Breonna Taylor was a 36-year-old Black emergency medical worker who was killed in March while police in Louisville, Kentucky carried out a no-knock warrant as part of a narcotics investigation.
“Breonna Taylor died as a result of the war on drugs,” said Josh Alb as he shouted to demonstrators on the steps of Newark City Hall on Friday. “The police went into her house for a no-knock warrant for drugs that were never there. This is one of the biggest pieces missing from the conversation surrounding her.”
The war on drugs was a narcotics prohibition campaign that was created under former President Richard Nixon in the 1970s. Alb said the policy is still being used today to harm Black people like Taylor.
Alb, a William Paterson University student who lives in Newark and works in the cannabis industry, led about 30 demonstrators down Broad Street on Wednesday while shouting her name. They called for the legalization of marijuana to begin to end the war on drugs.
Legalization could happen soon – at least in New Jersey. Voters will decide if it should become legal on Nov. 3.
State lawmakers gave up on trying to legalize marijuana legislatively. And not every legislator supports legalization, like state Sen. Ron Rice. The former Newark police officer who leads the state Legislative Black Caucus says marijuana is still unsafe and is wary of who will actually profit from the legal recreational industry.
Demonstrators marched to Peter Francisco Park near Newark Penn Station and were joined by Ken Wolski, the executive director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana – New Jersey. Newarkers, he noted, were more likely to face harsher penalties when found in possession of marijuana than residents in suburbs.
“Because of school zone laws,” said Wolski, who set up a table in the park to register people to vote. “You can hardly stand anywhere in the City of Newark and not be in a school zone. You get an enhanced penalty for any kind of marijuana violation and that is just unfair – unfair.
“It has such a devastating effect on the minorities and the poor in our inner cities.”
An American Civil Liberties Union report released this year that examined 2018 arrest data showed that Black New Jerseyans were arrested for marijuana at a rate 3.45 times higher than white residents despite similar usage.
But Leo Bridgewater, Minorities 4 Medical Marijuana’s veteran outreach director, said there are still issues with the industry. Medical dispensaries in New Jersey and elsewhere in the nation can’t access federal coronavirus stimulus dollars.
“They just wrote a $3 trillion check a couple of months ago and none of us get any of that money,” said Bridgewater, who served in the Iraq War and now lives in Trenton. “Nobody in this industry get that money, that’s not for us.”
Alb, meanwhile, said the war on drugs has also been used to discredit other Black people like Geroge Floyd, a 46-year-old father who was killed in May by police in Minneapolis. His death sparked nationwide protests, including several in Newark.
Two autopsies were conducted on Floyd, one by the medical examiner in the county where he was killed and another that was commissioned by his family. Both ruled his death a homicide.
The family’s autopsy said he died from asphyxiation. But the county medical examiner reportedly said Floyd experienced “cardiopulmonary arrest” while being restrained by the officer and noted Floyd’s other conditions, including heart disease, fentanyl intoxication and recent methamphetamine use.
Alb said listing what drugs may have been Floyd’s system at the time was a way that could ultimately clear the cops involved in his killing.
“You can’t tell me that someone’s co-morbidity is meth or fentanyl when a police officer is kneeling on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds,” Alb said. “That ain’t meth at that point.”
Rebecca Panico may be reached at email@example.com.