Side event: An analysis of drug policy from incarceration and lethality against the black population in the world

Dudu Ribeiro, Initiative Negra for a New Drug Policy. We cannot address race if we cannot talk about race. Yesterday, there was a debate on the resolution L13 around race and it was blocked in the CoW. In Sao Paulo, we had a good harm reduction programme called De Bracos Abertos, it provided support to poor people, drug users, vulnerable groups, and the government has now decided to close down the programme. I want to show you the video of people who are suffering in Brazil, and we will show what the Supreme Court has said about this issue. This is the video:

Our fight is to change this policy in Brazil. We came to the UN to discuss the issue with partners and present this video, build new connections. We can see that drug prohibition is not because the state wants to take care of the people and provide healthcare. It is a tool of control and they use the war on drugs to do so. Last year we came too and organised a side event on racism and drug policy. We came again this year to present the way people are treated on the ground. In the USA, there is the movement ‘Black lives matter’. And I came to tell you exactly this – black lives matter, all lives matter. If you don’t discuss race, you have blood in your hands for watching people die because of the war on drugs. I love to talk about drugs, it is my drug to talk about drugs. I am studying in Brazil to collect and analyse data and see what we can do.

I want to discuss what is currently happening at the Supreme Court. Since the approval of the new law on drugs 10 years ago, there has been an increase of 100% of the prison population – 500% increase for women. Brazil has been witnessing a genocide for years, decades. When I started talking about drugs, people asked me about the relationship of drugs in the brain and feelings about drugs. I know about this as I am a user. But it is more important to me to talk about the people, rather than talking about drugs. Crack cocaine is not dangerous if I put it here on the table. Have you ever seen a cop shooting a plant? No, they shoot people. This is the most important message we want to bring to the table here. Take this message with you – and when you talk about drug policy, think that this work can save lives. Each of you can work together on this. I would like to help your country because we have to change. I don’t have a speech here, I prefer to talk about my life. In Salvador, where I am from in Brazil, the population is mostly black, and this is also where there is a very high homicide rates. How come black people are not on TV? We are only depicted as traffickers, as robbers, as criminals. Do we have the chance to be a celebrity? When people were kidnapped from Africa, they took kings, queens, and put them in slavery. In brazil, when you have no paper putting you in a situation of slavery, you still have a lot of tools to perpetrate this situation – and one of these tools is the war on drugs.

And sorry for only having an all male panel – we had another side event this morning with colleagues, but they unfortunately had to leave and could not stay for this specific panel.

Gabriel Elias, Brazilian Drug Policy Platform. Dudu and Henrique asked me to talk about my experience in the Drug Policy Platform. One of my duties is to talk to governments. I want to discuss the Supreme Court case on decriminalisation. We want to decriminalise the possession of all drugs. Some voted for the decriminalisation of all drugs, others only voted for the decriminalisation of cannabis. This was a surprising result because the judge that voted only for cannabis is one of the most progressive judges in Brazil. He also raised his voice in favour of the legalisation of cannabis and cocaine. But in this case, he only voted for marijuana decriminalisation. The reason for this was that he thought all other drugs were dangerous. We are in a very conservative society so drug policy could only be changed step by step. He also knows people who use marijuana, but does not know people who use other drugs. He even said that those who use crack are ‘bodies without souls’, during a constitutional debate. Our line of argument is that people have to do what they want to do with their body. According to that judge, people who use drugs have no rights.

I also want to touch upon racial issues in drug policy. We are excluding a big part of society if we exclude all those we don’t know here. And we are in a very elitist society in Brazil, which is organised along racial lines. If we want to change drug policies and racial issues, we have to make these racial issues visible. This is the very first step. And this is why it is important to us that we discuss racial issues at the UN. The position of France yesterday disappointed us all because when they said their constitution does not permit racial issues to be linked to drug policy, they make the issue invisible. The constitution of the Black Initiative was fundamental for us to bring these issues to the table for the Brazilian Drug Policy Platform. The UN must do it as well.

Questions and answers:

Vera da Ros, REDUC. I don’t know if people know about De Bracos Abertos – could you explain?

Hannah Hetzer, Drug Policy Alliance. I think it’s amazing that Brazil tried to include language on racial discrimination – but was this pure rhetoric or will this be matched at national level as well?

Comment. Racial discrimination is a problem around the world, but looks like this is a specific issue in Brazil.

Ernesto Cortes, ACEID. This is an issue across Latin America, will you work at the Latin American level as well?

Dudu. Bracos Abertos is a harm reduction programme in Brazil which is under attack. It was focusing on housing, job provision, health, harm reduction and respect. It is a very important programme for us in Brazil. We need your support to ensure that the programme does not close down.

If the proposal of the Brazilian government is just a rhetorical thing – it is not so simple. We began our work last year and we have done a lot of work to talk to partners in Brazil and to the government. We did a side event with our government, where they said for the first time that they should discuss racial issues when talking about drug policy. This was a first important step. We convinced the Brazilian government that this was a key issue to discuss. Then we went to UNGASS and the government talked about this again in the Plenary. If people talk about this, it is positive because we can convince more people.

In the video, we showed a lot of homeless people and a lot of people who use drugs from Brazil. We created the Latin American Network of People Who Use Drugs so that people can talk about drugs, and raise their voice and concerns, and that it’s ok for them to talk about it. The principle is ‘nothing about us without us’. You cannot develop drug policy without talking to drug users and drug dealers. We are thinking about partnering with people at SSRC, Drug Policy Alliance, and IDPC. And we will be organising a conference with partners and many different actors to talk about drug policy. I want to work with criminal justice, NGOs, talk with people who are not talking about drug policy yet, and convince them that they have a contribution to make. The conference will be held in Salvador at the end of June, early July. You can look for us on the internet and we will use the website of our partners to share information and help us share information. I don’t know if you have ever heard of Deborah Small, she is a black woman, an activist. She was talking to me about an important thing – we have to take care of ourselves, of our communities. And the drug war convinced our people that some lives don’t matter – ‘the drug dealers can die’. She said, these guys are involved in drug trafficking, but they come from a community of equals, and within this community, he can’t be allowed to be killed. Each person, each child, matters. We have the tradition of taking care of our children in our community. We are happy to be part of this network to continue discussing this issue and raise it in many countries in the region.

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