Wednesday's press conference was followed by a demonstration Thursday evening, organized by the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. An estimated 185 protesters came out on a chilly evening to stand outside the Omni Shoreham hotel, site of the Western Hemisphere Drug Czars' Conference, and voice opposition to America's drug war. The conference was the latest in a series of efforts by U.S. Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey to build international consensus behind the United States government's prohibitionist vision. Last week, McCaffrey visited Britain, where protesters and a critical press greeted him, and where, apparently, he and his entourage ruffled the feathers of government officials whose idea of an effective drug policy is more holistic and less militaristic than McCaffrey's.
Thursday's protest attracted an impressively broad cross-section of dissent. Some came to protest growing U.S. military involvement in Colombia. Others were concerned with the U.S. incarceration rate, which stands at nearly 500 per 100,000, nearly five times higher than the closest Western democratic competitors, or with the incarceration rate for African-American males, which is more than 7,000 per 100,000. Still others came to voice their disapproval of federal policy that mandates the arrest and conviction of cancer, AIDS and other patients who choose to use cannabis medicinally. College students, in town for the first National Conference of Student Leaders in Drug Policy and Justice, came to protest a new U.S. policy of stripping financial aid eligibility for even the most minor drug conviction. Others were there to express opposition to prohibition as a whole.
The protest began at 5:30 with a series of speakers, including Reverend Roger Butts, Chaplain, The American University, Washington, D.C., Cristina Espinel-Roberts, Co-Chair, Colombia Human Rights Committee, Lisa Haugaard, Legislative Coordinator, Latin American Working Group, Marilyn Hoosen, President, Howard University Student Association, Washington, D.C., Kris Lotlikar, DRCNet and Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Chad Thevenot, Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, Sanho Tree, Institute for Policy Studies Drug Policy Project, and Kevin Zeese, President of Common Sense for Drug Policy. The protest ended with a silent candlelight vigil in memoriam to the victims of the drug war throughout the hemisphere.
Many of the speakers were critical of what they believe to be dishonest rhetoric emanating from the drug war's chief spokesman, U.S. Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey; some of the signs carried by protesters read "McCzar: Millions of Lies Served." Thevenot, who praised the protesters as the leading edge of an unstoppable movement for truth and justice, told The Week Online that he was particularly incensed over McCaffrey's repeated claim that U.S. drug policy is not a "war," while simultaneously fighting for more military aid to Colombia. "We'll stop calling it a war" said Thevenot, "when they stop pointing guns at people."