CHICAGO | Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle declared the war on drugs a failure Friday, echoing racial comments she made at an April event sponsored by the Executive's Club of Chicago where she said the Cook County prison population was "entirely black and brown."
Speaking at the Protestants for the Common Good Rally to End the War on Drugs held at the James Thompson Center in Downtown Chicago, Preckwinkle continued a similar theme, pointing out, "for every white incarcerated for drugs, six blacks are incarcerated. In Cook County, it's even worse."
"We all know the drug war has failed," she said. "We need to invest in treatment, education and job training," rather than incarceration.
Preckwinkle was one of several speakers to reference a recent published report that claims more than 80 percent of inmates in prison in Cook County test positive for drugs.
Only 16 percent receive treatment, Preckwinkle said.
"My priority is to reduce the jail population and address this problem directly," she said.
The Rev. Michael Pfleger, the controversial long-time pastor at St. Sabina Church on the South Side, echoed Preckwinkle's sentiments.
"We've seen a population sent to prison and not in public housing, school and job training," he said. "... There's not a war on drugs but a war on the poor and people of color."
Former Chicago mayoral candidate Patricia Watkins, who publicly admitted to being a drug addict in her youth, described growing up in an environment in which drugs were so prevalent that most people in her neighborhood thought they were legal.
"They have all these laws, and they're becoming stiffer and stiffer, these laws," Watkins said. "When it plays out in reality, it's always a war on the poor. It's always a war on blacks."
Michael Howard, head of Fuller Park Community Development, pointed out the negative effects that aggressive enforcement of the war on drugs have had on those incarcerated.
"I have been training men and women in construction skills for 23 years and the biggest problem they all have is getting employed. Why? Because of the color of their skin and the records that they carry coming out of the penal institution."