(PHOTOS) IBW Call to Action to End Mass Incarceration & War on Drugs

By Nick Westbrooks @NickWestbrooks

End the War

WASHINGTON (June 17, 2013) – D.C. residents and national supporters alongside the Institute of the Black World marched and rallied today in front of the White House urging the Obama Administration to end mass incarceration and the War on Drugs.

The Direct Day of Action marks the 42nd anniversary of the War on Drugs, and it brought a plethora of speakers including clergy men (Yes, they were all men.), leaders of community organizations relating to the criminal [in]justice system, law enforcement and reentry as well as activists and politicians. Rev. Jesse Jackson was the keynote speaker, and Mark Thompson the host of Make it Plain on Sirius/XM radio moderated the event. The youngest and the probably the only young person that spoke was Hip-Hop artist and activist Jasiri X who delivered a few rhymes before engaging in a brief speech on the criminal [in]justice system’s attack on the youth.

A few people held signs that read “the War on Drugs is a war on us” [Black people]. Unfair sentencing laws for nonviolent drug offenses and mass incarceration disproportionately affect African people in the United States. Activists fighting against the system constantly reference Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow to put the relationship between slavery/Jim Crowism and the current Black prison population into perspective.

Advocates are calling for federal intervention in particular for President Obama to end mass incarceration and the War on Drugs through either Congressional legislation or executive order. After its inception 42 years ago by President Nixon, families and communities have been destroyed by the War on Drugs, and many Americans are tired of it. Most supporters would prefer the government to focus on drug rehab, mental health and job creation.

Although the rally was small in number, the energy was powerful, and the message will get out to the masses through the various media outlets that were present –both national and international– and the influence of social media and the Internet. Petitioning the federal government is a step towards ending mass incarceration and the War on Drugs, but as Salim Adofo from the National Black United Front (NBUF) said, we need our own people in the boardrooms to change policy as well as the street soldiers in the community reaching out to the grassroots. We must unite across organizations, faiths and races and  implement all tactics and use all avenues to obtain the change we want to see.

View some of the photos from today’s rally below:

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The Fourth of July Isn’t for Black People

On July 5, 1852, Frederick Douglass gave a speech in which he asked, “What to the American slave, is the Fourth of July?” His answer was “a day that reveals to him [the slave], more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelly to which he is the constant victim.” And prior to this question and answer, Douglass tells his predominately White audience “I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary.”

In 2012, this message still holds true. Whether enslaved physically by mass incarceration and the prison industrial complex, or enslaved mentally by the psychological chains of Black-on-Black carnage, the myth of Black inferiority, dysfunctional families, overall disunity and economic disempowerment, the Fourth of July still isn’t ours. African Americans who have a false sense of freedom and believe that they’ve “made it,” aren’t exempt either.

But, keep in mind that regardless of whether we’re slaves or free people, the Fourth of July will continue to not belong to us. As long as racism endures, Blacks will be excluded. Years of loyalty, building the United States into what it is today, fighting in wars (including the Revolutionary War that led to the colonies’ independence from Great Britain) and contributing to America’s economy doesn’t mean anything. With all of our contributions, we remain to be considered second-class citizens, or worse, less than human beings.

Yes, we are excluded from the Fourth of July celebration, but on the other hand, we must ask ourselves this fundamental question: Should we even want to be included in a celebration that continues to be, as Douglass calls it, “mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disagree a nation of savages?” I’ll leave that up to you to think about and decide. By the way, there’s no need to expound on the crimes and hypocrisy America is guilty of.

Despite America’s corruption and racist ideologies, African Americans have been surviving and making the best of their situation. At the end of his speech, Douglass said he does not “despair of this country,” and I do not despair of it either. The signers of the Declaration of Independence, as Douglass acknowledged, were brave men who were able to achieve freedoms that may not have been available to Americans had they not taken the courage to break away from Britain. Much work remains to be done, but the United States has come a long way.

Today, I have the limited freedom to write this post speaking critically of this country without being detained, tortured or executed unlike other countries in the world. In conclusion, the message to my brothers and sisters of color is this: As you eat barbeque, watch fireworks and snatch sale items off of the racks, be aware that America’s celebration of independence still isn’t ours. It is a celebration for the descendants of the Founding Fathers, but it’s mockery to the descendants of slaves.