Some of the judges who were part of the War on Drugs are beginning to confess it has been an abject failure. Nancy Gertner, a former federal judge, is the most recent person to come forward and admit the War on Drugs devastated the Black community.
In an article in The Atlantic, Gertner compared the War on Drugs to the bombing of European cities in World War II.
“This is a war that I saw destroy lives,” she said. “It eliminated a generation of African-American men, covered our racism in ostensibly neutral guidelines and mandatory minimums … and created an intergenerational problem — although I wasn’t on the bench long enough to see this, we know that the sons and daughters of the people we sentenced are in trouble, and are in trouble with the criminal justice system.”
Gertner, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton, eventually left her position to work for Harvard University in the hope she could draw attention to the ongoing crisis of mass incarceration of Black men. Gertner stated about 80 percent of the 500 convictions she handed down were unfair. She acknowledges the War on Drugs had left long-standing scars in the Black community. Apart from sending a generation of men to jail, it also created a permanent underclass of mainly Black men, who have a hard time finding gainful employment and also can’t vote because of felony convictions.
According to Gertner, much like post-war Europe, the Black community needs a large-scale redevelopment effort to recover from the War on Drugs, which effectively became a war on Black people.
“And that dispiriting conclusion inspired the radical idea that she presented: a call for the U.S. to mimic its decision after World War II to look to the future and rebuild rather than trying to punish or seek retribution. As she sees it, the War on Drugs ought to end in that same spirit,” said The Atlantic. “‘Although we were not remotely the victors of that war, we need a big idea in order to deal with those who were its victims,’ she said, calling for something like a Marshall Plan.”
Gertner is not the only former judge to highlight the damage the War on Drugs has done to the Black community. Eric Holder, a former judge and U.S. attorney, tried to implement steps to scale back federal drug laws while he was attorney general.
“During his tenure, Holder has been chipping away at ‘war on drugs’-era policies—such as reducing mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes and not challenging states for enacting marijuana legislation,” said a National Journal article. “The intended effect is to combat the disproportionately high incarceration of Blacks in the nation’s prisons.”
Another former prosecutor recently came forward and admitted to the problem with harsh sentences that send Black men to jail for long periods of time. Former Louisiana prosecutor A.M. (Marty) Stroud III has apologized for his role in sending Glenn Ford to death row on a murder conviction. Ford, who is suffering from cancer, was recently released from Louisiana’s notorious Angola prison, after it was revealed Stroud had suppressed information that could have exonerated him.
“I was arrogant, judgmental, narcissistic and very full of myself,” Stroud wrote in an column in The Shreveport Times. “I apologize to Glenn Ford for all the misery I have caused him and his family.”
In the column, Stroud also admitted at the time of the trial he only cared about winning.
Stroud has since become a passionate opponent of the death penalty, which he calls “barbaric.”
“It is an abomination that continues to scar the fibers of this society and it will continue to do so until this barbaric penalty is outlawed,” Stroud said. “Until then, we will live in a land that condones state-assisted revenge and that is not justice in any form or fashion.”
Writing in The New York Review of Books, former judge Josh S. Rakoff said more prosecutors need to talk about the damage the War on Drugs has done to Black communities.
“For too long, too many judges have been too quiet about an evil of which we are a part: the mass incarceration of people in the United States today. It is time that more of us spoke out,” Rakoff said.