African-American members of Congress have rejected an invitation to meet with President Trump, citing concern over his administration’s moves to ramp up the war on drugs.
“Your administration has taken actions that cause legitimate alarm among members of this caucus and the millions of Americans we represent,” Congressman Cedric Richmond (D-LA), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, wrote in a letter to the president on Wednesday.
In the letter, Richmond called out U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s efforts to “accelerate the failed war on drugs that will continue to wreck the Black community and exacerbate our nation’s shameful scourge of mass incarceration.”
Studies show that while people of color use marijuana and other drugs are roughly the same rates as whites do, they are much more likely to be arrested, charged and convicted for drug offenses.
The American Civil Liberties Union, for example found that African Americans are arrested for cannabis possession at 4.2 times the rate whites are.
“Given the lack of response to any of the many concerns we have raised with you and your Administration, we decline your invitation for all 49 members of the Congressional Black Caucus to meet with you,” Richmond wrote to the president. “I fail to see how a social gathering would benefit the policies we advocate for.”
Separately on Wednesday, Richmond decried the racially disproportionate impact of the war on drugs during a Congressional hearing.
“The United States Congress decided as a body that they wanted to have a war on drugs, which has caused real pain and has caused the violent inner cities to emerge, based on this war on drugs,” Richmond said.
“You take the same crack epidemic, you change who is the primary perpetrators and victims, and let’s call it opioids and all of a sudden we have a warm and fuzzy, loving approach to how we’re gonna tackle it,” he continued. “We’re gonna treat it as a mental health crisis, we’re gonna treat it as substance abuse addition, we’re gonna wrap our arms around it and we’re gonna treat it in a different fashion.”
Cedric was referring to how the traditional war on drugs has been waged largely against communities of color, mostly with harsh policing tactics, compared to how the nation’s emerging opioid epidemic — which affects huge numbers of white people — has been framed as a public health crisis warranting a treatment-focused response.
“We need real criminal justice reform to make it make sense, just like we’re doing with opioids,” Richmond said.