Protesting Obama's "Drug Czar" in Washington Heights

Drug and alcohol overdose deaths now exceed traffic fatalities and homicides as a leading cause of premature death in New York.  And while they are almost always preventable, drug war policies create major barriers to common sense solutions.

On the morning of September 23rd, VOCAL-NY members protested an appearance by Obama’s “Drug Czar,” Gil Kerlowkowske, and the Manhattan District Attorney, Cy Vance, at an event on prescription drug abuse in Washington Heights to call on them to adopt concrete policies that will help bring about an end to the war on drugs.

 Media coverage included:

NY1 (with video): Vance Announces National Prescription Drug Take-Back Program – “…demonstrators from the statewide organization Vocal New York protested outside the meeting, calling for an end to what they say is a failed War on Drugs.

DNAinfo.com: White House ‘Drug Czar’ Meets with Local Leaders in WaHi – “…more than a dozen protestors gathered outside the Armory to protest what they view as overly aggressive drug enforcement policies. Citing racial disparities in drug arrests and high rates of recidivism among drug offenders, the protestors said Kerlikowske and the Obama administration were falling short on their promises of reform. ‘[Kerlikowske] is saying the drug war is over,’ said Fred Wright of VOCAL NY, which helped organize the protest. ‘But it’s still going on in this neighborhood. If there’s a public health conversation going on, it needs to include the problems that are being caused by law enforcement,’ Wright added.”

Telemundo: Campana contra addicion a medicinas – “De su lado, un grupo que se identificó como VOCAL-NY realizó una protesta para denunciar que la autoridades practican un ‘encarcelamiento en masa’ por posesión de drogas ilegales, basados en el perfil raciales de las personas. Los manifestantes subrayaron que en 2010, la Policía de Nueva York arrestó a 50.000 personas por posesión de marihuana.”

Overdose deaths are a serious public health crisis in our state. That’s why we’ve advocated for the 911 Good Samaritan law, which took effect over the weekend, and funding to educate drug users and their families about a life-saving medicine called naloxone, which has help reduce the number of overdose deaths due to heroin in NYC.

Obama’s Drug Czar pledged an end to the war on drugs more than two years ago, telling the Wall Street Journal:

“Regardless of how you try to explain to people it’s a ‘war on drugs’ or a ‘war on a product,’ people see a war as a war on them. We’re not at war with people in this country.” (White House Czar Calls for End to ‘War on Drugs, Wall Street Journal, May 14, 2009)

Very little has changed since then, with the gap between rhetoric and reality measured by the millions of people arrested for non-violent drug offenses. The war on drugs continues to drive mass incarceration in communities of color, even though rates of drug use is as common among whites. And the so-called collateral consequences create devastating long-term barriers to housing, employment, education, family reunification, and other problems that go well beyond incarceration.

Blog, Civil Rights, Drug Policy, Prison & Parole

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