Breaking the chains of thought: An interview with Deborah Small
On Wednesday night the University of Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition hosted a discussion with Deborah Small, Executive Director of Break the Chains, a non-profit organization based out of New York. Small spoke at length about both the causes and effects of the war on drugs, incorporating her years of experience working with those whom the nation’s policies have left disenfranchised. One often-cited example by Small is the “Stop and Frisk” campaign in New York (in which the police stopped 500,000 people on the street because they looked suspicious), where roughly 60 percent of those stopped were black or Latino, and out of all the people stopped less than 21,000 were actually involved with any illegal activity. In this one-on-one interview with the Daily Collegian, Small addressed her views on the drug war, and her expectations going into the future for Break the Chains.
Daily Collegian: How did you first get involved with this anti-drug war campaign?
Deborah Small: I first got involved with this campaign by visiting jails and prisons while working as a lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union in New York. I was shocked to see how many people were in there for minor drug convictions. When I worked as a lawyer on Wall Street, there were tons of drugs being shipped into the offices for the lawyers. Everyone knew about it, the police, everyone. But as long as the work was getting done, no one cared. There is no war on drugs if you are making top dollar. You just get a slap on the wrist.
DC: How long have you been working on this?
Small: In 1998 I started working on drug policy reform, so almost 11 years now.
DC: How has the drug war affected you personally?
Small: I have seen family members and friends who have sold and been addicted to drugs. I had an uncle who was a doctor. He became addicted to cocaine, but see, when you are wealthy that three-strikes rule doesn’t apply to you. You can go in and out of rehab as many times as you want. My uncle lost his license due to his drug abuse, but eventually he got sober and was able to get his life back on track, and regain his license. What most people don’t understand is that a lot of people turn to selling or consuming drugs to deal with economic adversity. When you are wealthy and on drugs you get a slap on the wrist and a trip to rehab. When you are poor and on drugs all you get is a PhD: A Prison House Diploma.
DC: Who do you want to impact through your outreach?
Small: I want to impact the black and brown youth of color and youth in general. It takes talent to be on the street. It takes talent to hustle. We need to reaffirm that and get our educated youth out of jail cells. Punishment is not a solution.
DC: What can we expect next from Breaking Chains?
Small: I plan on creating a web-based television show talking about drugs. I also want to develop an educational video for youth to know how to successfully negotiate encounters with the police so when they are stopped on the streets they know what to do and what not to do.
DC: What impact do you think today’s youth will have on the drug war?
Small: The youth, your generation; I am counting on [them] to end the drug war. What would ‘winning’ the war on drugs look like anyhow?
Jessica Bonheur can be reached at jbonheu@.student.umass.edu.