Advocates rally in Trenton to demand justice for those impacted by war on drugs
New Jersey has spent nearly $12 billion over the last decade the enforce drug laws, according to a new report released on Thursday – the 50th anniversary of the start of the war on drugs.
A rally was also held on Thursday outside the New Jersey State House to demand justice for those who have been impacted by the drug war and the epidemics of addiction.
When President Richard Nixon spoke from the White House on June 17, 1971, the United States was deeply involved in the war in Vietnam. But the president announced another war - a war on drugs.
“In order to fight and defeat this enemy, it is necessary to wage a new, all-out offensive,” Nixon said.
But there are those who say that the war on drugs negatively impacted communities of color.
“The declaration of the war on drugs was an attack on Black people from its very inception,” says the Rev. Charles Boyer.
Five decades later, the legacy of the war on drugs is seen as a war on people - disproportionately Black and brown people.
“The war on drugs is a failed agenda,” says Solomon Middleton-Williams of the Newark Community Street Team.
Dozens gathered at the State House in Trenton, blocks away from widespread economic despair exacerbated by addiction and mass incarceration, to demand more reform.
“We want to decriminalize all use of drugs,” says Middleton-Williams.
“My mother, my mother cannot get back those years that she was not afforded the opportunity to get a better job. Because of a cannabis charge? It wasn't even more than two ounces,” says Nafeesa Goldsmith.
A new report from New Jersey Policy Perspective finds that over the last 10 years, under Republican Gov. Chris Christie and Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy, the state spent nearly $12 billion arresting, prosecuting and jailing people for drug crimes.
“Jesus said that ‘Where your treasure is, your heart is also.’ You spent $12 billion to hurt our people. Damn you,” says Boyer.
The advocates want the Murphy administration to use a historic $10 billion surplus to help communities roll back the legacy of elected leaders since Nixon waging war in the name of law and order.
“Because you waged this war on us, you owe us reparations. You need to put money back into our community,” says Boyer.
The Murphy administration has proposed $10 million for programs like the Newark Community Street team, and nearly all tax revenue from legal recreational marijuana will go to poor and minority communities. Former Gov. Christie invested in opioid addiction treatment, though he opposed legalizing marijuana.
According to the Policy Perspective report, New Jersey leads the nation in racial disparities in its prisons. It says Black residents are 12-times more likely to be incarcerated than white residents.