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'The war on drugs is really a war on black people'

SPEAKING WITH PURPOSE: MP David Lammy formed part of the panel

THE HOUSE of Commons was host to a panel-led discussion on the connection between black communities and the way certain types of drugs are classified and criminalised, as well as the policing surrounding black males in particular who are found guilty of drug-related offences.

The discussion was organised after a new report on these complex policy concerns was written. The report, Structural Racism as UK Drugs Policy: An exploration of the views of British black youth and communities on UK drugs policy 2016, was authored by social policy developer Viv Ahmun of Coreplan UK, political consultant and commentator Lee Jasper and drugs recovery expert Annette Dale-Perera.

One key premise of the report is:

"...the differential impact of drug policy on BAME (Black and Minority Ethnic) groups in the UK is a consequence of structural state racism."

The findings were a product of consultation and research with a number of grassroots organisations who have regular contact with drug users, rehabilitation agents, capacity-builders, community empowerment groups and families. The participants who offered their views spoke about how problems such as those stemming from substance misuse and an over-representation of black males in prison could be solved.

One such participant was Temi Mwale of the 4Front Project (the project's website states its aim is "reducing serious youth violence"), who reported that there was a lack of trust and faith in authority from the young people she works with.

Speaking from the platform, Dale-Perera commented that her interactions with 4Front and other groups showed her that there was a need for more education about the effects of taking drugs:

"The level of un-information was scary. Some didn't know how harmful it could be."

Dale-Perera also touched on the fact that many (herself included) agencies and change-drivers felt that drug abuse should not be dealt with as a crime but instead as a health issue its prevalence in some communities was class-driven:

"This issue is driving health inequality in this country."

Former drugs czar Mike Trace united with other speakers on a related point about drug use being too heavily policed, citing the large amount of money and police resources that were allocated to controlling drug use. According to the report, these resources have been spent despite mounting evidence of this approach's failure to reduce drug use coupled with the fact that black drug users and distributors are targeted more intensively than those of other ethnicities:

"The war on drugs is really a war on black people. It's disproportionate, it's unjust, it's racist."

A member of the audience, attending as a representative of the Pan African Society; asked the panel to address the issue of corrupt police who are complicit in the organised drug sales led by some dealers and networks. MP David Lammy spoke about this phenomenon being evident in his north London constituency amongst "Turkish-speaking" heroin traffickers who control the Green Lanes area and escape punishment for drug-related crimes because "they provide information to the police on terror cells".

Jane Slater of drug recovery agency Transform added:

"Drugs policies are xenophobic policies because tobacco and alcohol are white man's drugs."

Slater went on to speak about the Anyone's Child initiative from Transform which was started in order to "tell the real-life human stories behind this war on drugs."

Dale-Perera summarised some of the report's recommendations before helping to urge those present to search for the entire report online and involve themselves in bringing the actions to life in their local areas:

"We need to produce culturally-relevant solutions."

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