It is a despicable disgrace that drug-addicted, diseased members of entire generations of African-Americans and Latinos were massively thrown into horrific prisons that mainly exposed them to the vices of violent criminal practices. Then these victims of brutal long periods of unjust incarceration were dumped back into communities without any hope or chance for gainful employment, which only resulted in the downward spiral of self-destruction, youth gun violence, poverty and the rise of a cold-hearted prison culture that rules most of streets today across the nation. But all of this can be challenged and changed. Yet it is with a renewed sense of urgency that we must speak out and build an effective movement. The lives of millions of people are at stake.
Upon reflecting with my friend, Dr. Boyce Watkins, recently, we asked ourselves how we could we engage our collective resources to do something about this injustice. It hit me that there was no greater contribution that I have made in my lifetime than the effort that I helped to wage 10 years ago with Dr. Ben Chavis, Andrew Cuomo, the Drug Policy Alliance, the hip-hop community and a coalition of politicians, activists, artists, celebrities and other concerned people to reform and end the Rockefeller Drug Laws in New York, then the harshest drug laws in the country. When Puffy, Jay-Z, 50 Cent, Alicia Keys, Wyclef, the Beastie Boys, Wu-Tang Clan, Mariah Carey and countless other celebrities jumped on the stage in front of 100,000 people in downtown NYC, it was that collective power of popular culture that made the media and politicians pay attention to the needs of the people. The demand for change resulted in thousands of people in NY being released from prison, after Republican Gov. Pataki and later Democratic Gov. Paterson ultimately reformed these draconian laws.