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San Francisco's war on drugs, "Stop chasing my children"

The Human Rights Commission hearing on the Human Rights Impact of the War on Drugs last week provided a broad spectrum of perspectives and information on how San Franciscans are affected by drug law enforcement.

The hearing commenced with testimony from Alice Huffman, President of the California NAACP, who underlined the racially targeted history of the drug war, beginning in 1914 and including the 1920's failed prohibition of alcohol.   Following, Dorsey Nunn, Executive Director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, and All of Us or None, stated that 1 out of 3 young African American males are under the control of the criminal justice system; "most of them victims of the drug war." 

Novella Coleman from the ACLU further exposed the disparate impact of drug law enforcement in San Francisco.  Her testimony reviewed "Buy-bust operations," which involve a police team who organize a sting operation during which an undercover officer offers to buy a small quantity of drugs from a street seller.   She noted the disparate socio-economic impact of this practice in the city, with many incidental arrests of the homeless and drug addicts.  According to her statistics, 150 cases involving low level addicts pass through the courts every month.  It has been estimated that only 1% of all buy-bust operations involve professional criminals who deal drugs for a living.  Moreover CJCJ's most recent publication described significant racial disparities in drug law enforcement that disproportionately targets African Americans.

Many of the speakers underlined the extreme hardship felony drug convictions result in.  Offenders incur lifetime bans from public aid programs, and discrimination on employment, student loans, and life insurance applications.  There can also be extensive immigration consequences for all non-citizen drug offenders (including possession of small amounts of marijuana, or DUI convictions), including mandatory detainment and deportation. 

The underlying theme of all the presentations was that this is a human problem; that current drug policy is adversely affecting the future of San Francisco's community.  Ms. Huffman explained that "the family structure of minorities is currently being eroded" while Mr. Nunn protested "stop chasing my children."  The public comment served to strengthen this message, with many people describing their personal stories of the hardship their community, and their children, is experiencing because of law enforcement drug policy. 

The main message of the hearing: the drug war has failed.  We should divest from it and invest instead in education and much needed community services.  Recommendations provided by speakers at the hearing included:

~ Transparency and tracking of law enforcement practices to enable outcome accountability and improvement.
~ Forms of pre-arrest diversion and treatment services instead of incarceration for drug addicts.
~ Legislative reforms to lift the barriers to accessing public aid programs and employment, such as AB 826 and SB 1066.
~ Comprehensive sentencing reform and re-evaluation of the War on Drugs.

*To read the full publication visit $1Drug_Policy_2012_in_SF.pdf$4

Keywords: human rights, law enforcement, racial disparities, San Francisco, Selena Teji

Posted in Blog, Drug Policy

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