It was on October 14, 1982 President Ronald Regan declared a “War on Drugs.” It was a time in our country’s history when less than 2% of Americans viewed drugs as the most important issue facing the country. By the 1980’s the number of arrests for all crime rose 28% while the number of arrests for drug related offenses rose 128%. In 1999, crime statistics show that blacks were the most likely group to be arrested for drug crimes. In some states in the mid 90’s 90% of those admitted to prison for drug offenses were either black or brown.
Let’s reimagine this for a moment. Let’s suppose the in 1982 “broken bones due to sports” was declared the new war. In order to get this epidemic under control the government declares all broken bones due to sports activities a felony with a new mandatory minimum sentences and an additional “3 strikes and you’re out” law.
Seems silly doesn’t it? You don’t fix a broken bone issue by sending the person to jail. You get them medical attention and then develop more effective pads and game rules.
Why then do we think that the drug problem can be solved by stiffer mandatory jail sentences? Drug addiction is a problem, but putting people in jail for addiction is silly at best and morally wrong at worst. Drugs like broken bones are best dealt with by medical professionals. One of the more embarrassing realities of this War on Drugs is that Christians have more often than not allowed politicians to define who is criminal and what activities constitute criminal behavior.
Maybe it is time to call the War on Drugs what it really was – a political ploy designed to motivate people to vote for and support a particular President. It is important to note that every presidential candidate since has used some form of “get tough on crime (read drugs)” rhetoric.
According to Matthews’s gospel one characteristics of Christians is how we treat the prisoner. I can’t help but wonder if he included this in his gospel because deciding who is bad and who is good is something we will get wrong more often than right.