Daniels, president IBW. “It’s a targeted racially biased program that is devastating and destroying our community and it must end.”

Daniels called for the elimination of sentencing disparities between powdered and crack cocaine and the decriminalization of the possession of small quantities of marijuana. He also called for more programs to aid those who have been incarcerated and provide them with access to more employment opportunities.

“We need to start looking at drug addiction and abuse as a national health crisis, a public health issue, as opposed to criminalizing people and sending them to jail,” Daniels said. “We want to put a priority on formerly incarcerated persons who have gone to jail, some of them who haven’t done anything, some of them are innocent. But even if they are guilty of something in this criminal society when they get out they ought not to have a badge that does not allow them to get a job.”

An estimated 50 people from Pittsburgh travelled to Washington D.C. by bus to join other activists from New York City, Philadelphia and Baltimore. The rally began at Historic Metropolitan AME Church where Rev. Jesse Jackson ignited the crowd before the march to the White House.

“We hope to continue to raise awareness. Mass incarceration and the abject failure that is the War on Drugs is being talked about more in the main stream,” said Jasiri X, a Pittsburgh hip-hop artist who performed at the rally. “I just hope it was another log on the fire to keep the conversation going.”


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