All Lives Matter? Like when the Founders said “all men are created equal”?

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The rhetoric of “all lives matter” in response to “black lives matter” is one of the most tired, toxic debates of the past year. My own opinion is relatively common- the latter is clearly not true in our society, and thus the former is clearly not true until things change.

“All lives matter” is the cry of people who in one way or another don’t see black Americans as equal to themselves. This stretches from dime-a-dozen racists to immensely powerful people. A politician can say “all lives matter”, then go to the floor and vote for mass incarceration, for cuts to social programs, against police accountability, and all matter of policies that reinforce white supremacy and create second-class semi-citizens. The victims of the War on Drugs are not only caught in a cycle of poverty, they have an inferior set of civil rights. American political and social leaders exalt freedom and liberty, but draw clear lines on who is to receive them and who is not deserving.

As the tweet states, perhaps my favorite summary of the issue, we should not be surprised by the disingenuous use of “all lives matter”. The United States is built upon hypocrisy. Of promising one thing and delivering another. Just like “all men or created equal” was based on a very narrow definition of who is a person- male, free, and white- it is abundantly clear that in 2015 the lives of people of color are not worthy of consideration. My previous post about police intimidation of activists saw a law enforcement official create a line between “true citizens” and those that challenge the system. I doubt the author of the email thinks that all lives matter equally.

Liberty and justice for all? Hardly.

Courts are a model of efficiency when they impose mandatory minimums for crimes of survival, but have no interest in capitalist looting of society. Property is valued higher than certain types of people. A CVS was damaged in Baltimore? Clearly people of color can’t control their anger. An irate officer tackles Sandra Bland after arresting her for nothing? Well, she should have just cooperated with the officer- the officer didn’t do anything wrong!

This is the latest of many episodes where the core hypocrisy of the American state is exposed- a state built on the bones of indigenous people, and fueled by the forced labor of people deemed unworthy of being included in the statement “all men are created equal.”

Drug education doesn’t work well, here’s part of the solution

Last year I wrote a paper (“A Flawed Solution, a Persistent Problem”) about a concrete solution to the War on Drugs, painting it as a failed solution to a legitimate problem, that we need to solve in a better, more humane way. Beyond the policy mechanics is the education schools and parents provide to kids about drug addiction and safety.

Writing for Vox, German Lopez states that current drug education for teens is bad, and has been bad for a long time. Put simply, D.A.R.E is scaremongering pseudoscience, and I’ve never personally met a person in my age cohort that took it the slightest bit seriously. With marijuana legalization in Washington and Colorado, and several other states on the same path, we are moving from a paradigm where adult pot use was common, to now one where it is also accepted and part of above-the-board society. Drug policy is finally liberalizing, and the end result for anti-drug groups is pretty difficult. If whole states are making pot legal, why are government-funded groups like D.A.R.E say that the drug is dangerous and has all sorts of serious short and long-term effects?

What teen education groups have long done is discredit themselves on soft drugs, so anything they say about hard drugs like cocaine and heroin is treated with suspicion. If you’re willing to lie and say, as some groups have, that pot can lead to insanity, why would already skeptical teens believe all the (totally true) dangers of heroin?

Education should mirror the policy ideas I suggest. The main thing is a strategic retreat from pot education, particularly any education that isn’t rooted in hard science and can reconcile with the teens, who sometime smoke it and definitely know at least a couple people who do. Programs should deal with the consequences of drug use, but also drug policy. With so many non-violent drug offenders in prison, things need to move beyond the simple scare warning (“Do you want to end up in prison?”) but acknowledge that demonization of drug use impacts families and may drive addicts away from treatment.

Some of the more over-the-top teen ed programs really remind me of bible-thumping evangelical education. Both talk about the immense punishment one will receive for certain acts, often minor ones that outsiders wouldn’t view as a big deal. The thing is that even if teens are super-smart themselves, social media and the Internet allow for a counter-narrative to form, coming from people that teens may trust more than an anti-drug teacher.

Drug abuse is a problem, but the drug trafficking born of making drugs illegal has killed tens of thousands. Drug ed, and public policy, should focus on personal cost. A ironclad anti-drug policy may seem like a way to a better society, but the raping and murdering of Mexican women by the hundreds comes from criminalizing so many drugs. Drugs kill people, but making drugs illegal kill more. The people who die from drugs still die under the War, but the collateral damage of trafficking and distributing drugs is massive.

The drug war: where would Jesus stand? Who would Jesus jail?

There was a great story on Al-Jazeera America posted yesterday, regarding the push by faith leaders to end the war on drugs and establish more reasonable sentencing guidelines. The quote that ended the story hits home:

“We believe the greatest stimulus for the mass incarceration of our loved ones is the failed war on drugs that has spent billions and billions of dollars, and hundreds of thousands of lives, for primarily a public health issue,” said the Rev. Michael McBride, director of urban strategies at Lifelines to Healing in Berkeley, Calif. “Mass incarceration is the civil rights movement of our generation, and the faith community is at the forefront.”

Emphasis mine.

Let us remember the words of Matthew 25

34 … ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father,inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’

Jesus traveled with a diverse group of people, outcasts included. He told a crowd ready to stone an adulterer that if they looked deep within them, they would see their own hypocrisy. The New Testament emphasizes that no person is beneath redemption; a system that throws millions to rot in prison cannot be a just one. Yet today there are huge numbers of prisoners serving serious time, despite their crimes being small and non-violent.

When the decision comes, Jesus triumphed empathy towards prisoners, not condemnation. Those that rejected a religious duty not only damaged the prisoner that needed them, but also themselves.

It is good to see a diverse group of faith leaders come together to speak with a united voice. In some modern Christian circles there can be an undercurrent of hypocrisy- people who triumph life in one instance yet don’t find the injustice in war and capital punishment. Often I see pockets that seem more at home with the Old Testament than the New. I won’t generalize, it would be unfair of me; there are many who see the grave danger of mass incarceration, religious and non-religious.

Chart based on US Department of Justice statistics

I don’t believe in God, though I am a proud Unitarian Universalist, but I find great wisdom in the words and actions of Jesus. Often people put words in his mouth, use him like some use Martin Luther King Jr. to gain false credibility. There is a sense of power with this movement, that only comes when a group of people truly grasp the mission they need to embark on. There is not the sense of dissonance that accompanies some journeys, where the premise is twisted or unfair.

I’ve been involved in the prison reform movement for several years now- I founded reddit’s prison reform community ( and marched during the hunger strike in California prisons that opposed solitary confinement The problem truly is massive, there needs to be a mass movement to counter it. Big problems demand big solutions. I’m glad to know there are religious leaders alongside other activists and the families affected by mandatory minimums, three strikes laws, and other policies that stuff existing prisons and demand the construction of new ones.

Who has the US fought? Drugs. Who won that war? Drugs.

In 1970, Gallup started polling on a new issue. Asking “Do you think the use of marijuana should be made legal, or not?” Their first poll recorded 12% in support of legalization.

What happened the next year would prove the catalyst of a massive long-term shift in public opinion. President Richard Nixon declared a War on Drugs, intensifying existent efforts to eradicate drug use and drug production. It would be the beginning of a expansive campaign, which has cost somewhere in the neighborhood of one trillion dollars. For comparison, the eight and a half year Iraq War only cost about $800 billion.

Continue reading “Who has the US fought? Drugs. Who won that war? Drugs.”