Michelle Alexander wrote the book on the drug war — literally. “The New Jim Crow” documents in painful, painstaking detail how policies like these have been directed disproportionately against communities of color with devastating effect.
She told me via email that Monday’s headlines leave her “cautiously optimistic” they reflect an emerging national consensus that “war on certain communities defined by race and class has proved to be both immoral and irrational, wasting billions of dollars and countless lives.”
But, she warned, “tinkering with the incarceration machine” is not enough. These are important first steps, but only that. She’d like to see the resources that have been wasted in this “war” redirected to help the communities it decimated.
”We’ve spent more than a trillion dollars destroying those communities in the War on Drugs; we can spend at least that much helping them to recover. We must build a movement for education, not incarceration; jobs, not jails. We must do justice by repairing the harm that has been done. In that process, perhaps we will finally reverse the psychology that brought us to this point and learn to care about poor people of all colors, rather than simply viewing them as the problem.”
We can only hope. At the very least, Monday’s headlines suggest maybe a sea change is under way. Maybe we’re ready to stop using criminal justice tools to solve a public health problem. Maybe we’re ready to end this “War.”
It’s about time. Indeed, it is past time. Our stubborn insistence on these foolish, unworkable policies has left families bereft, communities devastated, cops and bystanders dead, money wasted, foreign governments destabilized, distrust legitimized and justice betrayed.
We call it a War on Drugs. Truth is, drugs are about the only thing it hasn’t hurt.
Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald.