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August 17, 2013

Finally, an end to the war on drugs

Editor’s Note: Mona Charen is still on vacation so her column will not be written this week. In her place, we’re filling in with another Leonard Pitts column this week.

It’s been a war on justice, an assault on equal protection under the law.

And a war on families, removing millions of fathers from millions of homes.

And a war on money, spilling it like water.

And a war on people of color, targeting them with drone strike efficiency.

We never call it any of those things, though all of them fit. No, we call it the War on Drugs. It is a 42-year, trillion-dollar disaster that has done nothing — underscore that: absolutely nothing — to stem the inexhaustible supply of, and insatiable demand for, illegal narcotics. In the process, it has rendered this “land of the free” the biggest jailer on Earth.

So any reason to hope sanity might assert itself is cause for celebration. Monday, we got two of them, a coincidental confluence of headlines that left me wondering, albeit, fleetingly: Did the War on Drugs just end?

Well, no. Let’s not get carried away. But it is fair to say two of the biggest guns just went silent.

Gun 1: In a speech before an American Bar Association conference in San Francisco, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that federal prosecutors will no longer charge nonviolent, low-level drug offenders with offenses that fall under mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines. Those Kafkaesque rules, you may recall, got Kemba Smith, a college student with no criminal record, sentenced to almost 25 years without parole after she carried money for her abusive, drug-dealing boyfriend.

Gun 2: A federal judge ruled New York City’s stop-and-frisk policy unconstitutional. The tactic, more in line with some communist backwater than with a nation that explicitly guarantees freedom from random search and seizure, empowered cops to search anyone they deemed suspicious, no probable cause necessary. Unsurprisingly, 84 percent of those stopped were black or Hispanic, according to the Center for Constitutional Rights, a civil rights group, which says illegal drugs or weapons were found in less than 2 percent of the searches.

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