Friday: "Voices of the Victims" Tour Concludes in Jackson, Miss., With Call to End Destructive and Racist War on Drugs
At Historic Meeting, Mexican Poet Javier Sicilia and "New Jim Crow" Author Michelle Alexander to Discuss Human Costs of Drug War – and Urgent Need for Alternatives – on Both Sides of Border
JACKSON – On Friday, Mexican poet and peace leader Javier Sicilia will arrive in Jackson, Mississippi, for an historic meeting with Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, to discuss how to end the failed drug war – the primary driver of both the extreme violence plaguing Mexico and the systemic racism pervading the U.S. criminal justice system.
Sicilia’s visit concludes the bi-national “Voices of the Victims” Tour, during which he and other drug war survivors have traveled to a dozen cities in the U.S. and Canada to call for alternatives to the war on drugs, which has left over 80,000 people murdered, 25,000 disappeared and 250,000 displaced in Mexico in just seven years.
“Our purpose is to honor our victims, to make their names and faces visible, and to raise awareness of the unbearable pain and loss caused by the drug war – a war that has torn apart so many families and devoured so many young lives in Mexico, as well as the United States,” Sicilia said. “As neighbors, we must continue building a bi-national people’s movement in order to force our governments to fulfill their shared responsibility for protecting families and communities on both sides of the border.”
His meeting with Alexander will cap off the first day of the 7th Annual Unity Conference of the Mississippi Immigrants’ Rights Alliance (MIRA) and Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), “Crimmigration: The Tragic Consequences of U.S. Drug Policies on Families and Youth,” taking place Friday and Saturday, November 15-16. MIRA is a leading organization promoting the collaboration of black and Latino/migrant organizers, and will honor Sicilia and Alexander at the event for their efforts to bring the war on drugs to an end.
“United with our friends and allies throughout the United States, we call for an end to this absurd war, and in its place the adoption of humane and just alternatives, including the decriminalization and regulation of marijuana and other drugs,” added Sicilia. “Such reforms are not only essential for weakening organized crime, reducing state corruption, and removing the number-one reason why young blacks and Latinos are swept up and forever scarred by the justice system; ultimately, such reforms also represent the first steps on our shared path towards peace, justice and dignity."
WHAT: 7th Annual MIRA/SCLC Unity Conference: “Crimmigration: The Tragic Consequences of U.S. Drug Policies on Families and Youth.”
WHERE: Fondren Hall, 4330 N. State Street, Jackson
WHEN: Friday, November 15:
- 9:00 am: Conference begins.
- 12:00 pm: Luncheon keynote by Javier Sicilia, Movement for Peace with Justice & Dignity;
- 7:00 pm: Evening Reception and keynote by Michelle Alexander, law professor, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.
- Following keynote: On-stage discussion between Alexander and Sicilia.
Javier Sicilia comes with a profoundly moving story and message. His 24-year-old son, Juan Francisco, was killed along with six friends by cartel henchmen in 2011. Instead of grieving privately, Sicilia made his pain and rage public in an open letter with the refrain "Estamos hasta la madre!" (colloquial Mexican Spanish for "We've had it!"), in which he called all sides of the conflict to a moral reckoning. He is a founder of the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity and has led several marches and caravans across Mexico and the U.S.
The Voices of the Victims Tour follows last summer’s unprecedented Caravan for Peace, led by Sicilia and other drug war victims with the support of more than 250 U.S. and Mexican organizations. The month-long, cross-country Caravan traveled 6,000 miles through 27 cities in 10 states, urging the U.S. and Mexican governments to address the root causes of the violence: failed prohibitionist drug policies, lax controls on gun smuggling and militarized immigration policies that have led to growing numbers of migrant victims.
The Caravan also sought to expose the drug war’s consequences for communities (especially communities of color) in the United States, where today 500,000 people are behind bars for a nonviolent drug offense. Blacks and Latinos are vastly overrepresented among those arrested and incarcerated for drug law violations, even though rates of drug use and sales are similar across racial and ethnic lines. A drug conviction often creates a lifelong ban on voting, getting a job, receiving public benefits, obtaining financial aid, and many other vital aspects of social, economic and political life – leading to a permanent underclass of mostly young men of color. These realities have prompted Michelle Alexander and many other scholars and activists to regard the drug war as the main engine behind the creation of a “New Jim Crow.”
“Nothing has contributed more to the systematic mass incarceration of people of color in the United States than the War on Drugs,” writes Alexander in her powerful book, which has helped spark a national conversation about fighting racism in the U.S. criminal justice system, particularly with respect to drug law enforcement and sentencing. Since her book’s publication, she has addressed crowds across the country, explaining what the New Jim Crow is – and what we must do to dismantle it. Like Sicilia, Alexander believes that a broad-based social justice movement is needed to end the drug war, and she advocates for many of the same alternatives as Sicilia as well: decriminalizing drug use and possession, legalizing marijuana, eliminating harsh mandatory minimum sentences, and repealing laws and policies that exclude people with a record of arrest or conviction from key rights and opportunities – among other major reforms.
Coordinated by Global Exchange, this year’s Tour has continued the Caravan’s work of bringing together heartrending testimonies of Mexican parents, whose children have been murdered or disappeared because of drug war violence, with those of U.S. parents who have also lost a child to violence, incarceration or overdose caused by the drug war. These courageous advocates have shared their stories – and urgent calls for reform – with communities across North America.
Their Tour began on October 23 in Denver at the 2013 International Drug Policy Reform Conference hosted by the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), where Sicilia and two dozen other representatives of the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity strategized about how to end the drug war with activists from around the world. The Tour continued on to Seattle, Vancouver, the San Francisco Bay Area, Tucson, Toronto, Ottawa, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC, before coming to Jackson, where the Tour will conclude by reaffirming the importance of solidarity between Black, Latino, and other communities affected by the war on drugs.
During the Tour, Sicilia and other Mexican peace leaders also reunited with members of the diverse coalition of drug policy reformers, civil rights defenders and other advocates who worked together to support the Caravan – which included DPA, MIRA, Global Exchange, NAACP, National Alliance of Latin American & Caribbean Communities, Presente.org, Mexicanos en Exilio, Migrant Families’ Popular Assembly, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, and hundreds more. This broad, bi-national coalition has pledged to continue working together to support drug war victims – and to confront mass incarceration, criminalization, militarization, detentions, deportations, prohibition-related violence, violations of civil and human rights, racial and ethnic profiling and discrimination in justice systems.
For more information: http://www.globalexchange.org/mexico/voices;
About the Movement for Peace with Justice & Dignity:
Contact: Ted Lewis: 415-225-3787 or Tony Newman: 646-335-5384