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August 19, 2014

Is an end to the modern drug war the only real way to prevent future Fergusons?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this provocative new commentary by John McWhorter in The New Republic. The piece is headlined "There Is Only One Real Way to Prevent Future Fergusons: End the War on Drugs," and here are excerpts:

At times like this, with the raging protest in Ferguson, an implication hangs in the air that these events are leading somewhere, that things are about change.  The saddest thing, however, is that this is, indeed, a “time like this” — one of many, before and certainly to come.  It is impossible not to conclude that what happened to Michael Brown in Ferguson is now status quo, not a teaching lesson to move us forward....

We don’t know the details yet, but it’s apparent that, in spite of all we went through with [Trayvon] Martin so recently, in a clinch — the mean, messy place where these things always happen — the Ferguson cop Darren Wilson assumed that a big black guy was trouble, serious trouble, and shot him dead.  It’s what happens in that clinch that matters, and we can now see that no amount of articulate protest can cut through such visceral human tendencies as bias and fear....

So, what will really make a difference?  Really, only a continued pullback on the War on Drugs.  Much of what creates the poisonous, vicious-cycle relationship between young black men and the police is that the War on Drugs brings cops into black neighborhoods to patrol for drug possession and sale.  Without that policy — which would include that no one could make a living selling drugs — the entire structure supporting the notion of young black men as criminals would fall apart.  White men with guns would encounter young black men much less often, and meanwhile society would offer young black men less opportunity to drift into embodying the stereotype in the first place.

But that’s the long game.  In the here and now, we are stuck.  Michael Brown was not “it.” The journalists assiduously documenting the events in Ferguson can serve as historians, but not as agents of change.

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August 19, 2014 at 09:32 AM | Permalink


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Maybe a scaled-back "war on drugs" would be part of it. The main part, though, is public trust and confidence. Perceptions matter. What public servants do matters. We were talking about this in court administration about 2 decades ago. When the public (or any segment thereof) does not appreciate the public institution, rightly or wrongly, no good can come from it. Good communication, respect, fairness, transparency, outreach, positive perceptions -- these are all important. Without them, a situation will end in crisis every time. How do you get there? It takes a lot of time, people need to meet one another and develop trust. Everybody needs to work on it together.

Posted by: Anne | Aug 19, 2014 11:50:07 AM

If you're not reading Ta-Nehisi Coates and considering his challenge, you are willfully ignoring what it means to be an American, and specifically a black American.


Posted by: anonymous | Aug 19, 2014 11:58:08 AM


Posted by: anonymous | Aug 19, 2014 12:10:28 PM

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