Nationally-recognized speaker calls "War on Drugs" into Question
by Mansfield B. Frazier
Our nation's drug policies received a thorough review at a Cleveland Play House luncheon last Friday hosted by CityNews. Cliff Thornton, the executive director of a Connecticut-based drug law reform group, "Efficacy," spoke to an attentive group of 75 attendees at the noon forum.
Thornton started off by noting the irony of the fact that the day (June 16) a 6-year-old was hit by a stray bullet fired during the chase of a druo suspect on Cleveland's East Side was the 30th anniversary of Nixon's announcement of a "War on Drugs." A war, according to Thornton, that cannot be won.
"All we have done with this war," said Thornton, "is to create millions of senseless casualties, similar to the 6-year-old child that is currently in the hospital fighting for his life." He continued by noting that the price of a kilo of cocaine is half the price that it was when the drug war began 30-years-ago. "Interdiction cannot and will not work. In any maximum security prison in the country drugs are available. If we can't keep them out of this type of secure environment, how can we ever expect to keep them off of our streets?"
One of the members of the audience, Chuck Wilder, stated afterwards that while Thomton's message was right on point, he was preaching to the choir. "Many of the people who could have some influence over this issue weren't here and don't even want to discuss it," said Wilder.
One CityNews staffer noted that the keynote speaker at a recent Atlanta convention of black newspapers was the Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery, a contemporary and close associate of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. "Rev. Lowery challenged the black publishers and black ministers to enuage this issue. He basically stated that the prison/industrial complex is using these drug laws to create and perpetuate an industry based on the incarceration of young black males. He called on black ministers to take a look at our nation's drug policies in the same way they have begun to take a look at the AIDS issue."
However, another attendee, the Rev. Beatrice Walkout said that most black ministers are still "woefully uneducated in regards to the issue. We're talking about some, very conservative men and women who are buying into what the white power structure has told them is good for black folks. They are not thinking this issue through on their own ... if they did, they would come to another conclusion. A conclusion that this "War on Drugs' is really a war on people and is harming our race terribly."
During a question and answer session afterwards Thornton had to quell the usual fears that changing our nation's drug laws would result in a surge in usage. "Every credible study shows that once the sanctions are lifted in a country, usage peaks and then declines."
But the greater question Thornton argued is whether we want the government to maintain control over what is basically consensual behavior by adult citizens. "I, and a growing number of others, want Government to keep its nose out of our personal lives."