THE REPENTANCE PROJECT / AN AMERICAN LENT
African American Families
and the War on Drugs
and the War on Drugs
WEEK III / DAY V
Friday, March 2, 2018
Scripture / Read Luke 17:1-3
"Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. So watch yourselves."
Our History and Its Legacy
According to the US Department of Justice, a disproportionate number of African-Americans are incarcerated in federal prison on drug trafficking charges compared to White Americans. In 2012, roughly 39% of all federally sentenced drug offenders were African-American, while only 22% were White. In contrast, according to the US Census Bureau, Whites made up over 72% of the total US population while African-Americans made up less than 13%. Focusing only on cocaine-related offenders, African-Americans made up roughly 61% compared to Whites at roughly 8%. These numbers illustrate just two of the many significant racial disparities that mark the justice and prison system in the US.
In its Report the Bureau of Justice Statistics shows that from the 1930s through 1970, the total US Federal and State prisons maintained a steady population of about 200,000. In 1971 President Nixon promoted the idea that drug abuse was “public enemy number one.” Immediately, incarceration rates began to rise. In the 1980s Presidents Reagan and Bush redoubled the “War on Drugs,” and in the 1990s mandatory sentencing and “three strikes” laws took hold under President Clinton. By 2006 the US prison population had passed 1.5 million and by 2011, forty years after the War on Drugs began, more than 7.2 million Americans were either in prison or on probation or parole, as pointed out by President Carter.
By nearly all measures the War on Drugs has proven a massive failure, with drug consumptions higher, escalating budget appropriations, massive incarceration of non-violent offenders on the rise and millions of African-American families absorbing the brunt of the damage. Mandatory sentencing has resulted in millions of young, non-violent African-American men and women behind bars for excessive periods of time. As such, these men and women are unable to provide for their families, which perpetuates cycles of poverty and cultural identity as criminal. With felony charges, these individuals are highly unemployable when they try to re-enter that labor market.
Reflection and Response / Read and Journal
The heroin epidemic among White Americans has recently prompted policies offering rehab and medical treatment, while African-Americans caught in the decades-long War on Drugs bear the brand of “Public Enemy.” Addressing drug abuse in all its forms is a necessary public responsibility; however, those of us who have supported heavy-handed and failing drug-prevention policies that leave African-Americans and the poor at a greater disadvantage share a responsibility in the present-day chaos within our nation’s distressed communities.
Read Professor Ekow N. Yankah’s February 6, 2016 article “When Addiction Has a White Face” and take five minutes of quiet to journal what thoughts come to mind.
Catherine Hoke, Founder and CEO of Defy Ventures, points out that "We’re all ex-somethings. I wish we’d ask ourselves, ‘What would it be like if I was only known for the worst thing I’ve done?’ Moved by empathy, we’d recognize people for who they are today and not for the mistakes they made yesterday. Millions with criminal histories would unlock their potential.”
Reflect on what it would be like if you were only known for the worst thing you’d done or left undone. How would potential employers, co-workers, or acquaintances relate to you if that’s all they knew about you?
Written by Ted Haddock