The war on drugs has disproportionately impacted individuals and communities of color. How can we take action to address those harms? Earlier this month, entrepreneur, writer and actress Sirita Wright – who’s also co-founder and CMO of EstroHaze, a “multimedia company highlighting the business and lifestyles of multicultural women in the cannabis industry” – attended a discussion on that critical topic. Here, she shares her experience and learnings for the The Green Machine blog.
Walking into a discussion about women of color, the war on drugs, and reparations is heavy. And yet there I am, on International Women’s Day, sitting in on such a discussion. The event, Black Women, The War On Drugs, And Reparations, featured Kassandra Frédérique of the Drug Policy Alliance and Deborah Peterson Small, executive director and founder of Break the Chains: Communities of Color and the War on Drugs. Joining them was Andrea J. Ritchie, author of Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women, who moderated the discussion at North Star Fund in New York City.
Since black women are still incarcerated at twice the rate of white women—not to mention the ways in which women of color are subjected to state-sanctioned violence—it’s probably hard to even fathom the idea of reparations. However, Andrea, our fearless moderator encouraged us to do just that throughout our “kitchen conversation,” as she called it. I put my phone away, took out my notebook and pondered on the question before us: What would reparations look like for black women?
Deborah discussed her experience with the war on drugs and challenged attendees to remember “the other dimensions of people who’ve been affected by the drug war.” When thinking about the harms of the drug war, we often first think about mass incarceration, but what about the motherless and fatherless children left to the state if no immediate family member is willing or able to care for them? Speaking of children, Kassandra was swift to remind us that “there is no drug war without crack babies.” She continued: “If we’re going to end, change, and repair the harms of the drug war…how do we build compassion for the crack mommas, the way we did for the heroin moms?”
Remember, I said this discussion was going to be heavy, but it was not void of laughter and joy, because, as we know, black women are resilient!
As the conversation shifted from the topics of pain and the insanity of racism to power, Deborah asked us all to look within ourselves and ask “Where are the places I’m still not free?” as Andrea began to outline a framework for us to use as we—in real-time—thought about new concept of reparations. After 40 years of failed drug law policies, there was no shortage of ideas, which revolved around five main pillars:
1. Acknowledgment – of the harms done by the war on drugs
2. Public apology – for the harms that have been done
3. Compensation – monetary and then some (access to education, jobs, etc)
4. Repair – education for future generations
5. Public memorial – as a reminder
THERE IS NO RECONCILIATION WITHOUT TRUTH.
As the evening began to wind down, Kassandra transitioned from the topic of marijuana reform to the opioid crisis. From incarceration to overdose, how do we have conversations that acknowledge those harms? ColorofPain.org is a campaign that Kassandra and her team launched that offers “systems meetings” in 13 areas that address the impact of the war on drugs and its effects on social programs. For instance, if there was no drug war, what would child services look like? What would recovery look like? How about truth and reconciliation for indigenous children? Consider how these issues look for immigrants. Did you know you could be deported for marijuana possession? I didn’t.
EXPAND YOUR IMAGINATION
Andrea closed out our discussion by encouraging us to use art as a medium to “dream up justice and reparations,” because sometimes our minds are too literal. Deborah asked us to imagine a more collaborative economic model than the ones we currently use today. She reinforce the idea of working together—all women—as a collective for change.