Blog Post

Faith Leaders Meet to Organize the Black Church to End the War on Drugs

Ifetayo Harvey
Since the era of slavery to the Civil Rights Movement, religion and the church have held a significant place in the Black community, acting not only as a place of worship, but a place of support for social and political issues. 
Although some believe the church has failed to fulfill the people’s needs recently, this meeting proved that faith leaders recognize the disconnection between the church and their communities. Drug policy reform and mass incarceration intersects with other issues such as voting rights, education, and gang violence. 
Last week, The Drug Policy Alliance, Samuel Dewitt Proctor Conference, and American Baptist College assembled religious leaders from all over the country in Nashville, TN on discuss the church’s role in ending the war on drugs and mass incarceration. The group of 30 included reverends, pastors, and professors. 
There is a growing movement within the Black community to address the harms caused by the war on drugs. Earlier this week, civil rights leaders held a National Day of Action to call on President Barack Obama to end the war on drugs.
A recently-released ACLU report illustrates the extreme racial bias in marijuana arrests, despite whites using marijuana just as much if not more than minorities. Because drug arrests and mass incarceration disproportionately affects Blacks and Latinos, racism is clearly embedded in these policies. The underlying racial implication of the drug policies creates an interconnected web of violence, incarceration, and lack of education in minority communities. Consequences for drug arrests include loss of college financial aid and disenfranchisement, among others.
The group assembled in Nashville concluded that any solution to the problem of drug addiction and mass incarceration needs to be multilayered. Faith leaders have the agency to inform their congregations of myths surrounding drug use and addiction in order to reach a better understanding of how everyone is affected by the war on drugs. 
They also have the power to reach people who have nothing, just as Jesus would, they said. Shifting the church’s involvement from being solely within their congregation to being on the streets and in the home could cast a wider net of awareness. 
As a result of the meeting, USA Today and the Huffington Post published articles on the faith leaders’ hopes to decriminalize small possession of drugs that reached thousands of readers.
Without awareness, changing incarceration rates remains impossible. According to Daryl Atkinson, an attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, there needs to be “a complete paradigm shift of how our criminal justice system works.” 
Without a shift, another crippled system will rise and replace the drug war. Members of the Black community should not expect the paradigm shift to come from the top, but from people who have been victimized by the broken drug policies.