I was anxious to see the Eugene Jareki film "The House I Live In" hosted by the ACLU of Connecticut at Real Art Ways this weekend. The film is a documentary about the enormous failure America's War on Drugs has been.
My interest in this comes from the fact that several of our kids from the club have spent time in incarceration for such. Sometimes they come to us to work off community service hours, then stay, but many times they know the club will help keep them off the streets and out of trouble. I care about these kids, but I don't make excuses, they made mistakes and should have consequences.
But there is more to the story than simply choosing between right and wrong. The odds are stacked against these kids. Mostly minority they come from neighborhoods of single or no-parent households, poverty, low literacy levels and gang activity. I raised my children in this same Town, same schools, same opportunities so why would their lives and the lives for their contemporaries be so different?
Paul Tough's best selling book "How Children Succeed" discusses the issue of toxic stress in children. Our country is starting to understand the effects of post traumatic stress disorder in soldiers and those who have suffered traumatic events. But families of poverty and those who work with them know only too well the effects of PTSD on these children.
So is it really such a shock when they turn to the numbing effects of the only too available drugs? Or the money that selling it brings. We can all agree drugs are bad, no argument there. But what the War on Drugs has become is a war on poor people.
The Portrait of Inequality 2012 report states that Black and Hispanic children are 3 times more likely to be poor than white children. Now fast forward to our system of zero tolerance on drugs with mandatory minimum sentencing. Statistics show that even though Whites and Blacks use drugs at approximately equal rates, Black people are 10.1 times more likely to be sent to prison for drug offenses.
Today, Black Americans represent 56% of those incarcerated for drug crimes, even though they comprise only 13% of the population. Look at the disparity between charges for crack cocaine and powder cocaine, the same drug different forms. But crack is cheaper. Until a recent federal revision it took 100 times more powdered cocaine than crack cocaine to trigger the same harsh mandatory minimum. It now only takes 18 times more powder than crack . The result?
The U. S. incarcerates more people than any country in the world - both per capita and in terms of total people behind bars. The U.S. has less than 5% of the world's population, yet it has almost 25% of the world's incarcerated population. Who are we incarcerating? This is not about racial profiling. This is about a system that has failed its people. Injustice for one is injustice for all. Mandatory minimums for non-violent drug offenses is breaking up families, over-crowding our prisons and denying addicts proper treatment.
Dr. Martin Luther King said " He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting it is really cooperating with it." We all need to consider the consequences of our actions. Start by watching the film "The House I Live In."