Black Professionals Form National African American Drug Policy Coalition

Black professional organizations including the NationalAssociation of Black Law Enforcement Executives, CongressionalBlack Caucus Foundation, National Bar Association and NationalAssociation of Black Psychologists, joined hands in Baltimore onWednesday to form the National African American Drug Policycoalition.

The coalition, whose executive director isArthur L. Burnett, a retired superior court judge, targets sevencities including Baltimore, Washington, Chicago, Seattle,Huntsville, Ala., Flint, Michigan and another city to be named inthe U.S. Virgin Islands.  It is supported in part by theRobert Wood Johnson Foundation, a philanthropic organizationdedicated to health and health care in the United States.

It is designed primarily to move lawmakers tochange mandatory minimum-sentencing laws that have left AfricanAmericans and other minorities disproportionably serving prisonsentences for their involvement in drug use and sale.  Underthe umbrella of the coalition, these Black professionals plan torecommend that judges offer treatment rather than prison time fordrug crimes.  They argue that the key to changing statisticsand the quality of life in urban communities is in education andcommunity prevention tactics not imprisonment.

Kurt L. Schmoke, current dean of HowardUniversity’s Law School and co-chairman of the coalition, hascalled drug addiction a public health problem, and argues thatdrugs, as a whole should be decriminalized.  The formerthree-term Baltimore mayor has received tough criticism about hisviews, particularly his argument that addicts should receivemedical treatment instead of jail time.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) alsourges the treatment of drug addicts over incarceration.  In1999, the president presented a statement to the Senate JudiciaryCommittee saying that the federal government should look at aSupreme Court study, which showed that treatment has eliminated thehabits of many and saved taxpayers money in the meantime.  Thestudy found that 77 percent of offenders sent to treatment Arizonasaved $2.5 million

According to a Justice Policy Institutereport, 791,000 Black men were incarcerated for drug-related crimescompared with only 603,032 enrolled in college in 2000.  In1980, Black men in college and universities outnumbered Black menin prison 3-to-1.

Burnett argues that Black professionals shouldbegin to get more involved in community mentoring programs and inkeeping kids off the street and away from drugs.