The Drug Policy Alliance Takes A Stand On White Supremacy

By Keri Blakinger 08/21/17

One DPA director spoke out about the connection between white supremacy and the racially oppressive drug war.

 A protest, march and "die in" to speak out against the racial violence in Charlottesville, VA

As white supremacy took the national stage during a week of protests and violence, one drug policy organization stepped up to denounce the racist ideology it says underlies the nation’s failing War on Drugs. 

“The drug war is a tool of racial oppression,” Megan Farrington of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) wrote last week. “When white supremacists chant Nazi slogans and our president defends them, we have to speak out. If we fight the racism inherent in the drug war but allow it to go unchecked elsewhere, our work may take down one tool only to see it replaced with another.”

Farrington’s piece came amid a chaotic week that kicked off with white nationalist rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia, that left one woman dead and at least 19 more injured. In the aftermath, outrage over the issue that sparked the gatherings in the first place—the existence of Confederate statues in public spaces—spread across the nation. 

When President Donald Trump responded to the Charlottesville tragedy by blaming “both sides” in a contentious exchange with reporters last Tuesday, the DPA took to Twitter to respond. “There is no ‘both sides’ to racial hatred, nothing ambiguous about white supremacy,” DPA tweeted. “We will continue to fight for justice and against hate.”

Following Farrington’s piece urging other drug policy reform advocates to address racism and white supremacy, the DPA’s senior director of national affairs, Bill Piper, penned an essay condemning the president and his controversial attorney general, Jeff Sessions.

“From appointing Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, to his war on immigrants, to his embrace of recently-ousted strategist and ethno-nationalist ideologue, Steve Bannon, to his efforts to double-down on the failed war on drugs, Trump has consistently sought to increase the criminalization and incarceration of people of color,” Piper wrote. 

Though the piece called out Trump and Bannon, Sessions—and his controversial past—were the primary target.

“Sessions has a long record of hostility to justice and civil liberties,” Piper wrote. “He was denied a federal judgeship in the 80s because the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee found that he had a record of racist statements and actions. A black colleague testified at the time that Sessions referred to him as ‘boy.’ Sessions referred to the NAACP and other civil rights organizations as un-American groups that ‘forced civil rights down the throats of people.’ He even reportedly said he thought the KKK was 'OK' until he found out its members smoked pot.”

And six months into the job as the nation’s top prosecutor, Sessions has already begun pursuing a return to the drug war days, upping the use of civil asset forfeiture and urging harsh sentences in drug cases, Piper noted.

“There are many reasons to end the failed war on drugs—it is a waste of money, prohibition doesn’t work, law enforcement should be focused on serious crime, etc.,” Piper wrote. “But the role the drug war, and punitive criminal justice policies more generally, play in perpetuating white supremacy should be at the top of the list. At the very least, policymakers who ignore the issue should be seen as suspect. Racial justice requires massive criminal justice reform.”

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.