Black Leaders Urge Governor Murphy and Legislature to End the War on Drugs

The New Jersey Statehouse and Capitol Building In Trenton

Black Leaders Urge Governor Murphy and Legislature to End the War on Drugs


For Immediate Release


June 19, 2020 — Earlier today, Black community leaders from across the state called for the end of the drug war in New Jersey, urging Governor Murphy and Legislative leaders to act now. The group convened via a video press call on Juneteenth, a day to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States.


“As we commemorate Juneteenth, we remember that freedom for even the most oppressed may be delayed but not denied,” said Dr. Reverend Charles Boyer, Founding Director of Salvation and Social Justice. “Today, we are witnessing the unjust powers of New Jersey’s racist drug war. There are systemic issues with these policies and policing practices that oppress the Black community at alarming and disproportional rates. It is unacceptable that New Jersey arrests Black people for cannabis possession at a rate more than 3 times than that of white people, despite similar use. This is just one fact out of a multitude of inequities. There has been an awakening around the insidious nature of structural racism throughout this country and state. Now, there is a spirit of protest to promote change. Salvation and Social  Justice is committed to moving protests to policy changes.”


A recent report from the ACLU indicates that in New Jersey, Black people are 3.45 times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than white people, despite similar rates of use. In 2016 alone, New Jersey invested $669.3 million to enforce the drug war, despite the grave racial inequities in fuels.


“The War on Drugs has pushed Black and brown people behind for far too long. This is both a moral and policy failure that works to uphold white supremacy every single day. By treating drug use as a criminal offense, New Jersey invests vast resources into a failed system when it could be funding public services and programs proven to support healthy and strong communities,” said Brandon McKoy, President of New Jersey Policy Perspective. “This moment serves as a stark reminder that budgets are moral documents, and New Jersey has many unmet needs — in education, affordable homes, recreational programs, job training, and so much more — where public resources could be put to better use. As the nation reckons with questions of defunding police and reimagining their role in society, we must take serious action to end the War on Drugs once and for all and create a better system that not only meets the needs of our communities, but also helps dismantle white supremacy.”


Today’s public call for action was joined by a broad group of faith-based leaders, public health professionals, community leaders, and advocates for criminal justice reform and racial justice.


Speakers were united in calling for disinvestment from the failing drug war, starting with  cannabis decriminalization measures outlined in S2535 and the public health emergency decarceration efforts outlined in S2519/A4235.


“I am the mother of Patrick Calloway, a 22 year-old African American male who resides here in Morris County. Currently in his third year of college, Patrick comes from a home with two parents and ten siblings who love him very much. Patrick was home from college for Christmas break when he attended a frat party where he was unfortunately shot as a bystander,” said April Finley, Calloway’s mother and community health worker at Spring Street CDC. “Patrick had immediate surgery and, as anyone can imagine, this unfortunate incident has caused him a lot of pain and trauma both physically and mentally. Patrick became dependent on his prescribed painkillers. After weaning off of these prescribed medications, Patrick used marijuana to cope. Patrick attended therapy where he eventually was approved for a prescription marijuana card from the state of New Jersey for anxiety, PTSD, and depression.”


“After getting his medical marijuana card, Patrick was stopped by and searched by the police and found to have marijuana in his possession on multiple occasions. He has been in Morris County jail since January 29, despite having a medical marijuana card and despite his roommate being sick during COVID-19 and eventually testing positive and being moved after I fought for that,” continued Finley. “How do you justify legalizing medical marijuana, and then arresting my son who is trying to deal with his trauma and pain for marijuana possession? It is unjustifiable. How do you leave him incarcerated during a pandemic when New Jersey’s incarcerated population is dying at higher rates than in any other state in the nation? It is truly unjustifiable. I am here fighting for justice for my son and so many others like him harmed by the drug war.”


Event sponsors include the ACLU-NJ, Doctors for Cannabis Regulation, Families for Sensible Drug Policy, Institute of the Black World 21st Century, NCADD-NJ, Newark Community Street Team, New Jersey Harm Reduction Coalition, New Jersey Policy Perspective, and Salvation and Social Justice. They stand together in support of ending the war on drugs and investing in community-based initiatives determined and led by Black and Latinx communities most harmed by this war.


“Newark Community Street Team launched a community-based public safety initiative as a complimentary strategy to policing that has seen significant results in reducing homicide and violence in the city of Newark – homicides and violence that has been a direct result of the War on Drugs,” said Aqeela Sherrills, Director of Newark Community Street Team. “Engaging impacted people in the solutions to reducing drug related violence and crime is the future of public safety.”


“As a matter of principle, ultimately it is critically important that Blacks and other people of color achieve power to be at the center/core of this initiative and are substantially in the leadership,” said Dr. Ron Daniels, President of Institute Of The Black World 21st Century and host of the popular Vantage Point Radio Show.


“As the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, and countless other Black people around the country make clear, the status quo of our criminal-legal system is one that actively harms Black communities,” said Sarah Farjado, Policy Director of ACLU-NJ. “In this moment, as communities and leaders work to shrink the role of police, divest from policing, and reinvest in communities, the ACLU-NJ calls on New Jersey legislators to take immediate action to pass two bills – strong cannabis decriminalization and a pandemic credit to expedite release from prison – to reduce contact with systems that continue to be deadly to so many. New Jersey must seize this historical moment, reckon with structural racism, and ensure a just and safe future for our Black and brown communities.”


A recording of the video press call is available here.


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