Instead of Marching, Let’s End the War on Drugs

Changing the policy that has broken up families and put thousands of men in prison would have a far more positive impact on the black community than any number of symbolic marches.

U.S. Coast Guard with five tons of seized cocaine. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
U.S. Coast Guard with five tons of seized cocaine. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

So it happened. The Reclaim the Dream March “recaptured the flavor” of the March on Washington. But it isn’t an accident that this brings to mind popping an old piece of gum from the underside of a desk into your mouth to see how much “flavor” might still be left in it.

The 1963 March on Washington, of course, was a signature and significant event. The question, however, is what the value is of trying to do it again. There comes a point when these marches are gestures rather than actions. And that point has come.

We can admit now, for instance, that the Million Man March, for all of the beauty many saw in it and for all of the power of Spike Lee’s movie about it, created not a single lasting thing. Fifteen years later, the black community remains in crisis for all of the exact same reasons.

The March on Washington, at a certain point in time and with an unprecedented massiveness, had a function. “Let’s do it again,” for all of the drama in it, does not. As early as 1972 at the National Black Political Convention in Gary, Ind., Thomas Fortune, the Brooklyn, N.Y., assemblyman, was exclaiming to a reporter, “We met; therefore we won!” That must have felt true at the time, but what was won at that colorful but legacy-free event?

In 1991 in the wake of the Rodney King verdict, I recall many black people saying it was time to stop talking about things and actually do something. Yet here we are, 20 years later, still talking — say, about baggy pants, as if elders sputtering about them isn’t part of the appeal of letting them hang in the first place.

Every time I see one of these marches or forums covered as significant, what occurs to me is that there is one thing we should all be focused on instead. It is, of all things, the War on Drugs. The most meaningfully pro-black policy today would be a white-hot commitment to ending its idiocy.