Sunday, May 17, 2009

Waging War Without a War Plan

I found the conversation at between hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, political commentator Ariana Huffington and socialite Kim Kardashian about ending the so-called “War on Drugs” interesting and, yet, somewhat disturbing.

Simmons, whose social, cultural and spiritual outreach efforts never fail to surprise me, was instrumental in repealing the Rockefeller Drug Laws in New York. This is an important step in finally addressing the draconian drug laws that have had a disproportionately devastating effect on poor and black communities since the mid-1980s. Simmons seems to be trying to pull together a trip to Washington to tell the president that the “Moment is Now” to transform drug laws.

Huffington takes Obama, new drug czar Gil Kerlikowske and Attorney General Eric Holder to task for the Administration’s “cautious” (and sometimes contradictory) approach to amending America's drug policies.

Kardashian expresses shock and awe at the rise in the number of people incarcerated since the 1970s and vows to follow Simmons lead by diving "into this issue and speak to anyone who is willing to listen.”

The criticisms and efforts raised by Simmons, Huffington, Kardashian and others related to this issue are extremely important and timely. There has never been a better time or a better president to finally grapple with the human and monetary resources this country continues to waste with the wholesale incarceration of hundreds of thousands of low level, non-violent and/or addicted drug offenders.

What seems to be missing, however, are the structures, community-based strategies and key players to get real solutions now. Let's say drug laws are drastically altered tomorrow. What’s in place to end the cycle of poverty, drugs and crime? Where are the strategic plans for drug and family counseling centers, new industry job training and adult educational opportunities? Who’s drafting real-world ex-offender reentry and job training programs? Where is the blueprint for viable alternatives to the easily-accessible drug trade?

More important, where are black leaders?

Folks complain about what Obama has or hasn’t done (in just five months, by the way), but what are black leaders doing to prepare for the change he promised to bring?

No disrespect to Huffington or Kardashian intended, but blacks make up the majority of inmates in America’s prisons. The so-called "war on drugs" has wrought havoc on poor, black communities. Therefore, the passion, leadership and activism of black politicians, thinkers and scholars are sorely needed.

A few months ago, I wrote about the creative initiatives introduced by the Obama administration which, I believe, were specifically drafted to invigorate long-ignored urban and rural areas and major metropolises. Other than Newark Mayor Cory Booker, I’ve heard nothing from black leaders about plans to redevelop black communities, to invest in the disenfranchised, or to develop viable, money-making alternatives that may dissipate the allure of the drug trade while detouring people toward a more positive, productive direction.

Yes, by all means, let's address unjust, race and class-specific drug laws and nonsensical mandatory sentencing that punish the poor. That must happen, but not in a vacuum.

Obama can’t do it alone. Nothing is promised except a four-year window of opportunity. There is no better president to meet us halfway with a strategic, all-encompassing agenda for “real” change.

To echo the words of a certain hip-hop mogul: the “Moment is Now.”

1 comment:

Peter Martin said...

on point Sylvester - I've always admired Russell Simmons as being one of the few entertainers that is politically active in his deeds, not just for publicity or image.