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African American professionals unite against Drug War

"Who would have thought 20 years ago that today there would be more African American men serving time than there are pursuing college degrees? We need to confront the futility of fighting a public health problem solely with prison."

Key African American professional organizations have joined forces as the National African American Drug Policy Coalition (NAADPC); their urgent mission is to find alternatives to misguided drug policies that have made it more likely for an African American man to be in prison than college. What these groups envision in common is a concerted five-year campaign to reduce and prevent illegal drug usage and related crime in the African American community.

Clyde E. Bailey, Sr., the National Bar Association's immediate past president and patent counsel at Eastman Kodak, Inc., founded NAADPC in early 2004. Members of the Coalition include the National Bar Association; Howard University School of Law; the National Association of Black Sociologists; the National Association of Black Psychologists; the National Association of Black Social Workers; the National Black Nurses Association; the National Dental Association; the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives; the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Inc.; and the National Black Caucus of State Legislators.

According to press releases, NAADPC is determined to stop ineffective policies that blindly push punishment as the only way to stop people from using drugs. NAADPC would prefer a public health approach that emphasizes the use of quality addiction treatment and other alternatives as appropriate in many drug law cases.

"Not only have they failed to reduce drug use, these warlike policies are doing irreparable harm to the African American community and do not advance public safety," insists Coalition National Executive Director Arthur L. Burnett, Sr., retired senior judge in the District of Columbia. "Who would have thought 20 years ago that today there would be more African American men serving time than there are pursuing college degrees? We need to confront the futility of fighting a public health problem solely with prison."

According to a 2002 report by the Justice Policy Institute, 791,600 African-American men at the end of 2000 were behind bars, with drug-related offenses the most common reason for incarceration - compared to 603,032 enrolled in a college or university. By contrast, in 1980, African American men in colleges and universities outnumbered those in prison by a ratio of more than 3 to 1.

The Coalition - co-chaired by Bailey and Kurt L. Schmoke, former mayor of the city of Baltimore and Dean of the Howard University School of Law - is focused on treatment, education and prevention programs. By contrast, criminal sanctions have proven ineffective at reducing drug use and prison recidivism, thus endangering community life and welfare as a result.

More to the point, the Coalition is fighting to make treatment available to the poor and uninsured and promoting prevention programs that have demonstrated an ability to steer young people away from drug use. It also is putting a spotlight on drug law enforcement activities that have a disproportionate impact on African Americans, other ethnic minorities, and poor white people.

As part of their mission, Coalition members plan to host a series of seminars across the country to spark a national dialogue on the need to approach addictions to drugs as a public health problem, first, and a criminal problem, second. The Coalition plans to develop targeted programs around pretrial diversion and therapeutic sentencing. Pilot programs promoting drug/alcohol prevention and treatment will be initiated in seven cities - Chicago, IL, Huntsville, AL, Flint, MI, Seattle, WA, Baltimore, MD, Washington, D.C., and a yet to be determined city in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

"What we hope to do is to shift public resources into education, prevention, treatment and effective research programs. We are determined to focus on the health issue of drug-using people rather than criminalizing their behavior," said Clyde E. Bailey.

"Over time, effective treatment will reduce the number of crimes which would otherwise have been committed by these individuals. In time our communities will be safer, and we will have reduced the costs of law enforcement and courts that would have been futilely expended in connection with new crimes," said Arthur L. Burnett, Sr. in his founding remarks.

Kurt L. Schmoke noted that "this Coalition is the most broad-based group I have ever seen. I hope that it will move drug control policy in a more constructive direction, especially as it relates to people of color.

A major effort will focus on therapeutic sentencing, by which we mean educating judges to craft sentences for drug offenders that will influence them to be better people coming out of prison than they were going in."

NAADPC is a preeminent multidisciplinary team of African American professional organizations united to promote public health versus criminalization as a less expensive, more effective and humane approach to address the chronic societal problem of drug abuse.

For more information contact:

The Honorable Arthur L. Burnett, Sr., National Executive Director, National African American Drug Policy Coalition, Phone: 202-806-8211.

Source: The Black Collegian Magazine © 2004

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