CU Citizens for Peace and Justice and Salem Baptist Church are hosting Forgiveness Weekend: Double Jeopardy or a New Beginning, February 18-20, in Champaign, Illinois, dealing with race, faith, and drug policy reform (full schedule and contact information at the link).
The Civil Rights leaders involved in the event (Rev. James Lawson, Jr., Rev. C.T. Vivian, Rev. Will D. Campbell, Diane Nash, Rev. Bernard Lafayette, Rev. James Bevel) have issued this statement:
We who have participated in the civil rights movement know the power of creative, persistent, nonviolent resistance. We are committed to translating the lessons we have learned into invitations for action now, believing it is urgent to redress the grievances and correct the injustices of our present drug laws. We believe the war on drugs is a continuation of historic institutional racism, aimed at enriching those in power and impoverishing communities of color. The drug war is a war against the American people, particularly those who are young, poor, and people of color. In the words of William Douglas, it is “a slavery unwilling to die.”
The war on drugs has not only failed in its efforts to make America free of “illicit” drugs, but in the process has constructed laws that are highly unjust, racist in application, a threat to our constitutional rights and a danger to our public health. African Americans are estimated to be 13% of the total drug offenses, 59% of those convicted for drug offenses, and 74% of those imprisoned for drug offenses. The Justice Policy Institute’s 2003 report states that 560,000 people are now incarcerated in the twelve state region from Louisiana to Virginia: “Today, the role played by slavery, convict leasing and the Black Codes. In every Southern state, African Americans were incarcerated at four times the rate of whites.
In the words of political economist John Flateau: “Metaphorically, the criminal justice pipeline is like a slave ship, transporting human cargo along interstate triangular trade routes from Black and Brown communities, through the middle passage of police precincts, holding pens, detention centers and courtrooms; to downstate jails or upstate prisons; back to communities as unrehabilitated escapes; and back to prison or jail in a vicious recidivist cycle.” The alarming escalation of our prison population is a direct result of national drug policy. The war on drugs continues to write off millions of human beings and squander urgently needed resources that might be invested in education, housing, public health and economic development.
With more than 2 million people currently incarcerated in this country, almost 500,000 for nonviolent drug offenses, we cannot remain silent. We are called on to speak a prophetic word of judgment and hope to the present situation. We must apply a “soulforce”, combining our prayers with the hard work of seeking justice, healing and restoration. We urge you to join in this movement; to stand with those who are victimized by this war; to expose the injustices; to change the public policies; and to engage in ongoing systemic work for restorative justice and reconciliation.
If you’re in the area, or connected with an area church, this is an event you shouldn’t miss.
I also urge you to check out Interfaith Drug Policy Initiative for an organization that is working hard to get people of faith involved in drug policy reform.
It’s going to take everybody to change the laws — those on the left and the right and stuck in the middle, people of faith and civil rights leaders, medical professionals and smart politicians, stoners, philosphers, and intellectuals until finally, the people sitting at home wake up and realize that their drug war has been a lie.