White Faces, Black Lives: Race and Reparative Justice in the Era of a “Gentler War on Drugs”

Report, Video October 18, 2016

In October 2015, the New York Times published “In Heroin Crisis, White Families Seek Gentler War on Drugs,” which noted, as other commentators have, that the white face of the current opioid crisis has engendered a different set of responses than past drug epidemics that were seen as affecting largely Black and/or Latinx communities. Historically, when a “drug problem” is seen as affecting primarily Black and Brown communities, government intervention focuses on law enforcement. Over the past 40 years, this has resulted in the incarceration of massive, unprecedented numbers of people, primarily people of color. As more and more observers have noted, it has only been since the complexion of people perceived to use drugs changed that compassionate and health-based interventions gained favor over criminalization in popular media and among policymakers.

How is race linked to these policies changes? How can we acknowledge and atone for the past harms done to communities of color even as we look toward more compassionate, public health-oriented responses? How can we ensure that all communities benefit from these policy changes and the resources that follow them? What is reparative justice and what is the connection to the drug war? How can a framework of reparative justice help us move forward so that we are reducing both the harms associated with drug use and the harms wrought by our drug policies past and present? Who should lead the conversation about repairing the harms of the drug war? These are the kinds of questions we explored during this symposium, which had a particular focus on the drug war in Black communities.

View the program (PDF)
View session videos

Drug Policy Alliance

The Center for Arts & Culture in Bed-Stuyvesant

Columbia University’s Institute for Research in African American Studies.


Columbia Center for Justice John Jay Department of Interdisciplinary Studies Hunter College Departments of Sociology and Anthropology New York University Anthropology Department  Students for Sensible Drug Policy  VOCAL-NY

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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