By Alice Huffman, President of the California NAACP
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” said the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1967 when he spoke out against the Vietnam War. At the time, he was roundly criticized by friend and foe alike for speaking out on an issue considered outside the purview of civil rights’ leaders. Dr. King understood better than most at the time the true cost of war — in lives lost, in futures squandered, in dreams deferred and in misspent resources. Eventually, a majority of Americans came to agree with him about the war in Vietnam but he did not live long enough to see the shift in public opinion. His moral courage lay in speaking out in the face of disagreement, caring more about his integrity than popularity.
As leaders of the California NAACP, it is our mission to eradicate injustice and continue the fight for civil rights and social justice wherever and whenever we can. We are therefore compelled to speak out against another war, the so called “war on drugs.” To be clear, this is not a war on the drug lords and violent cartels, this is a war that disproportionately affects young men and women and the latest tool for imposing Jim Crow justice on poor African-Americans.
We reject the oft-repeated but deceptive argument that there are only two choices for addressing drugs — heavy handed law enforcement or total permissiveness. Substance abuse and addiction are American problems that affect every socioeconomic group, and meaningful public health and safety strategies are needed to address it. However, law enforcement strategies that target poor Blacks and Latinos and cause them to bear the burden and shame of arrest, prosecution and conviction for marijuana offenses must stop.
The report released this week by the Drug Policy Alliance confirmed that marijuana law enforcement in California disproportionately targets our youth. Despite consistent evidence that Black youth use marijuana at lower rates than Whites, in every one of the 25 largest counties in California, Blacks are arrested for marijuana possession at higher rates than Whites, typically at double, triple, or even quadruple the rate of Whites.