Cory Booker: The Drug War Is “Big Overgrown Government At Its Worst”

Cory Booker

Newark Mayor Cory Booker has made headlines in recent years for his dedication to responding to citizen complaints via social media, for rescuing a neighbor from a house fire, and for assisting one of his bodyguards in helping a car accident victim.

Indeed, his heroism become the subject of an amusing video with Governor Chris Christie that was part of the state’s annual political correspondents dinner. This past weekend, however, he made some headlines for what many people will likely consider controversial comments about the War On Drugs:

Newark, N.J. Mayor Cory Booker took to Reddit Sunday to criticize the war on drugs, saying it was ineffective and “represents big overgrown government at its worst.”

“The so called War on Drugs has not succeeded in making significant reductions in drug use, drug arrests or violence,” the Democrat wrote during the Reddit “ask me anything” chat. “We are pouring huge amounts of our public resources into this current effort that are bleeding our public treasury and unnecessarily undermining human potential.”

Booker then called drug arrests a “game.”

“My police in Newark are involved in an almost ridiculous game of arresting the same people over and over again and when you talk to these men they have little belief that there is help or hope for them to break out of this cycle,” he wrote.

Here’s exactly how Booker put it in his Reddit “Ask Me Anything” session:

Blacks make up less than 15% of our New Jersey’s population but make up more than 60% of our prison population. I can’t accept that facts like this one do anything but demonstrate the historic and current biases in our criminal justice system…People should not see these facts and this discussion as an indictment of any one race, sector, or occupation, it should be seen as a call to all of us to do the difficult things to make a change because this isn’t a “black” problem this is an American problem.

The so called War on Drugs has not succeeded in making significant reductions in drug use, drug arrests or violence. We are pouring huge amounts of our public resources into this current effort that are bleeding our public treasury and unnecessarily undermining human potential. I see the BILLIONS AND BILLIONS of dollars being poured into the criminal justice system here in New Jersey and it represents big overgrown government at its worst. We should be investing dollars in programs and strategies that work not just to lower crime but work to empower lives.

It anguishes me how we seem to be so content with national and state recidivism rates of around 60% and how a staggering number of young black men are involved in the criminal justice system.

My police in Newark are involved in an almost ridiculous game of arresting the same people over and over again and when you talk to these men they have little belief that there is help or hope for them to break out of this cycle.

And it is a dangerous world for people caught up in the drug trade for it is so associated with violence. Data from Rutgers University is chilling: Over 80% of Newark’s murder VICTIMS have been arrested before an average of 10 times.

This isn’t a new position for Booker. Way back in June 2007, David Weigel noted in a piece at Reason’s Hit & Run that Booker, who had barely been in office a year, wasspeaking out about the impact that the War On (Some) Drugs was having on the black community. Additionally, Booker isn’t the only major New Jersey politician to break the taboo on speaking out against the war on drugs, Governor Christie said something very similar last year. Of course, neither Booker nor Christie are saying things that those of us who have been criticizing the failed War On Drugs haven’t been saying for years now. Nonetheless, it’s somewhat heartening to hear words like this coming from prominent politicians from both sides of the political aisle.

Booker’s alternative ideas, which Dustin Siggins talks about in extensive detail, are multi-faceted but in many ways boil down to the idea of treating drug addiction like a disease rather than a criminal act, along with building up the education system and encouraging policies that lead to strong families both of which are likely to prevent people from falling into a destructive cycle of addiction and crime. It’ s always struck me that these are the smarter ways to deal with the problem of drug addiction, which is supposedly what the War On Drugs is intended to prevent, than the heavy handed use of law enforcement that results in people being thrown in jail on possession charges, or trumped up “intent to distribute” charges that the smart people apparently think is a good idea today.

I’ve never quite understood why we have never really learned the lessons of the Prohibition Era. Banning substances that people want doesn’t eliminate those substances, and it doesn’t stop the people who want to use them from doing so. All it does is drive the traffic for such things into the underground. More importantly, such policies tend to enrich a criminal underground that ends up taking advantage of the poorest parts of inner city communities. Prohibition was the vehicle by which La Cosa Nostra and its allies became a powerful criminal underground that continued to have influence in major American cities well into the 1990s, and the War On Drugs has been the vehicle that has empowered criminal gangs from Mexico, El Salvador, Colombia, and elsewhere to the point where they frequently terrorize neighborhoods in major cities throughout the United States. And all of this because the government decided that people should not have the right to voluntarily injest certain chemical substances into their bodies.

Outside of alcohol or pain killers prescribed by a doctor, I’ve never used a mind altering substance of any kind. Nonetheless, I cannot see the logic behind laws that punish people who do so. Cory Booker, and Chris Christie, are leaning in the right direction on this issue. Let’s hope other politicians follow their example.

 


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