UPDATE (12/7/21): ACC Police Chief Cleveland Spruill has responded to Parker’s letter to the editor. You can read his response below.
ACC Commissioner Mariah Parker has been questioning the need for the Northeast Georgia Regional Drug Task Force since they first took office in 2018. On Tuesday, the commission will consider whether to accept a $139,460 grant to help defray the cost of continuing the drug war here in Athens.
In the speech below, which Parker plans to give just before the vote, they describe the reasons why they will be voting no. -APN
Thank you, Mayor Girtz. I will not be supporting this item tonight, and to demonstrate why, it’s helpful to revisit this quote from Lee Atwater in 1981, while working under Ronald Reagan:
Just as “busing” and “states’ rights” were used to justify segregation and slavery, Reagan’s “War on Drugs” was meant to cloak the maintenance of racial control in neutral language about “criminals” and being “tough on crime.” Drug laws were changed to disproportionately impact Black people, and billions were funneled into drug law enforcement in order to round up and dispose of Black people en masse and destabilize the communities from which they came. And it worked: in our state, incarceration rates for Black people are nine times higher than the rate of incarceration in any other Western democracy in the world.
Michelle Alexander details in The New Jim Crow how, when the War on Drugs began, it had many law enforcement officials confused. After all, why would they prioritize drug enforcement when drugs weren’t a significant threat? The federal government used the JAG grant, which we are asked to approve again tonight, to bribe law enforcement entities into rolling out Reagan’s war against Black communities with hundreds of billions of dollars for specialized narcotics task forces (Alexander 2012, p. 72-73).
The evidence strongly suggests that we have fallen for Lee Atwater’s con. We talk of public safety, but data from the ACC Manager’s Office reveals that 76% of those arrested by the task force this year were African-American, despite studies that have indicated that white and Black people use and sell drugs are similar rates.
Now, let’s talk about outcomes. As one journalist at the press conference on Operation Tourniquet noted, most of the men arrested in the operation had previously served time. And it makes sense that, barred from many kinds of legal employment as felons, they would return to drug dealing to sustain themselves. We know that incarceration has a null or even negative effect on re-offense — a criminological fact recently verified by researchers at the University of Chicago — so somebody needs to tell me what we’re doing here beyond routine maintenance of white supremacy.
The drug market is another senseless cycle. Time and again, we snatch up drug traffickers, who are swiftly replaced by competitors. That’s why, even after Operation Benchwarmers in 2020, we find ourselves in the same position in 2021 with Operation Tourniquet. So long as people abusing drugs can’t get help, the market demand will exist. After many kinds of drugs were decriminalized in Portugal, utilization of treatment services increased sharply and drug related deaths and heroin usage decreased because drug users were no longer scared to seek help. But if they’re scared to get help, and if they can’t get help with housing, employment, and other social determinants of health that, when lacking, drive drug abuse, the black market demand will continue to exist. It doesn’t have to, but so long as we prioritize punishment over rehabilitation and prevention, it will.
If we judge the Drug War on whether it has made our communities safer and healthier, it has been a failure. It’s only lasting success is in maintaining racial control and destabilizing Black communities.
So, no, I am not interested in continuing to fund the narcotics task force, federally or locally. I would much prefer to actually disrupt the black market for drugs through well-resourced drug addiction treatment and decriminalization. I would rather see us invest in job programs that create pipelines away from organized crime and into dignified, well-paid work; in youth programs that steer young people away from gangs; and into housing, community gardens, and other interventions based on the legitimate science of public health and not the scheming of racist Republicans who are mostly all dead now.
I am not keen on taking Lee Atwater’s advice or mindlessly perpetuating Ronald Reagan’s legacy. So I will not be supporting acceptance of this grant this evening and hope that, in the coming year, we can reflect on these truths and finally get serious about public safety. Thank you.
Commissioner Mariah Parker