NAACP calling for truce in nation's drug war

| Thursday, Aug. 18, 2011

If you grew up at the same time that I did, you'll remember the "Just Say No" anti-drug campaign that became popular in the mid-1980s and early 1990s.

It manifested itself in many ways, from the posters and talks in class to the "very special episodes" of shows such as "Blossom" and "The Facts of Life," where a character encounters a kid from the wrong side of the tracks who is pressuring him or her to try drugs. Inevitably, good prevailed and the druggie turned out to be from a broken family and needed only a good face-to-face with Nancy Reagan, the driving force behind the campaign, to overcome his addiction. (She appeared on "Diff'rent Strokes," and considering the real-life histories of Gary Coleman, Todd Bridges and Dana Plato, she probably should have stuck around for a five-episode story arc.)

"Just Say No" was part of the larger war on drugs the Nixon administration declared in 1971. For grown-ups, that war symbolized a lot more than sappy primetime television. Especially for black adults. For them, it meant stricter laws for those found buying, selling and distributing illegal drugs.

To that end, the NAACP took an interesting step at its national convention last month. It approved a resolution to end the war on drugs because of its devastating effect on the black community.

Benjamin Todd Jealous, the president of the NAACP, is calling for a new enforcement system that puts an emphasis on "evidence-based practices that address the root causes of drug use and abuse in America." He also noted that blacks are 13 times more likely to go to jail for drug offenses than their white counterparts. Last year in Pittsburgh, 2,907 black men were arrested on drug charges, while 898 white men were arrested for the same crimes. Is that because blacks are targeted more, or because they really violate drug laws more than anyone else?

The NAACP says that all racial groups abuse drugs at the same rate, but that police stop blacks and Hispanics more often, which leads to charges and prison time. When they get out of prison, ex-convicts find it difficult to find a job, and the cycle begins again.

The NAACP's board of directors must ratify the resolution in October before any real steps are taken.

Still, this is a fairly significant step for the organization, and it's just the latest to act on a belief that the war on drugs is not only racially motivated, but also wildly unsuccessful. A global panel, which included former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, also wants to see the decriminalization of the drug trade in the United States.

Did you know that the government spends more than $40 billion a year on this war• The NAACP would like to see that money go toward treatment programs. It might as well. Have you noticed a decrease in drug activity and shootings in your neighborhood• I haven't. The North Side hills are even more alive these days with the sound of gunfire.

The president of the Pittsburgh branch of the NAACP, M. Gayle Moss, did not return calls seeking comment on the resolution. But it will be interesting to see what happens if the organization declares war on the war on drugs.

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