Movement for Black Lives Wants Congress to End the Drug War

    The federal war on drug users would likely be brought to its knees with the passage of the Movement for Black Lives’ legislative proposal, entitled the BREATHE Act, to radically transform the federal management of public safety in the United States.

    The current moment requires a solution that fundamentally changes how we spend money as a society,” tweeted the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) on July 7. “We are offering this visionary bill, which would divest from policing and invest in a new vision of public safety. The #BREATHEAct is here in defense of Black lives.”

    Among the proposals are the abolition of the Drug Enforcement Administration, the federal decriminalization of drug possession, and retroactive expungement of drug convictions. State-level drug decriminalization and expungement would be encouraged through grant requirements. Additionally, the bill would establish commissions to address the harms caused by the criminalization of drugs and sex work, among other things.

    The war on drug users has been a war on Black people since its launch by the Nixon Administration, and its anti-Black racism rages on today. Black people continue to be disproportionately impacted by federal drug trafficking criminalization, as US Sentencing Commission numbers from fiscal year 2019 show. Crack cocaine trafficking sentences continue to mostly target Black people (80 percent), and Black people are the most represented race for heroin and fentanyl sentences (42 percent and 41 percent, respectively). Overall, though, Latinx people are the most represented racial group for drug trafficking sentences.

    The bill has yet to be formally introduced to Congress, though the BREATHE Act has been championed by House progressives Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.

    “For more than a month now, righteous rage has driven thousands to the streets in every state in our nation,” said Representative Ayanna Presley during M4BL’s live bill unveiling. “A righteous rage moving with urgency and demanding that policymakers at all levels of government begin the work to put an end to racist policies, to dismantle systems of oppression that have for too long allowed for the overpolicing of and divestment from Black communities.”

    It may well be that the numbers in Congress stack up against the passage of the bill. But merely introducing it would further mainstream overdue debates that have long been sidelined.

    “We are not interested in someone else’s version of what is politically possible,” tweeted M4BL. “We are interested in defending Black lives.”

    Photograph of a 2020 Black Lives Matter protest outside of Trump Tower by Filter
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