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Obama’s Inauguration Speech: A Human Rights Nightmare Ignored


Obama inauguration speech white housePresident Barack Obama’s inauguration speech unfortunately ignored the mass incarceration of our nation’s poor, America’s current human rights nightmare.  It is particularly disappointing as his speech occurred on the day that our nation celebrates the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the President chose to ignore the fact that our nation disproportionately ensnares African American males in the criminal justice system, wreaking havoc in African American communities from coast to coast.

American’s Drug War has created a permanent second-class citizen that is denied many of the basic rights and liberties that other citizens enjoy.  A drug felony can strip away the right to vote, eliminate the ability to find employment, prevent opportunities for housing, deny 2nd Amendment rights and deprive citizens food stamp benefits.  The escalating prison costs are short-changing our educational system and even bankrupting states, threatening the most vulnerable in our society that depend upon an adequate social safety net.

Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, does a great job describing how a “human rights nightmare is occurring on our watch.”

There are more African American adults under correctional control today — in prison or jail, on probation or parole — than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began. In major urban areas, like Chicago — Obama’s hometown — the majority of working-age African American men have criminal records are thus subject to legalized discrimination for the rest of their lives. Millions of people in the United States, primarily poor people of color, are denied the very rights supposedly won in the Civil Rights Movement: the right to vote, the right to serve on juries, and the right to be free from discrimination in employment, housing, access to education, and public benefits. They have been branded “criminals” and “felons” and now find themselves relegated to a permanent, second-class status for the rest of their lives. They live in a parallel social universe, the Other America.

We, as a nation, are in deep denial about how this came to pass. On the rare occasions when the existence of “them” — the others, the ghetto dwellers, those locked up and locked out — is publicly acknowledged, standard excuses are trotted out for their condition. We’re told black culture, bad schools, poverty, and broken homes are to blame. Almost no one admits: We declared war. We declared a war on them. We declared a war on the most vulnerable people in our society and then blamed them for the wreckage.

And yet that is precisely what we did. We declared a war known as the War on Drugs. The war has driven the quintupling of our prison population in a few short decades. The vast majority of the startling increase in incarceration in America is traceable to the arrest and imprisonment of poor people of color for non-violent, drug-related offenses. Families have been torn apart, young lives shattered, as parents grieve the loss of loved ones to the system, often hiding their grief under a cloak of shame. Politicians claim that the enemy in this war in is a thing — “drugs” — not a group of people, but the facts prove otherwise.

With strong majorities in two states legalizing marijuana, opinion poll after opinion poll showing that a majority of Americans support ending cannabis prohibition and acknowledge that the Drug War has not been worth the costs, it is evident that the movement to end the Drug War is gathering unprecedented momentum.  It is a shame that the President of the United States, who should know that an arrest during his time as a member of the Choom Gang would have ended many educational and employment opportunities he was afforded, has chosen to not lead on a human rights nightmare of our time.  Fortunately, many others are leading on the issue and the leader of the free world will just have to follow us on this one.

Republished with special permission from the National Cannabis Coalition


About Author

Anthony Johnson is the director of New Approach Oregon, the PAC responsible for Measure 91, that ended cannabis prohibition for all Oregon adults in 2014. In addition to helping organize the International Cannabis Business Conference & the Oregon Medical Marijuana Business Conference, he also serves as a Board Member of the National Cannabis Coalition, working to legalize cannabis across the country and Show-Me Cannabis Regulation, an organization specifically working to end cannabis prohibition in Missouri. As President of the University of Missouri Law School ACLU Chapter, Anthony co-authored the measures that legalized medical cannabis possession and decriminalized personal possession for all adults within the city limits of Columbia, Missouri, in 2004. Following law school, Anthony practiced criminal defense for two years before working full time in the political field to help improve and protect civil liberties. You can follow Anthony on Twitter and also friend him on Facebook by following the links below as he posts mostly about civil liberties and politics with dashes of sports, music, movies and whatnot.


  1. As disappointed as I am with how our President has ignored those of us who have had our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness ripped from us, and our families torn apart because of our adult choice to use and share marijuana with our adult friends and families, I feel the whole outcome could have been so much worse if Mitt Romney had won.

    In order to bring this issue to the forefront of the American people we may have to fight fire with fire, so I suggest those of us who believe adults who choose to use marijuana but can’t because of government control start a campaign of our own asking the government to criminalize two of the worse substances we are all able to buy legally (children included), plus we are legally allowed to give them to our children in as large a quantity as we want.

    These two legal substances are Salt and Sugar and they cause more health problems such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease, increasing our Nation’s Healthcare cost and death than ALL illegal drugs combined. We consume and feed them to our children in almost everything we eat or drank.

    The average American citizen would go ballistic if they thought our government was going to invade their right to use either of these substances and would move to fight to stop this type of government control giving us the chance to recruit them to our cause. The worse case scenario
    would be if our government decided banning these two substances was in our Country’s best interest and actually did it, which would most certainly result in a healthier Nation.

    Let’s make the ones talking the talk about the health issues surrounding marijuana now walk the walk. I’ve pulled 9 years in a NC prison for using and sharing marijuana and I would be more than happy to give up my right to use Salt and Sugar if it would stir the rest of our Country to stop prohibition of Marijuana in America. Chances are I would finally be able to get my weight, diabetes and high blood pressure and cholesterol under control. Copy, paste and repost if you agree!!!

  2. Was it just me or did he make several veiled references to prostitution and child enslavement

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