By Russell Simmons
For 42 years, we have waged war against our own people that we have disguised as the “War on Drugs.” Forty-two years of failure that has cost the American taxpayers $1 trillion dollars, resulted in 45 million drug arrests, and overfilled America’s prisons while failing to reduce the availability, sale, or use of drugs in the United States. Instead, it destroyed the fabric of communities of color, where diseased, innocent people in need of drug rehabilitation were trained in violent criminal behavior and became lifetime consumers of the prison industrial complex. All the while, it led America to become the world’s leading jailer, with 2.3 million of our citizens behind bars, more than any country on earth. Tomorrow, we will begin a “cyber march” on Washington to stop this five-decade-long misery and devastation of humanity, that has resulted in one in every 15 African-American men in prison.
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.