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April 6, 2005 - Mountain Xpress (NC)

Failed Drug War Won't Protect Our Children

By Clare Hanrahan, Freelance Writer

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In their recent commentary ("Where We All Live," March 2 Xpress), Council member Terry Bellamy and Vice Mayor Carl Mumpower use the poetry of a child living in public housing to evoke sympathy and elicit support for increased drug-law enforcement in Asheville.

But why is it that communities of color face far more scrutiny than the condominiums and gated homes of wealthy Asheville -- despite statistics showing that illicit drug use is many times more prevalent in white communities?

People of color are overindicted, underrepresented and overimprisoned in a failed war on drugs that targets low-level distributors, their addicted customers, and friends and family members who often have minimal involvement in the crimes.

In this duplicitous and sentimental appeal to protect children, the two Council members make no mention of the 1.5 million children with a parent in prison who have been orphaned by this war on drugs. Are you not aware, Ms. Bellamy, of the draconian sentences meted out to low-level distributors and first-time offenders? Mandatory sentences of five, 10 and 20 years are a financial disaster and a human-rights horror. Murderers, rapists and pedophiles serve less time.

Does this make our communities and our children safer? Do you not know about the drug-conspiracy laws and the rampant prosecutorial misconduct in this war on drugs, in which uncorroborated charges result in sentence enhancements that far exceed any definition of justice? Do you not realize that the children of drug-war prisoners seldom, if ever, have an opportunity to visit their parents (who are often incarcerated thousands of miles from home)? Did you know that children with parents in prison are five times more likely to end up in a prison cell themselves? What kind of poems are these children writing?

These and other disturbing facts about how the war on drugs destroys children's lives are available through The November Coalition, a national organization devoted to ending drug-war injustice.

Out of sight/out of mind is not the answer to the problems spawned by illegal-drug distribution and use. Public money does need to be spent - -- but not on prison cells in abusive and debilitating state and federal systems, and not on potentially deadly taser guns or armored police vehicles capable of breaking down our front doors in no-knock raids.

What we need is affordable housing, so low-income families aren't concentrated in ghettos of despair. We need drug-treatment programs, so we can reduce the demand for illegal substances and provide addicts with ongoing community support on the road to recovery.

I'm surprised, Ms. Bellamy, that you would align your voice with that of Mr. Mumpower -- a self-admitted procurer of crack cocaine -- in calling for even more police power. The current policies of interdiction, enforcement and imprisonment for illegal drug use are racist and futile and have not protected our children.

Dr. Ernest Drucker, writing for the U.S. Public Health Service, notes, "While these efforts have produced large numbers of arrests, incarcerations and seizures, drug-overdose deaths have increased 540 percent since 1980, and drug-related problems have worsened."

Prohibition is also irrationally selective. More violent crimes and family abuses are associated with alcohol use than with any illegal substance, and nicotine is a far greater public-health problem than marijuana. The drug war has escalated for decades, yet it has not reduced adolescent drug use. If you were truly interested in an effective drug-control strategy, you would be advocating far more strongly for public-health approaches, investing in our children, and confronting the underlying economic and social problems that are the root causes of drug abuse.

Ms. Bellamy, I urge you to look more deeply into the consequences of the enforcement you are calling for. Under the guise of protecting children, you are adding your voice to those supporting a failed drug war that results in the ongoing destruction of communities of color.

As for Mr. Mumpower, when you solicited drugs in the public-housing project, how is it that you weren't arrested?

Freelance writer Clare Hanrahan lives in Asheville.

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