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From Colombia to Columbia, The "War on Drugs" Is A War On Poor and Black People
Published on Thursday, August 31, 2000
From Colombia to Columbia, The 'War on Drugs' Is A War On Poor and Black People
by Tom Turnipseed
COLUMBIA, SC - From Colombia, South America to Columbia, South Carolina, the "Drug War" is being exposed by human rights organizations as a failed war on drugs, but a disastrously effective war on poor South Americans and black citizens of the United States. The phony drug war is being escalated by a President who "didn't inhale" when they passed the joints around and it's primary victims are Colombian peasants and racially profiled blacks in the U. S.

This week Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Washington Office On Latin America called on President Clinton to make the protection of human rights the priority in his meeting with Colombian leaders on August 30. These leading human rights groups released a 43 page document demonstrating how Colombia failed to meet a single human rights condition contained in a $1.3 billion military aid package, that totals more than the military aid we give all the other countries in Latin America combined.

On August 23, Clinton signed a so-called national security interest waiver of human rights conditions placed on the military aid by Congress, and Human Rights Watch said Clinton's action was a "grave mistake" and not only made America complicit in ongoing abuses but risks converting a failed drug war into a disastrous human rights policy.

This past weekend, 28 people lost their lives in Colombia in the Western hemisphere's oldest civil war. According to Human Rights Watch, 35,000 people have been killed and most of them were poor civilians accused by the Colombian Army or right-wing paramilitaries of collaborating with left-wing guerrillas. Last Sunday 60 armed men entered a poor neighborhood in the town of Cienaga and dragged 10 residents from their homes to an isolated part of town where they were questioned, then executed.

While poor people are being slaughtered by U. S. armed thugs, The New York Daily News reports that nearly 2 million Colombians have been displaced by the war and 10% of Colombia's population now lives abroad. Arturo Sanchez, a Colombian born professor in New York, said that middle class professionals are leaving the country in droves and that "this could be the beginning of another Vietnam".

Many neutral observers believe "Plan Colombia" is a U.S. State Department devised plan to enter the counter-insurgency war against the left-wing guerrillas in the U.S. tradition of armed intervention in Latin America. But the sudden rise in the strength of the right-wing paramilitaries is alarming some Washington strategists, and reports state that U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency agents have offered to pay paramilitary leaders to help them fight the drug trafficking. Columbia's drug production, which is estimated to provide 90% of the cocaine consumed in the U.S., has doubled in 5 years as more armed insurgent groups have entered the drug trade to pay for military campaigns.

As the "War on Drugs" kills and dislocates the poor people of Colombia, in the U.S. it is incarcerating an alarmingly disproportionate number of black people. Human Rights Watch released a comprehensive study on June 8, 2000 describing the stark racial disparities in drug incarceration. Blacks comprise 13% of the U.S. population, but comprise 62% of drug offenders in our state prisons! Nationwide, black men are sent to prison on drug charges at 13 times the rate of white men, although studies reveal that five times as many whites use illegal drugs.

In South Carolina, with a black population of 30%, the South Carolina Department of Corrections reported that blacks comprise 86% of the drug offenders in our state prisons. Along with most other states those with felony convictions forever lose their right to vote and prospects for good jobs after prison.

The hypocrisy of "didn't inhale" Clinton, "recreational" smoker Gore, and "born again" party boy George W. Bush, now a fierce drug warrior like his dad, is sickening when we are faced with such unjust and tragic consequences of the "Drug War"!

Human Rights Watch suggests solutions to blatant racial and class inequity. States should eliminate racial profiling; repeal mandatory sentencing laws for drug offenders; increase the availability of alternative sanctions; increase the use of drug courts; and increase the availability of substance abuse treatment.

White privileged politicians who never spent a day in jail for their illegal substance abuse activities must end the dirty "War on Drugs" that oppresses poor and black people. Can they muster the courage and empathy to advocate such sensible solutions?

Tom Turnipseed, former President of the SC Trial Lawyers Association, is a plaintiff's and civil rights attorney in Columbia, SC. He was co-counsel for the Macedonia Baptist Church, an African American congregation in Clarendon County, SC which won a $37,000,000.00 (Thirty Seven Million Dollar) verdict in 1998 against the Ku Klux Klan for burning their church. A former SC State Senator, he is active in state politics and has been the democratic nominee for state Attorney General and Congress. Tom is President of the Center for Democratic Renewal (formerly the Anti-Klan Network) a nationally recognized civil rights organization based in Atlanta. In 1998, he received the Holmes-Weatherly Award, the Unitarian-Universalist Association's highest honor for the pursuit of social justice. For many years, Tom has spoken and written on political and human rights. He has hosted radio and television shows in Columbia, SC and recently appeared on PBS' American Experience in "George Wallace: Settin' the Woods on Fire", April 23rd and 24th, 2000, MSNBC's "Equal Time" with Oliver North and Paul Begala, February 18th, 2000 and C-SPAN's "Washington Journal" with Brian Lamb, January 14th, 2000. His work has been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlanta Constitution, The Charlotte Observer and other papers.


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