We’re for justice. The U.S. criminal justice system has become a tool to police and brutalize black bodies, make black families poorer en masse, and cut off black people’s ability to improve economic standing. The unequal justice system allows white people to commit crimes with largely lighter or no punishments, awards whites the ability to amass wealth from illegal acts, and law-abiding white people don’t fear police as they are three times less likely to be killed by officers than black people.
We stand together with others in calling for the transformation of the U.S.’s criminal justice system. As Michelle Alexander wrote in 2019 about criminal justice reform, “celebrated reforms typically amount to little more than tinkering with the mass incarceration machine.” We stand with organizations who want to take the machine apart. What does transforming a racist system of unequal justice look like? Some key requirements include:
- Reform “No-Knock” search warrants
- Decriminalize possession of all drugs
- Defund police of cannabis taxes
- Continue to protest
President Barack Obama has said policing changes must be made at the state and local levels and demands must be specific. Please read our list of changes in Oregon and Portland and donate to support this work.
Reform “No-Knock” search warrants across the U.S.
Breonna Taylor was killed after a “No-Knock” search warrant was served at her home. A “No-Knock” warrant is “a search warrant authorizing police officers to enter certain premises without first knocking and announcing their presence or purpose prior to entering.” (Cornell University Law). Police in Louisville, KY procured a “No-Knock” search warrant for Taylor’s home in order to legally enter without knocking or announcing. And enter is a polite term because they don’t have a key. Taylor’s boyfriend shot an officer in the leg only after her door was busted open at 12:40 a.m. by a group of people who likely didn’t announce themselves. Why do second-amendment abiding Americans have a gun if not for this very scenario? The deck is stacked for gunfire and police have the advantage with more fire power and the ability to kill with impunity.
Kathryn Johnston, 92-years-old, was in her Atlanta home at 7am when officers dressed in plainclothes broke her burglar bars and forced open her door with a No-Knock warrant for a narcotics case. Mrs. Johnston shot with her pistol once overhead. The police shot 39 times, killing her. Finding no narcotics, police planted drugs in her home.
What justifies No-Knock deadly force? Cornell Law publishes that No-Knocks are issued where an announcement before entry “would lead to the destruction of the objects for which the police are searching or would compromise the safety of the police or another individual.” It’s documented that No-Knocks are deadly and cause great injury to civilians and police officers. As for “destruction of property,” No-Knock’s were born during the 70s and 80s war on drugs and are most often used in small-time narcotics cases. Lives are lost so that drugs aren’t flushed down the toilet, or said another way, so evidence isn’t destroyed. 20,000 No-Knock raids are performed each year mostly on African Americans. No-Knocks are a deadly weapon of the unequal justice system. Reform means severely limiting or ending No-Knocks in every city and state in the U.S.
Decriminalize the possession of all drugs
Cannabis legalization advocates believed legalizing cannabis would be enough to make an impact in the mass incarceration of black and brown people since drug offenses make up the largest share of arrests and cannabis arrests were half of those. Post cannabis legalization in 33 states, data tells us drug reform must be more radical. A recent ACLU report shows in the years since legalizing cannabis, arrests of drugs other than cannabis have grown, including in Oregon where NuLeaf Project is headquartered. Vera Institute of Justice published data from 2019 showing non-violent drug crimes remain the largest category of arrests across the U.S. The ACLU report also found that in the last two years, arrests for cannabis crimes have gone up overall in this country. Arrests in non-legal states are on the rise. The war on drugs keeps failing. The U.S must de-schedule cannabis AND states must decriminalize possession of all drugs.
Decriminalizing drug possession removes the mass incarceration machine’s most powerful weapon. The majority of people trapped in the never-ending web of arrest, incarceration, bail/fines/fees, parole, denied housing, denied loans, denied jobs, and so on – the caste system Michelle Alexander speaks of in The New Jim Crow – were arrested for possession of substances deemed illegal. Decriminalizing possession of all drugs eliminates this formidable weapon against the African American community.
To community members concerned about decriminalization and potential for detrimental consequences due to drug abuse, please take note of two facts. The U.S. has some of the strictest penal responses to illegal drug use of any wealthy nation, while at the same time, the highest drug overdose death rate. A model in Portugal shows that to truly protect life and reduce harm, we need to decriminalize drug possession.
Defund police of cannabis taxes
Anthony Hill was committing the petty crime of being naked when he was shot in 2015 by a police officer in Georgia. A 26-year-old war veteran with 7 medals from the U.S. Air Force, Anthony was naked and wandering his apartment complex, which was the complaint of the 911-caller. Anthony was running in the officer’s direction when he was shot twice. Anthony suffered from bi-polar disorder and PTSD. He’d run out of medication, as reported by his girlfriend. Defunding police means funding the hiring and dispatching of social workers, mental health experts, and paramedics to calls for emergency response when a person is more likely suffering from a mental health crisis or the situation would be better served by a differently trained and un-armed professional. To quote, Philip V. McHarris and Thenjiwe McHarris, defunding police means we “redirect [police funding] to emergency response programs that don’t kill Black people.”
Defunding police may mean fewer police officers on the street. It may sound radical but consider George Floyd’s case. The officers who pulled George Floyd from his car were responding to a 9-1-1 complaint of $20 in counterfeit bills tendered by a “drunk” man. In a community with fewer police to respond to calls, choices must be made about where to deploy resources. Six cops responded to a claim of a drunk person with a counterfeit $20. Video proves Floyd never got violent.
We have too many officers on the street if we can send six officers to police a $20 crime. Arrests for violent crimes make up only 5% of arrests. Tax dollars in every U.S. state are funding extreme force for petty crime. Derek Chauvin, who put his knee to George Floyd’s neck, was in the third car to arrive. In a defunded police scenario, a third car is more likely not available for a petty complaint. (Note: If “zero-tolerance” consequences are in place for police, Chauvin, who’d previously been involved in a fatal shooting, wouldn’t have been an officer on May 25.)
Eric Garner’s mother called George Floyd’s death, “déjà vu.” In 2014, Garner died from excessive force to the neck and was heard saying, “I can’t breathe.” The déjà vu is two-fold. Garner was initially approached by police on suspicion of selling single cigarettes without tax stamps. In the video, eight officers can be seen protecting a few dollars of uncollected taxes while Eric Garner lost his life. We have too many police, not too few.
What we want in Portland and Oregon
President Barack Obama has said policing changes must be made at the state and local levels and demands must be specific. Locally and specifically, the City of Portland must reduce the amount of funding Police and Transportation receive from City cannabis taxes and distribute more funding to educational and economic investments into African American, Native American, and Latinx communities – those most targeted by cannabis criminalization in Portland (according to police data). A 2019 City-sponsored audit found that nearly 80% of Portland City Cannabis taxes are going to Police and the Transportation Bureau’s Vision Zero program. Funding to Vision Zero increases enforcement of traffic violations. This matters to a movement for black lives.
Sandra Bland was pulled over in 2015 in Texas for failure to signal a lane change. She and the officer argued verbally. Bland is arrested and dies in police custody. Data shows that unarmed black people – especially black women – are more likely to be killed by police than unarmed people of other racial or ethnic backgrounds. Because of Sandra Bland’s race and gender, what started as a traffic ticket was far more likely to end in death.
Police ticket, search, and arrest black and Latinx drivers more often than white drivers. Funding of transportation safety funds more stops of black and Latinx drivers for traffic infringements in a system where black people are more likely to die because of a traffic stop. We’re in support of Vision Zero’s aims to reduce pedestrian deaths. We need transparency and accountability for Vision Zero spending and for that spending to no longer go to policing traffic violations.
Defunding Police must be done with oversight from citizens, neighborhoods, and community groups to ensure defunding does not reduce service in marginalized communities, while leaving white and/or wealthy neighborhoods protected.
At the state level, Police get the largest share of cannabis tax revenue at 45% (25% to the State Police and 10% each to cities and counties for law enforcement). Schools get 40%, followed by 25% to mental health, alcoholism and drug prevention. We call on the state of Oregon to redistribute cannabis tax funding from police to repairing black and brown communities that have borne the brunt of a racist, unequal justice system. We can reverse the economic decline in black and brown communities caused by mass incarceration.
Continue to peacefully protest. Don’t let the narrative shift from black bodies being brutalized right before our eyes with no consequences. That is the real tragedy. Don’t let destroyed property deter peaceful protestors from assembling if you are able. In the words of one business leader in Portland whose stores were damaged, “Stores can be repaired.” We’re talking about a change worth showing up for.
Michelle Alexander said, “We must not be seduced into believing that improving the system is the same as dismantling or transforming it.” We believe unequal criminal justice should look more like human justice through mass, sweeping reform.
Donate to NuLeaf Project’s work to defund Police in Portland and Oregon of cannabis taxes and distribute tax revenue more equally to programs that repair the economic harms of mass incarceration for African American families.