Saturday, experts on the national drug war attacked current drug policies and suggested remedies at a public forum called "The Hidden Casualties of the War on Drugs" at the Monroe County Public Library, 303 E. Kirkwood Ave.
Between 75 and 100 area residents and IU students attended the forum, and support for changing current drug policies was strong. Featured speakers were Mike Gray, author of "Drug Crazy: How We Got Into This Mess and How We Can Get Out," Nora Callahan, executive director of the November Coalition, and Lusane, who spent several years working in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Speakers at the forum shed new light on the drug problem, using statistics to back their claims.
Speaker Dr. Clarence Lusane, professor at American University, said the mandatory minimum sentence for the possession of five grams of crack-cocaine is five years. An individual must possess at least 500 grams of cocaine powder to receive five years in prison, which means that a user of crack-cocaine is likely to receive the same sentence as a dealer of cocaine powder. The problem? Lusane says 88 percent of crack-cocaine users are black.
Robert Miller, former Monroe County prosecutor, also spoke at the forum.
"I was sworn to protect the law, but sometimes justice and fairness are lost," Miller said, referring to his days as prosecuting attorney. "Prohibition does not work, and the war on drugs is immoral."
When asked why he did not exercise his views while in office, Miller said he had no power to adjust the drug laws. Drug policy, he said, is made within the state and national legislatures.
Gray asserted that drug policies are moving in the wrong direction.
"Fifty billion dollars per year goes to the drug war," Gray said. "What do we get out of it? More of our kids in prison."
Callahan blamed the drug problem on lack of a viable employment alternative in major cities.
"You can't get a job in the inner-cities," Callahan said. "With NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), jobs have gone overseas. And especially with welfare cutbacks, what are they going to do? It all adds to the drug problem."
Speakers said the United States has become the world's leading jailer, with nearly 2 million people in prison.
"One out of 54 Americans are in prison or on supervised release. That number is one out of four for black Americans. What are we doing?" Callahan said.
Callahan added that she believes most of the violence behind drugs happens because of prohibition, not the drugs themselves.
"The drug war is nothing more than a war on our own people," she said.
Lusane had ideas for new policies on drugs. He said the United States needs to take a different economic stance on developing countries -- the same countries where many of the drugs are coming from. According to Lusane, the United States spends 1 percent of its budget on foreign aid, a number that he said needs to grow.
"We need to get rid of the mandatory minimum sentences," Lusane added. "We also need to deal with voting rights. Fourteen states take away voting rights forever after a felony conviction."
This needs to change, Lusane said, because a growing number of blacks and other offenders have no voice in elections even if their drug problem is over.
One community member asked if the legalization of drugs would stop many of the problems facing communities today.
"We are dealing with a multi-issue problem," Lusane responded. "Addiction has been a problem, but we're talking about a medical and economic problem that has been criminalized."
© Indiana Daily Student, 1998
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