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September 27, 2016– By Sharda Sekaran

Keith Lamont Scott is dead at the age of 43. A father of seven children with a wife of 20 years and a cognitive impairment from a motorcycle accident, Mr. Scott is gone from this earth and lost from his loved ones, invariably leaving them with unspeakable grief. Meanwhile, the city of Charlotte, North Carolina is inflamed with massive public discontent in the form of protests.

Why did Mr. Scott lose his life? Charlotte police claim he had a gun. His family says he was holding a book. Video footage released by both Scott’s wife and the police is jarring and disturbing but gives no conclusive evidence about the gun. Charlotte police stepped out with more information over the weekend to explain their use of extreme violence: they claim that Scott was in possession of marijuana.

At a Saturday press conference, Charlotte Police Chief Kerr Putney said that police initially approached Scott because he was in possession of marijuana, but that the situation escalated when police allegedly saw Scott was also in possession of a gun.

So Keith Lamont Scott is dead because of a joint and a mystery gun or whatever else may have been in his hand.

I have pointed out again and again, really to the point of exhaustion and despair (so much so that I could barely bring myself to write about this another time), that even though the national debate is evolving about marijuana use and drug policy, police departments seem to be stuck a hundred years ago, when “cocaine-crazed Negros” and Mexican “reefer madness” were the order of the day.  

The fact that police continue to reference drugs as a contributing factor in their decisions to execute people (as was done just last week in the case of Terence Crutcher in Tulsa, Oklahoma), means they are either really misinformed about drug use and public safety (scary) or blatantly using drugs to cover their asses when they behave in racist ways, abuse their power and kill someone (even scarier).

It is disturbing and extreme and should be making all of us sick to our stomachs. Marijuana is a substance that has been used by half of Americans, is cheerfully enjoyed throughout pop culture, and in several states is a burgeoning legal commodity. But apparently, if you’re black in North Carolina, marijuana possession is also just cause for public execution.

This must end. The drug war is a racist tool for committing human rights abuses and has given a greenlight to state violence and police corruption. We must legalize marijuana, end the drug war, and make every endeavor to repair the harms caused by decades of this monstrous policy.

Sharda Sekaran the managing director of communications for the Drug Policy Alliance.

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