Sunday, September 12, 2010

Against War on African Americans


By Biko Agozino
Professor of Sociology and Director of Africana Studies Program, Virginia Tech,
Blacksburg, VA 24061, 1-540-231-7699

Contrary to the claim by Time magazine that  the war on drugs, the longest war that has cost American taxpayers $2.5 trillion over 40 years, has ‘no clear enemy’,[1] the NAACP in 2010 rightly condemned the war on drugs as a racist war against African Americans and against the poor generally.[2] Californian voters have also proposed the legalization of marijuana to avoid the unnecessary criminalization of otherwise law-abiding responsible adults, aid the sick who need the drug and create fair employment opportunities and wealth for the people and tax revenues for the state.[3]

The intensifying violence among poor urban youth across America, the Caribbean, South America, South East Asia and Africa have all been linked to struggles over the control of the lucrative illicit drugs trade that governments could tax for revenue to support education, health and social services while saving on unnecessary repressive enforcement. The attempt to arrest a single drug lord in Jamaica for extradition to the US resulted in the death of nearly 80 innocent Jamaicans in 2010 and the war on drugs in Mexico has claimed more than 30,000 lives in three years while a similar attempt to make Thailand ‘drug-free’ in 2003 resulted in the extra judicial killing of 2800 people. Not surprisingly, three former South American presidents, including the eminent sociologist, Dr. Cardozo of Brazil, issued a policy statement in 2009 denouncing the war on drugs as a costly failure that should be abandoned.

The Drug Czar of the Obama administration, Gil Kierekowski, in 2009 announced that the war on drugs was inconsistent with the goals of a democratically elected government that should be serving the people and not waging war against its own citizens but insisted that there is no need for a change in policy except the stopping of the raids on medical marijuana dispensers in states that approve of the legal prescription of the drug for patients and promised only a change in language.[4]

Research by Human Rights Watch in 2010 reported that “blacks comprise 62.7 percent and whites 36.7 percent of all drug offenders admitted to state prison … federal surveys and other data detailed in this report show clearly that this racial disparity bears scant relation to racial differences in drug offending. There are, for example, five times more white drug users than black. Relative to population, black men are admitted to state prison on drug charges at a rate that is 13.4 times greater than that of white men. In large part because of the extraordinary racial disparities in incarceration for drug offenses, blacks are incarcerated for all offenses at 8.2 times the rate of whites. One in every 20 black men over the age of 18 in the United States is in state or federal prison, compared to one in 180 white men.”[5]

Based on the available overwhelming evidence, there is no doubt that the war on drugs is a war against African American men and women primarily and we call on the Obama administration to immediately end this injustice and free the drugs war prisoners who are in prison for no violent offences.

We declare that the war on drugs is part of the systematic processes to strip African Americans, Hispanics and the poor generally of the constitutionally guaranteed right to equal protection and return them to prison slave plantations where their labor is exploited cheaply by the industrial complex and we call on President Obama to abolish this racist affront to democracy without further delay the same way that President Lincoln proclaimed the abolition of slavery with a stroke of the pen.

As educators, we are confident that we could teach our communities to use their civil liberties to choose not to consume dangerous substances the same way we have been able to teach large sections of the community to say no to tobacco and alcohol which kill many more people around the world than all the illicit drugs put together. We know from research that one illicit drug, marihuana, has never killed anyone but is used as the major pretext (with 800,000 arrests annually in the US alone) for the criminalization of otherwise law-abiding youth from the African American, Latino, South Asian, Caribbean, African and poor white communities worldwide at huge costs to tax payers.

We suggest that illicit drug dealers are the major beneficiaries from the war on drugs and therefore they oppose decriminalization because the war makes drugs relatively expensive and directly increases their profit margins the way bootleg liquor enriched organized criminals before the ending of prohibition. We are confident that the same way the Mafia violence associated with prohibition was ended with the ending of prohibition, the violence associated with the turf wars for the drug trade would be significantly reduced once this racist war primarily against African American, Hispanic and poor communities worldwide is brought to an end with rehabilitation programs for the prisoners of the war on drugs.

In line with the emphasis on prevention in the health reform act, we call for harm reduction through the hospitalization of those who fall sick from drug dependency just like tobacco and alcohol patients who are more numerous and more likely to die despite the fact that tobacco and alcohol remain legal.

We call on President Obama to extend his policies of hope and reduce the politics of fear and greed by borrowing from the experiments in countries like The Netherlands and more recently Portugal which have been implementing different forms of decriminalization with the result that their prisons are decongested, their streets are safer and their citizens face reduced harm compared to the US, France, UK, Mexico, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, South Africa and Russia, to name a few examples of the battlefields of the so-called war on drugs.

Many law enforcement officers favor decriminalization to remove the temptation of corruption, increase respect for officers in the community, and free them from a racist war so that they could concentrate on the real bad guys. The Vienna Declaration on illicit drugs has also called for policy change to help reduce the epidemic spread of HIV/AIDS.[6]

Thanks to Dr. Cornel West of Princeton University, the only eminent public intellectual with the courage to endorse the draft of this resolution within 24 hours after it was sent to him. I invite others with moral and intellectual courage to sign on to this resolution and help to bring about a change in policy for the benefit of all. The endorsements of Prop 19 below show that more black public intellectuals and organizations need to join this campaign given that the war on drugs is a war on the black people who do not use more drugs, especially in the case of black women who are close to suspected black men.[7]


The following people and organizations have endorsed Proposition 19 to allow local jurisdictions to legalize marijuana in California. To submit your endorsement of the initiative, click here.


Law Enforcement

  • National Black Police Association
  • San Jose Police Chief Joseph McNamara (Ret.)
  • Seattle Police Chief and San Diego Deputy Police Chief Norm Stamper (Ret.)
  • Former Los Angeles Deputy Police Chief Stephen Downing
  • Former Los Angeles Police Department Sergeant and Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney William John Cox
  • Former Contra Costa County Deputy Sheriff David Sinclair
  • Former Los Angeles Deputy Sheriff MacKenzie Allen
  • Former Los Angeles Deputy Sheriff Jeff Studdard
  • Former Sutter County Deputy Sheriff Nate Bradley
  • Former Yolo County Resident Deputy Sheriff Danny Maynard
  • Humboldt County Sheriff’s Captain Stephen Cobine (Ret.)
  • Orange County Superior Court Judge James P. Gray (Ret.)
  • Humboldt County District Attorney Paul Gallegos
  • San Francisco District Attorney Terence Hallinan (Ret.)
  • Former Senior Humboldt County Deputy District Attorney and Prosecutor Jeffrey Schwartz
  • Former Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney and California Administrative Law Judge Mike Schmier
  • Riverside County Deputy District Attorney Walter Clark (Ret.)
  • Former Orange County Senior Reserve Park Ranger L. Lawrence Baird
  • Oakland City Attorney John Russo
  • Former Community Prosecutor James Anthony, Oakland City Attorney’s Office
  • Los Angeles Police Department Narcotics Detective David Doddridge (Ret.)
  • Former San Jose Police Department Narcotics Detective Russ Jones
  • Former Los Angeles Senior Police Specialist Walter McKay
  • United States Air Force Security Forces Officer John Darker, Anderson, CA
  • Former United States Military Police Officer Dr. Nina Graves, Santa Barbara, CA
  • United States Navy Officer and Intelligence Specialist Larry Talley (Ret.)
  • California Correctional Peace Officer William Baldwin (Ret.)
  • California Correctional Peace Officer Madeline Martinez (Ret.)
  • Mohave County Deputy Probation Officer Joe Miller (Ret.)
  • Former Lakeport Police Officer Rick Erickson
  • Former San Francisco Police Officer Bill Dake
  • Former Stanton Police Officer Jerry Ross
  • Former Torrance Police Officer Kyle Kazan
  • Atlanta, Georgia State’s Attorney Jay Fisher
  • Former American Samoa Attorney General’s Office Chief Prosecutor and Municipal Prosecutor for Washington Cities Jim Doherty
  • New Jersey State Police Detective Lieutenant Jack Cole (Ret.)
  • New Hampshire State Police Officer Paul Mac Lean (Ret.)
  • Retired Bristol, Vermont Police Chief and Saint Albans, Vermont Police Chief Tim Datig
  • Former Deputy Sheriff Leo E. Laurence, J.D., Central Missouri
  • Former Reserve Deputy Sheriff and Corrections Officer Dwayne Sessom, Lawton, Oklahoma
  • Former Davis County, Utah Deputy Constable Bret Black
  • Retired Washington Superior Court Judge David Nichols
  • Retired Police Captain Peter Christ, Syracuse, New York.
  • Former Spokane, Washington Police Department Narcotics Investigator Jay Fleming
  • Former Corrections Official Michael Gilbert, San Antonio, Texas
  • Former Department of Corrections Sniper and K-9 Narcotics Dog Trainer Rusty White, Bridgeport, Texas
  • National Black Police Association Executive Director and former Washington, DC Metropolitan Police Officer Ronald Hampton
  • Former Baltimore Police Officer Peter Moskos
  • Burlington, Ontario, Canada Law Enforcement Officer Alison Myrden (Ret.)
  • Law Enforcement Officer Tony Ryan (Ret.), Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Physicians and Doctors

  • United States Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders, MD (Ret.)
  • Dr. Larry Bedard, Former President of the American College of Emergency Physicians*, Sausalito, CA
  • Dr. Newton Harband, Retired Oncologist, Past President, Stanford Medical School Alumni Association*, San Rafael, CA
  • Dr. Daniel Susott, MD, MPH, Medical Director, World Family Foundation*, San Francisco, CA
  • Dr. Floyd Huen, MD, Board of Trustees, Alameda County Medical Center, Oakland, CA
  • Mitch Earleywine, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychology, State University of New York at Albany
  • Dr. Lester Grinspoon, MD, Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Norfolk, MA
  • Dr. Julie Holland, MD, Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, NYU School of Medicine, New York
  • Dr, Leonard Krivitsky, MD, DD, Addiction Medicine Specialist, Philadelphia, PA
  • Dr. Frank H. Lucido, MD, Family Practitioner, Berkeley, CA
  • Arthur M. Strosberg, Ph. D., Pharmaceutical Industry Consultant, Foster City, CA
  • Dr. Sunil Aggarwal, MD, PhD, Seattle, WA
  • Dr. Christopher Fichtner, MD, Hemet, CA
  • Stephen Frye, M.D., Psychiatrist, Las Vegas, Nevada

Economists and Business Leaders

  • Harvard Economist Jeffrey Miron
  • Michael D. Whitty, Ph.D., Adjunct Professor, University of San Francisco School of Business and Management

Elected Officials

  • Congressman Pete Stark (CA-13)
  • Congressman Dan Hamburg (CA-1) (Ret.)
  • California State Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata (Ret.)
  • California State Senator Mark Leno
  • California State Assemblymember Tom Ammiano
  • California State Assemblymember Hector De La Torre
  • Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley
  • Mendocino County Supervisor John Pinches
  • San Francisco Supervisor David Campos
  • San Francisco Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi
  • Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates
  • The Berkeley City Council
  • The Oakland City Council
  • The West Hollywood City Council
  • Arcata City Councilmember Shane Brinton
  • Berkeley City Councilmember Kriss Worthington
  • Berkeley City Councilmember Darryl Moore
  • Hayward City Councilmember Bill Quirk
  • Oakland City Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan
  • Oakland City Councilmember Jean Quan
  • Oakland City Councilmember Pat Kernighan
  • Oakland City Councilmember Larry Reid
  • Oakland City Councilmember Nancy Nadel
  • West Hollywood City Councilmember John Duran
  • Windsor Town Councilmember Debora Fudge
  • Palm Springs Unified School District Board Member Justin Blake
  • AC Transit Board President Rocky Fernandez
  • East Bay Municipal Utility District Board President Doug Linney
  • Water Replenishment District of Southern California Director Rob Katherman
  • Modoc County Democratic Central Committee Chair Thomas Romero
  • Alameda County Democratic Central Committee Member Edie Irons
  • California Republican Party Delegate David LaTour


  • California NAACP
  • California Libertarian Party
  • California Green Party
  • California Young Democrats
  • Republican Liberty Caucus
  • ACLU of Northern California
  • ACLU of Southern California
  • ACLU of San Diego
  • California 16th Assembly District Democrats
  • Alameda County Democratic Party
  • Butte County Democratic Party
  • Madera County Democratic Party
  • Modoc County Democratic Party
  • Monterey County Democratic Party
  • Orange County Democratic Party
  • Placer County Democratic Party
  • San Francisco Democratic Party
  • Siskiyou County Democratic Party
  • Sonoma County Democratic Party
  • Democratic Party of the San Fernando Valley
  • Latino Democrats of Stanislaus County
  • Progressive Democrats of Stanislaus County
  • Desert Stonewall Democrats of Palm Springs
  • Culver City Democratic Club
  • West Hollywood/Beverly Hills Democratic Club
  • Irish American Democratic Club of San Francisco
  • Democratic Women's Forum of San Francisco
  • Richmond District Democratic Club
  • Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club
  • Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club
  • Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club
  • Valley Progressives
  • Libertarian Party of Orange County
  • Humboldt Center for Constitutional Rights
  • San Francisco for Democracy Political Action Committee
  • San Francisco Women’s Political Committee
  • The LA Gay & Lesbian Center
  • NAACP Congress Against Racism & Corruption in Law Enforcement (CARCLE)
  • William C. Velasquez Institute
  • Latino Voters League
  • A New PATH (Parents for Addiction Treatment and Healing)
  • Bay Area Chapter of Education Not Incarceration
  • Idriss Stelley Action & Resource Center


  • United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), Western States Council
  • International Longshore & Warehouse Union (ILWU), Northern California District Council
  • Central Labor Council of Butte-Glenn Counties (AFL-CIO)
  • Communications Workers of America (CWA), Local 9415
  • Instituto Laboral De La Raza
  • Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA), San Francisco Chapter
  • Sign Displays, Local 510
  • Michael Hardeman, Business Representative, Sign Displays, Local 510
  • John Roe, UFCW, Local 5*
  • Dan Rush, UFCW, Local 5*
  • Brian Webster, Staff Assistant, Instituto Laboral De La Raza

Faith Leaders

  • California Council of Churches IMPACT
  • Interfaith Drug Policy Initiative
  • Karen Gilman, Women of Temple Israel of Hollywood*
  • Rev. Bryan Griem, Pastor of Montrose Community Church*, Montrose, CA
  • Rabbi Jeffrey Kahn, Clergy Against Prohibition*
  • Jane Marcus, Ph.D., Board Member, Women of Reform Judaism*, Palo Alto, CA
  • The Rev. Canon Mary Moreno Richardson, Episcopal Diocese of San Diego*
  • Curtis D. Robinson, Sr., President, Girls Inc, WCCC*, Richmond, CA
  • Dennis Shields, Minister, The Religion of Jesus Church*, Captain Cook, HI


[1] Brief History The War on Drugs By Claire Suddath Wednesday, Mar. 25, 2009,,8599,1887488,00.html See also 1994 U. Chi. Legal F. 25 (1994) Race and the War on Drugs; by Tonry, Michael
[2] See also J. Gender Race & Just. 381 (2002) Race, Crime and the Pool of Surplus Criminality: Or Why the War on Drugs Was a War on Blacks; by Nunn, Kenneth B.;
[3] Miron, Jeffrey A. (2007-09-17). "Costs of Marijuana Prohibition: Economic Analysis". Marijuana Policy Project. See also Gender Race & Just. 225 (2002) Recovering from Drugs and the Drug War: An Achievable Public Health Alternative; Blumenson, Eric.
[5] See, e.g., Craig Reinarman and Harry G. Levine, "The Crack Attack, Politics and Media in the Crack Scare," in Craig Reinarman and Harry G. Levine, Crack in America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997); Michael Tonry, Malign Neglect: Race, Crime, and Punishment in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995); David Cole, No Equal Justice (New York:The New Press, 1999); David Musto, The American Disease: Origins of Narcotic Control (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1973);. See also 

[7] Lawrence D. Bobo and Victor Thompson, ‘Unfair by Design: The War on Drugs, Race, and the Legitimacy of the Criminal Justice System’ in Social Research: An International Quarterly   Issue:  Volume 73, Number 2 / Summer 2006   Pages:  445 – 472. See also SR Bush-Baskette ‘The war on drugs as a war against Black women’ in Girls, Women, and Crime: Selected readings, edited by Meda Chesney-Lind, Lisa Pasko, Thousand Oaks, Sage, 2004; Doris Marie Provine , Unequal under law: race in the war on drugs, Chicago, University of Chicago Press; Agozino, Biko ‘Editorial: Foreign Women in Prison’ in African Journal of Criminology and Justice Studies, Vol. 3 No. 2, 2008,

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Naipaul's Ingratitude

Naipaul's Ingratitude

Dr Onwubiko Agozino Mon, 22 Nov 10
Naipaul's problem is primarily that of ingratitude, which he probably inherited from his father. According to the literary theorist and former Principal of the St. Augustine campus of the University of the West Indies, Dr Bhoe Tewarie, if Mr Biswas was a little more grateful to all the people who were trying to help him, he may have been a more successful person in life.
The son is similarly dismissive of his debts to the Caribbean, to Oxford ('Oxford taught me nothing'), to his parents, wife, and partners, as well as to India and to Africa. The lesson for younger writers is to learn the habit of gratitude and eschew the white-superiorism that might interfere with their writings, because even good prose would not be enough to attract and retain significant readership when the personality and ideology are obnoxious and turn-offish.
Yet, we must not throw away the baby with the bath water. As a graduate student in Edinburgh University in the early 1990s, I received my first Naipaul book, 'India: A Million Mutinies Now', from my book club, Quality Paperback Series. However, before I could read the book, an English friend spoiled it for me by asking why I even bothered buying a Naipaul book given the man's well-known racism in the way he portrayed Indians and Africans as dirty and diseased and with no redeeming qualities. The comment discouraged me from reading the book at the time, but when I finally did ten years later before a trip to India, I learned quite a bit from it.
For instance, Naipaul revealed in the book that when Gandhi went to live in South Africa after law school in England, he was 'politically naive'. Now, I have never heard anyone describe the great Gandhi as being naive, and so I read on. According to Naipaul, when Gandhi arrived in South Africa, he actually believed that colonialism was a good thing, but the Zulus soon reeducated him. Like many good writers, he did not go into detail about what lesson Gandhi learned from the Zulus, and so I had to go and find out for myself by reading 'Gandhi: the Autobiography'.
In that book, Gandhi himself agreed that he was a product of British education who believed that the white man was in Africa to bring civilization to the dark continent. He believed that the Zulus were lazy, and that that was why they were always going on strike. He hoped that the British would teach them the ethics of hard work so that they could become a little more civilized like the Indian traders who had invited him to come and fight for them against discrimination by the British, who as it happened, lumped the Indians together with the natives.
To Gandhi's surprise, the Zulu launched an uprising against the British and he quickly joined the British Army; being commissioned Sergeant Major Gandhi in the process. He was put in charge of a group of Indian volunteer nurses supporting the British army. Perhaps Gandhi wished for some of the British officers to be wounded, so that he and his fellow Indians would get an opportunity to treat them and thereby show the British that Indian nurses were every bit as effective as British ones. He probably also hoped to persuade them that Indians should not be categorised in the same level with Africans.
But when all the wounded turned out to be Zulus, Gandhi was frustrated and started asking them why they were sitting there like sissies and taking the beatings, instead of fighting back like men. They laughed at Gandhi and told him that they were fighting back all right, but that they were fighting back non-violently by refusing to pay taxes to a government that did not represent them, and by refusing to work for employers who exploited them.
Naipul narrates how Gandhi took this lesson back to India and used it to change the national liberation strategy that was predominantly the militaristic strategy of mutinies which the British easily defeated through the war of manicures in the past. Now, the Indians started using the non-violent strategy of refusing to buy salt when the prices were inflated (they made their own salt) and refusing to buy British cotton when the prices were hiked up (they wove their own loin clothes).
The nonviolent methods proved more effective in winning Indian independence, and Kwame Nkrumah later adopted similar tactics (Positive Action) for the independence of Ghana, but emphasized that the strategy was an African one in its own right. Although the Civil Rights Movement in America adopted this philosophy, the Martin Luther King Jr Museum in Atlanta still mistakenly attributes it to Gandhi, without adding that Gandhi himself attributed it to Africans. A graduate student from Howard university told me that the day after she heard me make this point at a recent Association of Black Sociologists meeting in Atlanta, she went to the museum and could not resist correcting a parent who was explaining to a child that MLK borrowed non-violence from Gandhi.
Other surprising lessons that I have learned from Naipul's India include the fact that the Black Panther Party influenced the lowest caste in India, the Daliths, to form the Dalith Panthers Party. He also explained that arranged marriages are more prestigious in India than what they call 'love matches'. He has a fascinating chapter on a monthly magazine, Indian Woman, that is published by a man, but is very successful among women because of its ability to involve the readers in the interactive development of soap-opera-like themes. When I arrived New Delhi in 2004, the first thing I bought was a copy of Indian Woman, and not surprisingly, it came with a free gift: a tampon! Some lesson in marketing.
I have since bought other Naipaul books, but I must confess that I have never read any of them from cover to cover. Am I alone in finding his style a touch boring? This might have to do with the attitude of the author to his audience, and since postmodernists have proclaimed the death of the author with the arrival of the reader who is free to interpret the work as he/she feels, I agree with those who have pointed out that when it comes down to a competition for my time, there are choice pieces of literature that I have prioritized over those of Naipaul. Yet, I will not deny that it is possible to learn something new, even from an unusual Naipaul source. I have not read his new critique of Africa but I will not rule out doing so someday.
It is not enough to condemn Naipaul's racism and snobbishness. We need to encourage more writers to dwell on the positive contributions that Africans have made, and continue to make to world civilization- Europe, the Caribbean, the Americans and beyond- even while critiquing the negative remnants of centuries of slavery, colonialism and post-colonialism in constructive ways that would help us to usher in a greater Africa, the Renascent Africa that Azikiwe announced in 1937 while cursing the 'Old Africa' for blocking progress.