After forty years of the war on drugs, America continues to have laws that stratify society based on race and class and continues to ignore Dr. King’s lessons on justice, compassion and love.
My favorite quote from Dr. King speaks to the heart of the problem with America’s criminal justice system. “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”
America’s criminal justice system is reckless and discriminate. America has five percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. Blacks are incarcerated at four to five times the rate of whites for drug crimes, even though the majority of those who use and sell drugs are white. The majority of those incarcerated are people who have a history with mental health and substance abuse.
Not only does incarceration impact individuals but it undermines families,
communities and civil rights. As Michelle Alexander articulates in “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness”, mass incarceration has created a caste-like system that locks millions of people into the bottom rungs of society based on their status as ex-prisoners. Families of those incarcerated suffer an average 30 percent less income; and in Chicago, 1.46 million black men have lost their right to vote due to felony convictions. Alexander argues correctly in her book by saying, because of mass incarceration and the war on drugs, old forms of discrimination against voting, employment, housing, access to education, and public benefits have become legal again.Does that seem right to you?
If not, what can you do?
As long as the war on drugs leads to mass incarceration, racial stratification and the erosion of our civil rights and liberties, we must do as Dr. King would do, fight for its defeat and create a new dialogue rooted in “love implementing the demands justice… and power correcting everything that stands against love.” At its core, this would mean substance abuse and mental health treatment for all those who need it, not incarceration for nonviolent drug felons.That may take a while.
Meanwhile, we can at least refuse to buy further into that corrupt system by refusing to have a private prison in Lowndes County, Georgia. Spend those tax dollars on rehabilitation and education instead.