The Inconvenient Truth of America’s Drug Policy: in Black and White

With the epidemic of drug addiction and deadly overdoses happening in white populations, the tone and policy toward addicts has totally changed. Photo: Wiki Commons: Picture by By (Own work) CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

It was former Vice President Al Gore who coined the phrase, “an inconvenient truth”, but he was not the first person to “speak truth to power”. All my life, I have seen and heard people in the black community speaking truth to power. It is always an “inconvenient” truth.

For decades America’s response to the drug epidemic in black communities were longer prison sentences and more and more prisons. “Lock them up” was the public policy. The result: The largest incarceration of black men in the history of America including during slavery. This is an inconvenient truth.

Now, there is an opioid epidemic in the white community. What are the results? There has now been a major shift; more emphasis on drug treatment and empathy. Fire and police departments are open to receive addicts and their personnel are ordered to seek medical treatment for, not criminal sanctions against, those who come for help.

The contrast is stark. When former Baltimore State’s Attorney Kurt Schmoke, an African American man who advocated that we treat black addicts of Baltimore City as a public health issue instead of public safety in the 1980s, newspapers and others opined that he was “soft” on crime.

Today’s change in public policy and opinion is not wrong. In fact, it is the right policy. But it is painfully obvious that the policy changed because the drug users went from black urban dwellers to white suburban teens, parents and professionals.

New and sensible drug policies, though, are still replete with discrimination against people of color. I think of the millions of black men who went to prison for selling marijuana and the billions of dollars that white men will now be allowed to make for selling marijuana from dispensers around the nation. I know full well what an “inconvenient truth” is. I have seen it in black white and white all my life.

A Luta Continua!

Carl Snowden is a political and civil rights leader in Annapolis.

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Carl Snowden and Associates were founded in 1985. It is a private consultant firm that specializes in addressing bias and institutional racism. Its founder Carl Snowden and the company have been featured in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and the Baltimore Sun. The company working with the ACLU in Maryland have won cases involving voting rights, employment discrimination and sexual harassment.