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April 29, 2004 - Good 5 Cent Cigar (RI Edu)

Poets, Activists To Discuss Racism In Domestic Drug Policy

By Chris Keegan

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

The University of Rhode Island Students for Sensible Drug Policy ( SSDP ) will host performance art and a round table discussion Saturday to examine how the enforcement of drug laws in the United States and abroad disproportionally affects people of color.

"Black and White: An Evening of Poetry and Discussion about Race, Class and War on Drugs" will feature multimedia poetry presentations by Colombia-native Alixa Garcia and New Yorker Naimu Penniman. The works of both poets are based on the negative aspects of the war on drugs.

Clifford Wallace Thornton of the Connecticut-based reform group Efficacy will speak on how domestic drug policy has hurt minority communities, while National SSDP Director Scarlett Swedlow will discuss proposed changes to the 1998 Higher Education Act. The act, enacted by Congress, denies federal aid to students with drug convictions.

The event, which is free and open to the public, will take place in the Multicultural Center's Hardge Forum from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Tom Angell, former SSDP President at URI and one of the event's organizers, said Thornton is the foremost speaker in the drug reform movement. Thornton recently spoke to the Parliament of New Zealand on the country's drug policies, which Angell said are similar to those of the United States.

Angell and SSDP President-elect Dan Rosenkrantz said they recently saw Garcia and Penniman perform at their group's national conference in January. The poets used props and projected slideshow images of poverty in Colombia to evoke tears from their audiences.

"It was powerful," Angell said. "It's their way of offering their support to the drug reform movement. Art is an integral part of social change movements in the past."

Angell said today's laws against drug possession have racist foundations. As a result, African American males have a one in four chance of going to jail. In a nation where 13 percent of its population is African American, nearly 55 percent of all individuals convicted of drug charges are black, he said.

In addition, Angell said it is the norm for people of higher socio-economic status to pay for legal representation and avoid conviction, while the poor cannot afford counsel. Since the early 1900s, drug laws have been designed to target minority communities, Angell said.

"The justification for the laws was to protect white daughters from crazy, reefer toking, Negro jazz musicians," he said.

Saturday's event is cosponsored by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Latin American Student Association, Raise Your Voice, URI Students for Social Change and the International Collegiate Organization for Nonviolence.

Copyright: 2004 Good 5 Cent Cigar

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