Forty years to the day after President Nixon declared the war on drugs, activists gathered in front of San Francisco’s City Hall to call for its end and protest subsequent prison issues.
As part of a “Communities Rising” rally and march, 40 groups working with the Californians United for Responsible Budget alliance spoke out, raised signs and voices at City Hall at noon.
Organizers estimated more than 200 people came out to send a message to Gov. Jerry Brown about decriminalizing drugs, prison issues and state money spending.
The rally and march followed the May Supreme Court decision to reduce the number of inmates by 33,500 in the California state prison system. The reduction will impact county jails, which under realignment–or transfer–will take on low-risk, nonviolent offenders from state prisons.
“The Supreme Court finally got something right,” SEIU corrections research and policy analyst Roger White said. But he stressed the counties cannot replicate the same “failed” state system that led to overcrowding and human rights violations.
“Dealing with drug use by building more prisons is like fighting cancer by building more cemeteries,” said Dr. Diana Sylvestre, founder of OASIS Clinic in Oakland and part of United for Drug Policy Reform.
Sylvestre emphasized non-prison treatments for drug addicts, who often receive little or no drug treatment while incarcerated.
“We don’t want to end the war on drugs, we want to win it,” she said.
Manuel LaFontaine, speaking from a prisoner support group, All of Us or None, raised other drug and prison related issues, such as the three strikes law, life sentencing for juvenile offenders and arrests for small possession of drugs.
“We cannot continue to build our way out of this social problem,” he said.
The crowd left the Polk Street steps to march through Tenderloin streets near the State Building, holding signs and chanting requests for state funding to be redirected from prisons and drug enforcement onto schools, social services, education and housing.
Sasha Lekach, Bay City News