Shaping Sanctuary: Sermon by Rev. Charles King

Rev. Charles King Guest Pieces, Harm Reduction, NY, Protestant Perspectives

In August 2017, Shaping Sanctuary: Role of Communities of Faith in Addressing the Opioid Overdose Crisis, was an interfaith service of love and lament dedicated to lives lost to opioid overdose. Rev. Charles King delivered the sermon for the event.

I want to preface my remarks with three comments. First, I see I am the last in a line-up of clergy speaking. I am assuming it is my job to bring the message home. Second, I was introduced as a Baptist minister. I don’t know if you realize it, but that means that I am an evangelical Christian. I hope one of the things you come to appreciate is that not all white evangelicals sound like Jerry Falwell, Jr. and Franklin Graham. Third, I brought my Bible with me, and I plan to use it. I was asked to speak here today as a member of the clergy, and no Baptist preacher would think to step into the pulpit without a Bible in hand.

Growing up in an evangelical household, memorizing and reciting scripture came as second nature, even before I learned to read or write. As a matter of fact, I was only three years old when I first stood up in front of the congregation a recited perfectly John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him, shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

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Shaping Sanctuary: Welcoming Remarks by Rev. Erica Poellot

Rev. Erica Poellot Guest Pieces, Harm Reduction, NY, Protestant Perspectives

In August 2017, Shaping Sanctuary: Role of Communities of Faith in Addressing the Opioid Overdose Crisis, was an interfaith service of love and lament dedicated to lives lost to opioid overdose. Rev. Erica Poellot provided the welcoming address.

I am thrilled to see so many of you here today.

I am Incredibly grateful that you took the time to prioritize being here with us, to vision how we collectively shape sanctuary, to ensure that all people hear their names welcomed into loving community and connection.

This gathering is long overdue. It is true we are in the midst of an overdose crisis. In this city alone, we are losing an average of four beloved made in the image of all that is good and love, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, children, lovers and friends each day. Last year in NYC, we lost over 1,374 wonderfully and fearfully made human beings.

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Timing is Right for Decriminalization: Part 2

Rev. Alexander E. Sharp Decriminalization

One need not be socially conservative to feel surprise, and even deep skepticism, over the recent call of the Drug Policy Alliance to decriminalize the possession of all drugs, not just marijuana.  I expect that many of my progressive friends and colleagues will lift their eyebrows and flinch just a little when I mention the topic to them.

Why? Because, frankly, they haven’t thought very much about this—it’s only just entering public debate in the United States—and they therefore understand very little about the key issues and concerns.  Here is what I want them to know.

As a start, we must all be clear that decriminalization does not mean an end to sanctions against trafficking, which would remain illegal.  But decriminalization would end the prosecution of those who possess and use small amounts of any drug.  It would keep them out of the criminal justice system.

A summary of the DPA Report, “It’s Time for the U.S. to Decriminalize Drug Use and Possession,” lists some of the things that would happen:

“Decriminalization will allow us to more effectively help drug users who want help”:  No longer branded as criminals, individuals will be more likely to seek treatment; providers will be able to offer harm reduction as well as abstinence-only forms of treatment.

“Decriminalization will reduce the number of people sucked into the criminal justice system”:   A person cannot be arrested for something that is not a crime.

 “Decriminalization will help returning citizens successfully reintegrate into society”:  Low-level drug use in itself is not an adequate reason for individuals to be returned to jail, forfeit custody of their children, lose their jobs, fail to qualify for business loans, or be ineligible for student aid, subsidized housing, or financial assistance.   It is only our pervasive national culture of punishment that has created these barriers to becoming productive members of society.  This culture must change.

Two other likely impacts are especially important. First, the evidence is convincing that decriminalization of all drugs will not increase drug use.  In June, Pew Charitable Trusts informed the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis that its analysis had shown no relationship between criminal sanctions and drug use or harms related to drug use.  Specifically, Pew’s research found “no statistically significant relationship between states’ drug offender imprisonment rates and … illicit drug use, drug overdose deaths, or drug arrests. “Moreover, marijuana use has not increased in the 29 states that have passed marijuana; it has not increased in the 21 states and Washington DC where marijuana has been decriminalized or legalized; and it has not increased in other nations where similar policies have been adopted.

Finally, the DPA report predicts that “Decriminalization will decrease negative interactions between individuals and the police.” The War on Drugs has destroyed relations between law enforcement and communities.   As James Gierach, a long-time advocate of ending the War on Drugs, has written, “Violent crime has taken a back seat to drug enforcement for too long, and has changed the way police relate to marginalized communities, who no longer see police as protectors, but as aggressors.”

When drivers can be arrested for possessing a small amount of marijuana if they are pulled over for a broken taillight, when neighbors are afraid to call police over a minor altercation or domestic violence because they have seen the consequences when minor drug possession is discovered, and when 911 calls to report an apparent drug overdose can expose bystanders to criminal charges, police will not be trusted to serve and protect. In communities where police no longer are directed to “throw the book” at minor drug offenders, they have been better able to offer immediate help and direct those who need it to treatment.

These are some of the things we need to know about drug decriminalization.  Let’s start making the case together.

Collateral Damage in the War on Drugs

Tom Houseman Collateral Consequences, Guest Pieces

“Another [Chicago] eviction” via Molly Marshall.

The word “criminalization” feels right and just to us. After all, it has the word “criminal” in it. Even if we feel that the punishments being inflicted are unduly harsh, at least we know who is being punished: criminals, law breakers, those who have shown disregard for the notions of right and wrong.

But what if that weren’t the whole story? What if our culture of criminalization had far-reaching, unintended consequences we rarely even see or acknowledge, including forcing innocent people to suffer the loss of their homes, their families, their dignity, even their lives? This is what our culture of mass criminalization has produced.  Its impact extends far beyond those who actually use or sell drugs.

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Endorse the DPA Decriminalization Report!

Rev. Saeed Richardson Decriminalization

Share the report!

Endorse the Drug Policy Alliance’s report It’s Time for the U.S. to Decriminalize Drug Use!

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What is drug decriminalization?

Drug decriminalization refers to the elimination of all criminal penalties for drug use, drug possession and the possession of equipment for consuming drugs. Under this legal framework, drug production, trafficking, distribution, driving under the influence, or other conduct that goes beyond simple possession or use – particularly conduct that might harm others – remain criminal offenses.

How does decriminalization differ from legalization?

Legalization includes the regulation and control of legal drug production and sales to adults without a prescription (as is the case with alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana in some parts of the country). We are not advocating for legal production and sales here. We are proposing a system in which drug use and possession are addressed wholly outside of the criminal justice system.

What does decriminalization look like in practice? Read More