In the New York Times opinion piece below, former narcotics cop Neill Franklin discusses the need to end mass incarceration and the failed war on drugs. Franklin, now the executive director for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, was a police officer for 34 years with the Maryland State Police and the Baltimore Police Department. Alan and I had the pleasure of hearing Mr. Franklin speak at the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference this February. MWN
by Neill Franklin
If we have any hope of healing the deep wounds of race in this country, we’ve first got to stop the bleeding caused by mass incarceration and the other ill effects of the failed “war on drugs.”
Thanks to our ramped up “war on drugs,” when I walk in my old neighborhood I see houses where one or both parents are behind bars or on probation or parole. It didn’t use to be that way.
Our prohibition policies, and the “us vs. the man” mentality they have caused in our communities, have badly damaged how young black men are perceived — and not just by white people. As an African-American narcotics cop in Baltimore, even I fell victim to fear and apprehension when I encountered a group of black teenagers on the street. Making drugs like marijuana illegal has made them incredibly lucrative, and it’s not hard to see why many teenagers choose to enlist in the dope game and play for the chance at moving up the chain and raking in tax-free money rather than donning a McDonald’s uniform.
Even if our drug policies aren’t successful in reducing drug use, they are successful in turning whole communities into criminals. Nearly one in three black men can expect to spend time behind bars. For many black teenagers, getting arrested is a rite of passage.
But it wasn’t always this way.
When I was growing up in Baltimore, I could walk down the street of my neighborhood and point to houses where the parents were doctors, lawyers, police officers and teachers. The kids in my community had legitimate hopes of stepping into those professions when they grew up, and many did.
Today, such hope is not in abundance. Thanks to our ramped up “war on drugs,” when I walk down the street in my old neighborhood I see houses where one or both parents are behind bars or on probation or parole.
Fifty-three percent of black boys never finish high school. Among those who drop out, 60 percent end up spending time behind bars. Even those who stay in school are seemingly being prepared for prison. Many schools treat kids as suspect from the moment they walk in the door, making them pass through metal detectors or administering urine tests as a condition of joining after-school clubs. Cops move about the schools like prison guards. It’s like we’re conditioning them for a life of incarceration.
Perhaps if we spent less money in a futile attempt to eliminate drug use through suspicion, arrests, prosecution and punishment, we could invest resources in improving our schools to ensure that more of our young people get the preparation they need to succeed.
Ending the drug war won’t be a cure-all for racial disparities in our society, but it is a necessary first step.
Neill Franklin is the executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. He was a narcotics cop and a commander of training during his 34-year career with the Maryland State Police and the Baltimore Police Department.