#EndTheWarOnDrugs: Add Your Voice to Russell Simmons’ New Project

Today, Russell Simmons, Dr. Boyce Watkins, Will Smith, Ron Howard, Scarlett Johansson, and over 175 other celebrities and leaders presented an open letter to President Obama. 

In it, they urged him to implement some common sense policies that can begin to reverse the waste and damage caused by the failed War on Drugs.

We at the Ella Baker Center applaud the coalition for calling President Obama back to his social justice roots, and stand with them to reverse the tradeoff the US is making to lock up millions of Americans at the expense of children, families, and workers.

What You Can Do

From the beginning, we’ve said that there are no throwaway youth or throwaway communities – because a system that sees any of us as disposable has the potential to see all of us as disposable. 

We can no longer afford to sell out our future for ineffective criminal justice policies that worsen poverty, violence, and racial inequality.  We can no longer afford to let fear tactics distract us from informed action while private prison companies profit from public contracts. 

You don’t have to be a celebrity to do something to end the failed War on Drugs and the mass incarceration crisis.  You can exercise your power and make your voice heard:

Why the War on Drugs Needs to End Now

In the eighties, the crack epidemic devastated urban, working-class communities of color, like that of our Executive Director Jakada Imani.   

But our government’s response added insult to injury by responding to a public health crisis with a War on Drugs that increased violence and despair, and turned previously tight-knit families and neighbors against one another. 

Because the government chose to punish people instead of treating addiction and addressing issues of poverty, the existing jails in our nation quickly filled up, causing inhumane overcrowding.  Instead of questioning the effectiveness of the War on Drugs to keep people safer and reduce crime, private prison companies were formed to turn tax dollars and people's pain into profit for a very few.  

Corrections Corporation of America is celebrating their 30th anniversary this year, and, like GEO Group and other prison companies, is reporting increased profits and paying out dividends to investors.  Prison companies are also using their profits to spend millions on lobbying and campaign contributions.  

Yet even as mass incarceration becomes more entrenched, the experience of the Ella Baker Center shows change is possible.  

When we started our Books Not Bars campaign in 2004, around 4,500 California youth were in prisons.  Today, fewer than 800 youth are locked up, and California is on track to shut down the remaining three youth prisons in favor of more effective programs that address needs for healing, education, and opportunity that lead youth to violence in the first place. 

But just like the civil rights struggles of the 60s, local and even statewide success won’t end the deeper root causes of mass incarceration.  It’s going to take a national movement to truly shift this thing.  So now we’re bringing what we’ve learned in California to the national conversation. 

Sign the Petition and Stay Informed

As the broad coalition behind the Global Grind letter shows, more and more folks are seeing mass incarceration as the civil rights issue of our time, and we can start doing something about it today.

We’re trying to change a system with deep roots in the US history of racism, all the way back to slavery, and one that is structured to discourage scrutiny.  So once you sign the petition, keep questioning and learning!

Here are some resources to check out:

As you learn more, share with others and get them talking and thinking about what we can do to end the tradeoff we’re making by investing in a failed War on Drugs instead of truly safe, healthy, thriving children and communities.

Stand With Us: Call for an End to the Drug War Now