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NC Faith Leaders Call Out "Failed" Drug Policy


Monday, August 2, 2021   

ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. - As activists mark more than 100 days of protest since the April 21 death of Andrew Brown Junior - killed outside his Elizabeth City home as police officers served a warrant on drug charges - faith leaders are now voicing support for drug law reform.

Brown, who was unarmed, was shot as he attempted to drive away after officers surrounded his vehicle. The Rev. Dr. Jennifer Copeland - executive director of the North Carolina Council of Churches - said harsh drug laws disproportionately affect the state's Black and Brown communities.

"What we're trying to do at the Council is help make the connection," said Copeland, "between the fact that the War on Drugs is a failed policy that fundamentally misunderstands what substance use is all about, and how it should be handled."

According to the Drug Policy Alliance, nearly 80% of people in federal prison and 60% of people in state prisons for drug offenses are Black or Latino. The group Human Rights Watch says every 25 seconds in the U.S, someone is arrested for possessing drugs.

Protesters and Brown's family continue to demand the release of body-camera and dash-cam footage from the shooting.

North Carolina National Association for the Advancement of Colored People President - Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman - said he hopes the state can reform its criminal-justice system to hold law enforcement accountable.

"It's to find a better system, a more just system," said Spearman, "as it relates to especially these prosecutors, these district attorneys, who are making these unilateral decisions to more or less justify those who are killing African Americans."

Spearman said he also believes it's up to church congregations to help individuals like Andrew Brown Junior.

"The faith community could have risen up to assist him," said Spearman. "And I think that's the role that needs to be filled by many in the faith community."

A review of federal and state incarceration data by the Associated Press reveals between 1975 and 2019, the nation's prison population jumped from around 240,000 to more than 1.3 million, largely as a result of drug offenses.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of President Richard Nixon's declaration of the "War on Drugs."

Disclosure: North Carolina Council of Churches contributes to our fund for reporting on Environment, Health Issues, Immigrant Issues, Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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