Thursday, July 29, 2021

Note to Legislators: We Can’t Criminalize Our Way Out of Social Issues – WATCH Virtual Town Hall

*Neighborhood Forward convened a distinguished panel of respected faith-based and professional African-Americans on Thursday, July 30, to discuss the unintended consequences of a proposed menthol ban making its way through the California legislature.

Many within the African-American community have voiced concern over Senate Bill 793 and its likelihood to increase racial profiling by law enforcement, based on statistics that suggest menthol cigarettes are overwhelmingly preferred by African Americans who chose to smoke.

Some California legislators, who have subscribed to paternalistic attitudes and views towards communities of color have supported Senate Bill 793 under the guise of “protecting the health of vulnerable African-Americans”.  If this were truly an issue of American’s “health” they would seek a ban on all forms of cigarettes, not those preferred in the African-American community, as well as seek the advice of faith, civil rights, black law enforcement, and the social justice community.

“The road to hell is paid in good intentions,” said Jody Armour, the highly respected Roy P. Crocker Professor of Law at the University of Southern California.  “We can’t criminalize our way out of social problems.”

Armour pondered “what lessons have we learned from the last 30 years” as we have evolved from Jim Crow to mass incarceration which has become the vanguard of civil rights issues.

Armour further discussed the court’s interpretation of “pre-text stops” being constitutional, which ultimately gives law enforcement the ability to stop a motorist for a simple infraction as a non-working taillight.  This proposed ban would also fit the criteria of “pre-text” stops for simply possessing a cigarette.

neighborhood forwardRetired NYPD Lt. Corey Pegues echoed that sentiment stating that over 50% of the cigarettes on the streets of New York are coming from an “underground economy” as a means to survival.

Citing Eric Garner as an example of an unintended consequence of a “pre-text” encounter gone bad.

Garner was in possession of single cigarettes, commonly identified as “loosies” which initiated his interaction with law enforcement officers who subsequently killed him with an illegal chokehold.

Pegues concluded many African-American’s have been jailed over possession of marijuana which is now becoming legalized, in many states, showing the perception of its use was wrong.

“How does our youth have a right to smoke marijuana when Big Mama can’t have her menthol?” asked Pegues.

Civil rights leaders state that although they aren’t advocates of smoking they are advocates of preserving our right to choose.

“Don’t deny one group the right to smoke while allowing another group their right to choose,” said Pastor William Smart President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.  “Hookah is being carved out of SB 793 which against gives preferential treatment to one race over another which is why SCLC is in this fight.”

The panel discussion was led by former U.S. Congressman member Kendrick Meeks and included Pastor KW Tullos, President of the Black Ministers Conference, Joseph Paul, City of Refuge, Roz Renfro, Vice-President of L.A. Black Pride and Dr. Amos Brown, who has marched alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who are all in agreement that we know what’s best for us and don’t need legislation to tell us we can’t smoke our preferred method of tobacco in order to invite rogue officers into our personal space with the sole intention of filling prisons with African-Americans.

Neighborhood FORWARD is a movement built by concerned citizens, faith leaders, civil rights activists, elected officials, business partners, and non-profit organizations throughout the country.






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