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America's Drug War Targets Blacks Unfairly

ED GORDON, host:

Earlier on our program, we talked with the nation's drug czar, John Walters, about America's war on drugs. After spending time with some recovering addicts, commentator Courtland Milloy believes the government's drug policy may be unfairly targeting African-Americans.


I was at a convention at a hotel in downtown Washington, DC, not long ago when one of the organizers took to the podium and made a rather astounding announcement. The told the audience that they represent 3,617 years of recovery from drug addiction. Now obviously this was no ordinary convention. It was a gathering of a group called Narcotics Anonymous, a 12-step program to get off of drugs, and it brought together hundreds of people whose clean time ranged from 24 hours to 50 years without alcohol or drugs.

There were no signs at the Renaissance Hotel advertising the convention, unless it was the name Renaissance itself, for these members of Narcotics Anonymous truly had risen from the depths of despair and self-destruction. There was nothing, however, that made them stand out from other hotel guests except perhaps all of the hugging that occurred. It's what you'd expect to see if survivors of, say, the Titanic held a reunion to commemorate a near-death experience.

Now race is generally irrelevant when it comes to drug addiction. Drugs don't care what color you are. I've seen crack cocaine turn white people dirt brown and black people ashy white. Still, it's worth noting that most of the recovering addicts at the NA convention in Washington, DC, were black and many of them represented a double success. They had also survived the government's war on drugs, which is less about drug treatment than punishing people by handing them long prison sentences. Even though black people make only 12 percent of the US population and are less likely to use drugs than whites, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the majority of drug offenders held in state prisons are black. So the convention was, above all, a celebration of a release from all kinds of bondage: physical, mental and spiritual.

One woman told the convention how overwhelmed she'd been by a federal narcotics indictment. You know how those read: The United States of America vs. So-and-so. But she added not even the whole United States could make her stop using drugs. Once in Narcotics Anonymous, however, she learned how to break the drug habit, to go through the pain of living and not try to medicate it, to learn how to cope instead of cop. She was eventually admitted into a nursing school, went from the DEA list to the dean's list. You can add her sobriety to those 3,617 years of clean time that was mentioned at the opening of the convention. That's what you call winning the war on drugs one day at a time.

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GORDON: Courtland Milloy is a columnist for The Washington Post. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Courtland Milloy
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