Outstanding opinion piece in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution by Cynthia Tucker (the editorial page editor): Misguided drug war claims another victim
The investigation may reveal police incompetence, and it may reveal police malfeasance. Unfortunately, however, it is unlikely to point to the root cause of this tragedy — a foolish, decades-long effort to curb illegal drug use through arrests and incarceration. Raging on mindlessly, the war on drugs has caused untold collateral damage — leaving children fatherless, helping to exacerbate the spread of AIDS and filling prisons with people who, with minimal rehabilitation, might be contributing to society rather than draining its resources.
That only begins to tally the destruction, much of it inflicted on black communities. […]
Whatever led Atlanta police to the small, burglar-barred house in a downtrodden Atlanta neighborhood — contradictory claims have been offered about the search warrant — it’s clear that Johnston was no drug dealer. Even if she had been, her crimes would not have justified the intrusive and dangerous tactics police used. Those tactics flow from a failed policy that emphasizes arrests — any arrests, no matter the offender’s stature in the drug-trade hierarchy or the size of the cache of drugs. […]
It’s no wonder, then, that an estimated one-third of young black men are under the jurisdiction of the criminal justice system — in prison, on probation or on parole. And once they’ve been tainted with a conviction, they struggle under its stigma for the rest of their lives. They’re less likely to get gainful employment, so they’re less likely to be attractive husbands or responsible fathers.
This country now imprisons its citizens at five to eight times the rate of most other industrialized nations, according to the Sentencing Project. We’ve learned nothing from an earlier period of Prohibition, which produced criminal gangs and an epidemic of lawlessness.[…]
And Kathryn Johnston? She’s not the first victim of our foolish, futile war on drugs. Sadly, she won’t be the last.
It’s a phenomenal piece. And very timely. We need people like Cynthia providing the reminder that the larger policy is implicated in Kathryn Johnston’s death, and not just the police that pulled the trigger or those who ordered the raid.
Update: This piece is even getting picked up in other papers.