Uproar: More Black youth using marijuana

caines | 5/23/2013, 5:30 a.m.

Liberty City leaders debate legalization and other hot topics Just over 200 people gathered at the Joseph Caleb Center last Saturday morning for a heated conversation led by professionals and experts on the impact of increased marijuana usage by adults and youth in the Black community. And with Florida among a number of states where the legalization of marijuana is currently being debated, opinions voiced during the summit ranged from nonchalance to total outrage. The community conversation was sponsored by the Urban League of Greater Miami [ULGM], Inc., in collaboration with the Jessie Trice Community Health Center, Concerned African Women, Gang Alternative, Inc., and Urban Partnership Drug Free Community Coalition. As the sponsors stated in a written overview, the purpose of the summit was not to take a position pro or against legalization, but more about starting factual/evidenced dialogue on the impact and [to] prepare [the] community should legalization be proposed. Morris Copeland, director, M-DC Juvenile Services Dept. and board member, ULGM, provides leadership to a department whose mission is to serve arrested juveniles, those at-risk of being arrested and their families. His facility, the former Juvenile Assessment Center, has served over 180,000 juveniles in M-DC since its opening in 1997. He says the goal is to find out what went wrong in a young persons life and to find ways to help. We are beginning to see real progress as it relates to the number of juveniles facing marijuana charges but they are still way too many kids that look like me, he said. Many of our youth in trouble come from four areas: Liberty City, Homestead, Florida City and Miami Gardens. As we talk to those youth that have been arrested, theyre telling us that the primary reason for their troubles are family issues. They are facing either mental or physical abuse, or both. We dont advocate locking youth up because they have a drug problem. We believe the solution is to put youth into substance abuse treatment centers instead not prison. Morris emphasized that the increased use of marijuana and other drugs can be seen in all kinds of communities. We have kids in trouble that come from families that are fragmented, wealthy, two-parent, single-parent, rich or poor. But in the urban core, we lack the kind of infrastructure that can really help kids and keep them getting caught up in the legal system.

It will take a village to invoke real change

Major Delrish Moss, City of Miami Police Department says he fears more people have accepted the use of marijuana as nothing special. I was recently driving in my car with my uniform and stopped at a light, he said. In the car next to me was a man smoking a joint. He acted as if I wasnt even there. Years ago, he would have attempted to hide it or something. But now, its like smoking weed is no big deal. Whether one is for legalization or not, right now its still against the law. An older Black man from the community, Hasan Shabazz, asked, Why cant the police keep drug dealers off the corners like they do in white neighborhoods? Moss replied, The police cant help unless you call us and then once we show up, we need the backing and support of the community. Often what happens is the community turns its back on us and says were harassing the same youth that were just standing on their corners. We cant do it alone. Hasan Covington, 68, was a former drug user who has been clean for 21 years. He says the focus is too often on the little man. We dont bring in guns and we dont distribute or produce the drugs, he said. Why isnt the focus on the people who are really profiting on our misery people who are not Black? Officer Steven Rogers from the City of Miami Police Department, has been assigned to Edison Senior High School for the past two years. He believes that young people would choose a different path if they had the proper guidance at home. Parents need to encourage not discourage, they need to lift up not put down, said the father of seven. We can talk legal or not legal all we want but for me this is about how we can help kids have brighter futures. What matters to me is not how many arrests I make but how many young people I can keep out of the justice system. Michael Nozile, executive director, Gang Alternative, Inc., says he and his staff have saved lives and can save more with the kind of dialogue that he witnessed last Saturday. Schools tend to send us their worst children and thats okay because we have the skills to handle and to help them, he said. In our focus groups, the majority of them admit that theyve used marijuana on multiple occasions. We have a problem with youth and marijuana and its going to take a collective effort to turn things around. Final words . . . for now T. Willard Fair, president and CEO, ULGM, said he decided to organize the summit after receiving some troubling news. I was in a staff meeting last year and was told that in two of our neighborhood junior high schools, our kids were using and selling marijuana, he said. They told me it was obvious that these kids were doing this. And every Saturday, I walk with a group of other Black men in Liberty Square where we talk to people and ask them about life and their concerns. Thats what today was all about talking to people and giving them a chance to share their hopes and their fears. By D. Kevin McNeirkmcneir@miamitimesonline.com