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Group Wants Conference To Look At Racism In US Drug Enforcement - 2001-08-23

A United States drug policy group is asking United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan to put the issue of drug law enforcement on the agenda of an international conference against racism.

The group called the "Campaign to End Race Discrimination in the War on Drugs" says that, in the United States and many other nations, racial and ethnic minorities are disproportionately prosecuted for illegal drug offenses. In a letter signed by more than 200 U.S. elected officials, religious leaders and activists, the group asks Mr. Annan to urge that the issue be raised at the upcoming World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa that opening August 31.

Drug policy activist Deborah Small says that, although whites and minorities in the United States use illegal drugs at roughly the same rates, the vast majority of those who go to prison for drug offenses are African-American or Latino.

"We think it is important to look at all the various ways of discrimination, from racial profiling to disproportionate sentencing and arrest to the development of a prison-industrial complex to the high level of disenfranchisement of African-American people throughout the United States," he said. "All of these things are driven by the U.S. "war on drugs." We think it is impossible to talk about race, particularly in terms of the U.S. and South America, without talking about the role of the drug war."

The group says the so-called "war on drugs" is rooted in racial bias and is racist in its disproportionate impact.

A spokesman for Secretary-General Annan had no immediate comment on the letter from the group, except to say that the delegates to the Racism Conference, not the Secretary-General, will determine the meeting's agenda.