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  • A number of high-profile figures have come out against the War on Drugs in recent years, including former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper, former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, and former Secretary of State George Shultz.

Drug prohibition, these leaders argue, leads to greater violence and crime, while failing to curb drug use and abuse.

Civil rights lawyer Michelle Alexander goes even further, arguing that law enforcement’s disproportionate targeting of people of color for drug crimes—and the associated explosion in the prison population—has created a new form of racial caste.

On Thursday, Oct. 2, the Santa Cruz County Community Coalition to Overcome Racism (SCCCCOR) will screen a lecture by Alexander—based on her best-selling book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness—at the Resource Center For Nonviolence.

SCCCCOR member Steve Pleich says this topic is essential to understanding how racism operates today, noting that African-Americans make up 12 percent of the US population, but 40 percent of prisoners.

“Are we going to keep pouring resources into failed strategies of filling prison beds?” Pleich asks. “Or are we going to fund strategies that support people and help them reintegrate?”

Alexander, a legal scholar who has worked for the ACLU and clerked at the Supreme Court, shows that although people of color are no more likely to use or sell drugs than whites, the war on drugs is waged almost exclusively in their communities. Even after being released from jail, she says, convicts are then subject to a lifetime of second-class status, where they may be denied the right to vote, excluded from juries, and legally discriminated against in employment, housing, and public benefits.

Michelle Alexander’s lecture will screen at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 2, at the Resource Center for Nonviolence, 612 Ocean St., Santa Cruz.

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