By Sherill Dingle
Former Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said yesterday that the drug war is more about money than it is about heroin, cocaine or other illegal narcotics.
He said states need better expunging laws so that young people who are convicted of drug crimes are not penalized their entire lives for mistakes they made as teenagers, and he said more doctors need to be trained to handle drug addiction.
“Being a soldier in the drug war, I put away many drug dealers and confiscated many homes, cars, and personal items, but I see that hasn’t worked for the community,” said Schmoke, a former state and federal prosecutor who spoke at Towson University Thursday as part of the school’s diversity series.
As part of the speech, the former mayor asked the audience to imagine they were in charge in a city. He then asked them to consider how they would fight the drug problem.
Schmoke said he used to believe he could prosecute away the drug problem but soon realized that the war on drugs affected many people of color.
“The way we conduct this war on drugs has a disproportionate impact of people of color,” Schmoke said. “So many people that have been incarcerated have lost the right to vote, to get loans, to get housing and disrupted many families.”
Finding a way to take the profit out of the distribution of drugs at the street level would be a step in the right direction, Schmoke said. He said he realized this after he witnessed a death over a drug deal.
When he became mayor in 1987, Schmoke said his main goal was to find a better way to handle the drug war. However, he said politians did not want change. Instead, Schmoke said, they thought they could prosecute their way out of the problem.
“One of the things that became clear to me was there were very close analogies with conducting the way we handled the war on drugs with how we tried to make an alcohol-free America in the 1920s,” Schmoke said.
Schmoke said he visited different city communities to find a different approach. He said he argued that the city should have made the war on drugs a public health war rather than a criminal war.
“Philosophically, people would be able to open up to new approaches,” Schmoke said. “Practically, the political class was not budging.”
There is a correlation between recent police brutality cases and the war on drugs, which he said has not been won because cities and states are using the same failed tactics to solve the problem and expecting a different result.