The tragic deaths of Freddie Gray in Maryland, Michael Brown of Missouri, and Walter Scott in South Carolina are representative of America's institutionalized violence, grounded in our modern era drug war.
The American drug war began with President Richard Nixon's 1971 declaration of war, calling drug use "public enemy No.1," followed two years later by the creation of the Drug Enforcement Agency. It was easier then for law enforcement to both legally and illegally arrest our citizens without fearing for their own lives, because there were fewer guns on the streets. Today there are 250 million to 300 million guns in our community, one for almost every American. As the National Gun Victim's Action Council states, "On an average day in the U.S., guns are used to kill more than 80 people, injure almost 300 more, and commit approximately 3,000 crimes. Since John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, more Americans have been shot and killed on our own soil than in all the 20th-century wars combined." This is the legacy of the drug war.
The drug war is the longest civil war in world history, the federal government waging an armed assault against the citizens of the States, using foreign, federal, state and county employees to carry out their will. The escalated militarization of the law enforcement community has occurred nationwide, employing use of force modeled on street warfare our enlistees use overseas. Yet, our Constitution makes clear — if there is no injury to another person or their property, it is as if no crime has been committed. Drug use by an individual is actually a constitutionally protected right.
The statistics in the drug war arrest patterns reveal that the darker the skin or the poorer the neighborhood, the more arrests occur. A black man is seven times more likely to get arrested than a white male. There are more African American men in prison today, than there were slaves exploited or murdered during that abysmal time in American history. But prison is not just for men. There are more women of childbearing age in American prisons than anywhere else in the world.
In 1980, there were about 40,000 people in American jails and prisons for drug crimes. That's a full house at Camden Yards stadium, minus 8,000, being imprisoned. Today, according to the Prison Policy Initiative there are more than 2.5 million people behind bars, which is comparable to imprisoning everyone in Vermont, New Hampshire and much of Maine. Our prison population represents 25 percent of the entire planet's incarcerated, yet we account for only 5 percent of the population overall. Counting only adults, that's one in every 100 Americans, is behind bars. As commentators worldwide observe, America's citizens are being "victimized" for a now lucrative prison industry.
After spending billions of dollars a year on this unconstitutional drug war, instead of on community development in the same neighborhoods victimized by the war, of "1,501,043 arrests for drug law violations in 2013, 82.3 percent (1,235,358) were for possession of a controlled substance. Only 17.7 percent (265,685) were for the sale or manufacturing of a drug," according to drugwarfacts.org.
Users fill our prisons explaining why more than 50 percent of people imprisoned, are there for non-violent crimes. Meanwhile, the drug war has fostered an interlocking edifice of exploitation in underground economies, using force, coercion and fraud, spawning global appendages in human trafficking, sex slavery and child kidnapping, as regular entitlements to weapons and drug running. It's epidemic, barbaric and lucrative.
America's Drug war has destroyed families, communities, multi-racial relationships, countless millions of individual lives, and city and county economies. Law enforcers have the right to defend themselves. They do not have the right to kill American citizens, residents or illegal immigrants whom they are arresting, especially more homicidal, when the person, by age, size or temperament, is neither belligerent nor aggressive or is a person of mistaken identity, all whom may wonder if they will survive an encounter with law enforcement. Instead of waiting to find out, people run for their lives. We are after all, in a war.
We need living wage jobs and justice in America. End the drug war, tax the substances being sold, create educational and medical resources for the issue of all addictions, which in America is led by prescription drugs freely traded in offices, hospitals, senior centers and schools. Those who have died in this drug war deserve to be honored by our efforts for an intentional peace.
Zohara Meyerhoff Hieronimus is a radio broadcaster, author and social justice and environmental activist. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.