To Improve Police-Community Relations, End the War on Drugs

FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 10:  Police stand guard as demonstrators, marking the one-year anniversary of the shooting of Michael B
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 10: Police stand guard as demonstrators, marking the one-year anniversary of the shooting of Michael Brown, protest along West Florrisant Street on August 10, 2015 in Ferguson, Missouri. Mare than 100 people were arrested today during protests in Ferguson and the St. Louis area. Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer on August 9, 2014. His death sparked months of sometimes violent protests in Ferguson and drew nationwide focus on police treatment of black suspects. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Protests and violence have captured the attention of world media following the first anniversary of the day police Officer Darren Wilson fatally shot unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Yet President Obama's Task Force on 21st Century Policing, charged with improving police-community relations and reducing crime, has largely overlooked one of the elements most essential to accomplishing this goal: the need to reform drug policy. Ending drug prohibition is essential to restoring peace in the streets, reforming our criminal justice system, and healing our communities. Until those policies change, black communities will continue to fall victim to American policing gone awry.

Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a nonprofit of police, judges, prosecutors, and other criminal justice professionals dedicated to ending the War on Drugs, recently submitted the following statement to the Task Force:

"The drug war created [America's] crisis in policing and destroyed public support [for policing] in some quarters.... Both police and academic leaders have offered... their ideas [to the Task Force] regarding improved community policing, better training, more accountability, civilian review boards, grand jury reform, ending police impunity for misconduct, etc. These recommendations have merit and capacity for improved policing and better community relations. However, LEAP believes that without reforming U.S. and global drug policy, no reform or set of reforms can stop the unending perversion of American values, virtues [and]... policing [practices]."

It is the time-honored mission of police to "serve and protect" communities, but that mission has been corrupted by decades of failed drug enforcement policies. Federal grants and departmental promotion policies reward drug arrests, creating a monetary and personal incentive to focus on drug offenses instead of serious crimes. Violent crime has taken a back seat to drug enforcement for too long, and has changed the way police relate to marginalized communities, who no longer see police as protectors, but as aggressors.

Meanwhile, police are playing doctor, giving people addicted to drugs an arrest record rather than the treatment options and medical attention that would allow them to improve their lives.

LEAP called upon President Obama's Task Force on 21st Century Policing because we believe in introducing a new drug policy paradigm based upon human rights, harm reduction, education, accessible medications, economic development, racial equality, respect for the law, and respect for law enforcement. We now call on all Americans concerned with the state of our justice system to contact Congress and the President to end the War on Drugs. Call upon them to jointly push for an amendment of the three United Nations Drug-Control Treaties that serve as fountainhead for the global War on Drugs. Call upon them to replace the criminalization-and-incarceration model of drug policy with a system of legalized, controlled, and regulated drug markets, treating drug abuse as a health problem and not a law enforcement issue.