Press Release

Race and the Drug War: Hundreds to Gather at Columbia University in New York City for Historic Strategy Session on the Eve of the UN Special Assembly on Drugs

Featuring Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick,  Columbia University Professor Dr. Carl Hart, Activist Erica Garner and More

Tony Newman, 646-335-5384

On Sunday, April 17th, just prior to the UN General Assembly’s Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS), scholars and activists will participate in what is likely the largest strategy-session that has been held in New York City on racial justice and drug policy.

Brought together by the Drug Policy Alliance and Columbia University’s Center for Justice and Center on African American Politics and Society, hundreds of the nation’s leading advocates will gather for this unprecedented collaboration around race, economic justice, drug sellers, drug users, stigma and what policies we need to embrace if we are serious about ending both America's racial caste system and the drug war.

Last month, an article in Harper’s confirmed what many have suspected all along: that the drug war was designed with the intent of destroying black communities.  It quotes John Ehrlichman, Watergate co-conspirator, as saying: “We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did."

This war on drugs has since led to unprecedented rates of racial discrimination in drug-related arrests, prosecutions, and incarceration rates.  “The drug war has never been about ensuring public safety and health. It was invented—as we now all know—to criminalize Black people at a moment in our history when the world was demanding civil and human rights for African Americans,” said event organizer asha bandele from Drug Policy Alliance.  “Now, with literally hundreds of thousands of lives lost or irreparably harmed, we have an opportunity, with the world watching, to push forward policies that honor life and human dignity, and the voices of racial justice advocates must be at the center of that conversation.”

WHAT:  “Drug Policy Reform is Racial Justice Reform” -- A One Day Strategy Session in Advance of UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs

WHEN:  Sunday, April 17, 10am – 6pm (detailed agenda available here)

Highlighted Sessions

  • 10:30 – 11:30 am -- We Won’t Have Racial Justice in America Until We End the Drug War: A Conversation with Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick and Columbia University Professor, Dr. Carl Hart
  • 2:00 – 3:00 pm -- The Cost of War and Solutions for Peace: Women Taking the Lead with Erica Garner and Deborah Small and more (see bios below)

WHERE:  Columbia University, Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs, 420 W. 118th Street, Room 417, New York, NY 10027


  • Erica Garner, the daughter of slain Staten Island resident Eric Garner, an unarmed man who was accused of selling cigarettes illegally and was choked to death by police officers despite his repeated cry, “I can’t breathe.”
  • Mayor Svante Myrick of Ithaca, NY, who recently introduced groundbreaking drug policy reform in his city.
  • Dr. Carl Hart, Professor of Psychology in the Departments of Psychiatry and Psychology at Columbia University, and Director of the Residential Studies and Methamphetamine Research Laboratories at the New York State Psychiatric Institute
  • Deborah Small, founder of Break the Chains: Communities of Color and the War on Drugs
  • Kassandra Frederique, Director, New York Policy Office, Drug Policy Alliance
  • Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director, Drug Policy Alliance
  • Plus, many more experts and people personally affected by the war on drugs

HOW:  This event is free and open to the public.  Seating is limited. Members of the public who wish to attend must register here.  Press can attend if they RSVP via email at [email protected]

Mass Criminalization
Race and the Drug War