WASHINGTON (NNPA) Some Black church leaders are calling for the head of the California NAACP to step down over her group's support for the legalization of marijuana in her state as well as over alleged ties to the marijuana lobby.
Rev. Anthony Evans, president of National Black Church Initiative, and Bishop Ron Allen, president and chief executive officer of the International Faith Based Coalition took issue with an editorial California NAACP president Alice Huffman wrote in a popular online newspaper The Huffington Post outlining reasons why her organization supports California Proposition 19 - the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act 2010 - a measure that would make California the first state to legalize marijuana.
"The use of marijuana for medicinal purposes is legal and we support that because we advocate health but those are prescribed by a physician and are prescribed for certain conditions," Evans said. "But when the NAACP just says legalize marijuana we believe that it sends out the wrong message given that over the last 30 years we have lost over 200,000 people to drug-related crimes in the African-American community. How can the church be in the business of promoting illegal drugs? It just doesn't fit into the proper role of the faith community or an organization that came out of the Black church."
The reverend is calling on all of their member churches to publicly denounce the NAACP for supporting this legislation and he is also asking them to withdraw all monetary contributions and support for using Black churches for their meetings until Jealous repudiates Huffman and the California NAACP.
Evans said that his 34,000 Black church-backed group no longer believes that the nation's oldest civil rights organization represents the best interests of the Black family.
"How can they say they are for Black people when they are legalizing drugs that has killed tens of thousands of African-Americans?" Evans asked. "It makes no sense."
State conferences can independently take position on issues on which there is no national policy, so she and the California State Conference were within their right to do this.
"The focus for the California State conference is not decriminalization of Marijuana," said Benjamin Jealous, president and chief executive officer of the NAACP. "The emphasis is getting a handle on out of control and racially disparate enforcement strategies. And it's a problem across the country. For example, in New York City, Black children, are 20 percent less likely to have drugs in their pockets when the cops stop them, but they're 500 percent more likely to be stopped."
He said, "This is a very serious issue" that deserves more digging into beyond the controversy or salaciousness.
"The National [NAACP] just passed a resolution to study the issue more deeply because there is a high level of concern by Black leaders who are engaged with the crisis of the mass overcriminalization of our young people and about misguided enforcement strategies. And so we'll need to study this nationally to see where we should go," Jealous said.
Huffman's stance is centered on the decriminalization of a drug that unfairly penalizes African-Americans at a higher rate than other races.
In her article, published in The Huffington Post on July 6th, Huffman wrote that Rev. Martin Luther King was "roundly criticized by friend and foe alike for speaking out on an issue considered outside the purview of civil rights' leaders" for taking a radical stance against the Vietnam war in 1967.
"The California NAACP does not believe maintaining the illusion we're winning the 'war on drugs' is worth sacrificing another generation of our young men and women," she wrote. "Enough is enough. We want change we can believe in; that's why we're supporting Prop. 19. Instead of wasting money on marijuana law enforcement, Prop. 19 will generate tax revenues we can use to improve the education and employment outcomes of our youth. Our youth want and deserve a future. Let's invest in people, not prisons. It is time to end the failed war on drugs by decriminalizing and regulating marijuana to save our communities."
Huffman cited Drug Policy Alliance report that supports the legalization of marijuana because African- Americans disparately represent 22 percent of California's marijuana arrests, a percentage that is more than three times the state's Black population.
"We believe whatever potential harms may be associated with using marijuana are more than outweighed by the immediate harms that derive from being caught up in the criminal justice system," Huffman reasoned in her article.
While the California branch of the NAACP publicly supports Proposition 19 the NAACP national chapter has not issued any public statements denouncing their state affiliate's position. In Evans' eyes, their silence means that they support Huffman's position.
"We have not heard that the National is denouncing them in any way," Evans said. "What we have concluded is that the national wouldn't allow their affiliates to do whatever they wanted because if they did they would have chaos."
He also implied that Huffman has receive money from pro-marijuana groups which has influenced her decisions.
Huffman denies receiving any money from pro-marijuana groups, according to the Los Angeles Times. Despite Evans and Allen's unsubstantiated claims, Huffman does have a well-reported history of allegations involving entanglings with her organization's civil rights agenda with the business agenda of her successful political consulting firm A.C. Public Affairs, Inc.
For years, mainstream California newspapers have reported on suspected corruption of Huffman as the head of the California NAACP.
For example, the Los Angeles Times reported in 2006 that Huffman received $100,000 in consultation payments from tobacco giant Philip Morris. The California NAACP, at the same time, opposed a California measure to raise taxes on cigarette companies. The national NAACP supported the measure.
Similar allegations were reported in other instances involving the California NAACP endorsing measures that Huffman's special interest clients such as AT&T and the pharmaceutical industry have pushed.
"The campaign payments to Huffman's political company, A.C. Public Affairs, come only a year after the firm was paid $330,000 in consulting fees by the pharmaceutical industry. In 2005, the state NAACP sided with the drug companies' position on two ballot measures," the Los Angeles Times wrote in 2006.
In 2008, The Sacramento Bee reported that Huffman and the NAACP together received more than $100,000 dollars from a coalition of Indian tribes while at the same time endorsing ballot measures that those same tribes backed.
The marijuana issue in California is just the latest split between Black church leaders like Evans and the nation's foremost Black civil rights leaders and organizations. The reverend is planning on challenging the NAACP on a number of hot button issues such as same sex marriage, which the NAACP supports but so do some other prominent leaders such as Rev. Al Sharpton, Rev. Jesse Jackson and organiziations like the National Urban League.
He said, "We're taking a critical look at all of the civil rights organizations in making sure that they are standing to protect the Black family and the Black community, and most of these organizations are not."