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March 2003 • Vol 3, No. 3 •

How Long Has This Been Going On?

By Bonnie Weinstein

The ongoing war against the people of Iraq and Palestine is not the only war the United States government has been waging. There has also been a war going on for many years against the poor at home as well. This well-known fact of life in the capitalist world was brought home to me by a flyer advertising a march on Sacramento. The flyer protests the cuts in education and contrasts those cuts with the prison budget that has been soaring during the last twenty years. It encourages people to “Get On the Bus” March 17th and join teachers, students, parents and concerned citizens in a statewide (California) march on Sacramento.”

“We will not stand for any more cuts in education while the prison budget soars! At the local, state, and federal levels in the last 20 years:

“K-12 spending rose 33.4 percent—Incarceration spending rose 571.4 percent

“Number of K-12 teachers fell 8 percent—Number of guards rose 250 percent

“Number of K-12 schools rose 2.6 percent—Number of lockups rose 200 percent

“Number of high school graduates fell 2.7 percent—Number of people in prison or jail rose over 400 percent”

Sources include: Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics, Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, and the Digest of Education Statistics by the Education Statistics, From PARC resources.

The flyer ends with a final demand: “Education Not Incarceration! Put Students First!”

But, in addition to these figures, according to a January 6, 2002 AlterNet article, “2002: A Year in the Life of the Drug War,” by Kevin Nelson, “…one person is arrested approximately every 44 seconds on a marijuana charge.” According to another AlterNet article dated Sept. 11, 2002 by Desiree Evans entitled, “Race and the Drug War,” it states the following:

“For communities of color, the war on drugs is an inescapable plague—it’s the fear of imprisonment, early morning massive street sweeps, gang task forces and buy-and-bust operations. It’s a family member in lockup, dying of HIV or an overdose. It’s a war zone, as tragic as any unfolding in the Middle East or Afghanistan.”

Evans illustrates how the statistics point to the disproportionate sentencing carried out against people of color: “The connection is made starkly clear by the latest figures released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics: 6.6 million Americans are under some form of correctional supervision (1 in 32 adults); 25 percent of the prison population are nonviolent drug offenders; 74 percent of whom are African American…. And at every point in the legal process—be it arrests, sentencing, or incarceration—people of color bear the burden of our nation’s war on drugs.”

War against the young

Conducted under the banner of this war are such violations of human rights as illegal search and seizure—i.e., “driving while black.” Police harassment has expanded to include other tactics such as, “driving while young and poor, and in an old car.”

Drug arrests and jail sentences for possession, long the norm in the black community, have become the norm in the culture of the young and the poor of all ethnic backgrounds across the country. The total number of marijuana arrests in the inner cities of the nation exceeds the total arrests for all violent crimes combined. Smoking a joint (something some 75 percent of teens claim they have done) is equated, by our government, with an act of terrorism. And while our young are routinely being criminalized in the mass media, they are among the most exploited by the consumer-driven economy that labels every product with a corporate emblem. This amounts to free advertising for the rich every time a kid puts on a pair of shoes or a jacket.

The hundreds of billions of dollars that will be spent on this war and the trillions of dollars it may add up to in the next several years, could and should be spent on human needs and services. Schools not jails, housing, healthcare, and the creation of millions of jobs for the jobless and an end to poverty and racism, should be put back on the agenda by the antiwar movement.

What we want instead of war, bombs, weapons of mass destruction, world domination, destruction of our environment, our air, water, forests and wildlife must become our reasons for opposing this war. The antiwar movement must put these demands back upon the table for the people of the whole world, for the survival of our species and of the planet. 





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