This week, the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) will launch a month-long online tribute to Latino drug policy reformers. As the nation reflects upon the history, cultures and contributions of Latinos in the U.S., DPA recognizes the significant and far-reaching roles that Latino activists, communities, advocates and movement builders have played and continue to play in ending the war on drugs.
The drug war has had a devastating impact on Latino and Latin American communities - fueling mass incarceration, widespread detention and deportation, border militarization, racial profiling, and rampant crime, corruption and violence. Latinos make up 17 percent of the U.S. population, and use and sell drugs at similar rates as other people in the U.S. Yet Latinos comprise 20 percent of people in state prisons for drug offenses, 37 percent of people in federal prisons for drug offenses, and almost half (47 percent) of all cases in federal courts for drug offenses. Roughly 40,000 people (overwhelmingly Latinos) are deported every year for nonviolent drug offenses.
Against this backdrop, many Latino activists and communities are fighting back - and have been for years. From criminal justice reform advocates and groups most affected by failed drug policies to on-the-ground harm reduction activists, DPA acknowledges the profound and transformative contributions and sacrifices of this distinguished list of drug policy reformers who struggle to end the drug war in their communities - and all communities.
"While politicians tend to use Latinos to further their own agendas, either spewing racism or falling all over themselves to pander to Latino voters, DPA's Latino staff members and allies are taking this month instead to commemorate Latino resistance to the disastrous war on drugs," said Melissa Franqui, communications coordinator at the Drug Policy Alliance. "As long as the drug war continues to cause the incarceration, deportation, murder and disappearance of thousands of our family and community members each year, there's no room for business as usual."
Each week will feature its own category and honoree.
Executive Director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, Ana Yáñez-Correa was born in Mexico and immigrated to the United States at the age of 10. She earned a B.S. in Criminal Justice and a Master's in Public Administration; she also holds a Ph.D. in Policy and Planning in Education Administration, focusing on the school-to-prison pipeline. Throughout every stage of her education and career, Ana has taken an active leadership role in communities in Texas. Ana was instrumental in educating and organizing key stakeholders about the importance of adopting policies on prison diversion, probation and parole reform, sentencing reform, fair defense, reentry, and overall fairness and efficiency in criminal and juvenile justice. During the 2007 state legislative session, Ana was formally honored by the Texas House of Representatives and Texas Senate for "working toward real solutions to the problems facing the Texas criminal justice system."
Ayotzinapa 43, Los Estudiantes
On the one-year anniversary of the forced disappearance of 43 students of La Escuela Normal Rural Raúl Isidro Burgos (Rural Teachers' College) from Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, Mexico, the Drug Policy Alliance expresses its solidarity with the whole community of student-teachers and their families. Their case - and the ensuing cover-up of state complicity in the attacks - has revealed the depths of corruption, impunity and violence inherent in the drug war in Mexico today, and has become a symbol of the more than 25,000 people who have been disappeared in Mexico since 2007. The students' families and colleagues have traveled across Mexico, the U.S. and much of the world to pressure the Mexican state to find their disappeared sons, brothers and classmates and for the truth behind the attacks. Their community continues to be attacked, criminalized, brutalized and still, they fight. In doing so, they have galvanized people throughout Mexico and around the world. DPA honors their courage and resilience in the face of unthinkable pain and suffering caused by the drug war. We join them in demanding justice and their sons' immediate return.
Rafael Torruella, El Defensor
Rafael Torruella is the executive director of Intercambios Puerto Rico (formerly Proyecto Casa de Ayuda Intermedia al Menesteroso), a community-based organization located in Fajardo, Puerto Rico that provides services and health education across the eastern section of the island. Its mission is to fight for a just society by empowering marginalized populations to achieve social change and policy reform through advocacy. Intercambios' services include harm reduction counseling and referrals to health and drug treatment services, and it operates one of the largest syringe exchange programs in Puerto Rico. Understanding that the war on drugs has failed, Intercambios activates dialogue, critical analysis and engagement on issues related to drug use, abuse and dependence.
Immigrant Community in California, La Colectividad
The lack of a comprehensive immigration reform continues to leave the U.S. in a growing state of crisis with no immediate solution on the horizon. That is the California immigrant rights community has taken extraordinary measures to ensure that the state provides an inclusive and welcoming environment in the absence of federal action or assistance. The immigrant rights community in California is leading the way with landmark legislation seeking to provide a range of opportunities, from drivers' licenses to healthcare to the creation of historic legislation that will enact much needed reforms to the criminal justice system to ensure that immigrant families are not separated by deportation for petty drug offenses. The bill, AB 1351, would provide pretrial diversion for minor drug offenses, protecting defendants from long-term negative consequences, including loss of federal housing and educational benefits, and eliminating unintended federal consequences that flow from minor drug offenses including deportation. In short, this bill will keep California families together.
The full-length features of our honorees will be posted on our blog every Thursday during Hispanic Heritage Month and shared on DPA's new Latino focused Facebook page - SomosDPA. DPA's Spanish-language resources are available here.
*DPA acknowledges that the term "Hispanic" may be problematic for some and also that "Latino" is not uniformly accepted either. We recognize this on-going conversation on identity in the U.S. and proceed with the term "Latino" due to its roots in social justice and political inclusion and "Hispanic" due to its long-standing use in describing the month-long celebration of Latino culture, heritage and history.