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May 27, 2007 - Chicago Sun-Times (IL)

Column: War On Drugs Kills Blacks

By Monroe Anderson

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

I have two T-shirts that date back to last century. Both are black and white. One has a silhouetted head of an African-American man within the cross hairs of a gunsight. Underneath the head is a big, contrasting stencil that reads: "Endangered Species."

The second T-shirt repeats "Endangered Species" 16 times as alternating black, then white, banners. Dominating its center is a similar silhouette caught in similar cross hairs.

Although I've owned the two tees for 15 years, they're like new. I've worn them only three or four times each. The stares I get from some who see me in my shirts take me out of my comfort zone. The looks that aren't blank strike me as either too approving or too ill-at-ease. But between the warm weather and the cold-blooded murders of Tramaine Gibson and Blair Holt, I've felt the urge to take my T-shirts out of storage and start spreading their message.

Gibson, a married father of two young children, was shot to death last week during a stickup at Illinois Federal Service Savings and Loan because he didn't know the combination to the vault. He was 23. Holt, a high school honor student, was shot to death 17 days ago on a CTA bus, protecting a female classmate from a gun-wielding teenager. He was 16. So is his alleged shooter.

Their front-page tragedies put faces on debilitating statistics. Black American males between the ages of 15 and 24 have the highest firearm homicide rate of any demographic group in our nation. Ten times more black males are shot to death in that age range than white males.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 52 percent of this nation's gun-murder victims are African American, even though we represent less than 13 percent of the total population.

If all Americans were killed with firearms at the same rate as African-American males between the ages of 15 and 24, there would be more than a quarter of a million gun murders in the United States annually.

Make no mistake about it: This is still that same sad story of black-on-black crime. But the magnitude is new. I attribute it to the "war on drugs." Two decades ago, Congress went on a "get tough on drugs" rampage. The results have visited devastating collateral damage on the African-American community. Black men have unfairly and disproportionately been targeted as enemy combatants in this trumped-up war. A black man is 13 times more likely to go to state prison than a white man.

And while drug use is consistent across all racial groups, blacks and Latinos are much more likely to get busted, prosecuted and given long sentences for drug offenses, according to the latest report by Human Rights Watch. That explains why African Americans, who make up 13 percent of all drug users, are 35 percent of those arrested for drug possession, 55 percent of those convicted and 74 percent of those sent to prison.

Time served for petty crime helped cultivate a criminal culture in too many black communities. The residue is seen and heard in hip-hop music. It's studied in school test scores. It's reflected in the demise of the black family unit. Right now, there are more than 1 million African-American men in prison; more black men are in jail here than the rest of the world combined. Ex-cons bring lessons learned in prison back to the community.

So, exposure to thug thought cultivates thug culture, leads to the thug life and ends in thug deaths. Most times that means one thug killing another. But increasingly, the good ones, the Tramaine Gibsons and the Blair Holts, fall victim.

One of my sons could be next-or one of yours. We need to stop this cancer from further spreading. We need to scale down the raids and scale back the sentencing on nonviolent offenses. We need to put our energies into educating to prevent incarcerating.

So this time I won't be putting my T-shirts away. I need to wear my alarm on my chest. That's one small way I hope to make others aware of what's going on. I'll think of others.

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