Illinois Congressman Bobby Rush Puts Decriminalization "On The Table" 7/21/00

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On the eve of a conference on black-on-black violence set for Chicago this weekend, Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL) has called decriminalization of drug offenses a "possibility worth exploring," the Chicago Sun-Times reported this week.

Calling a spate of killings on Chicago's South Side "a turf battle over drugs," Rush said the problem could not be dealt with by concentrating on guns and gun legislation "in isolation from the drug wars that are occurring in our streets."

Rush, a four-term veteran who represents Chicago's South Side, has been active in some aspects of criminal justice policy, such as juvenile justice and police brutality, but has not previously broached the topic of decriminalization.

The former South Side alderman entered electoral politics via the civil rights movement and was a co-founder of the Illinois Black Panther Party in 1968. He is now chairman of the Congressional Urban Caucus.

"There should be some open discussions pro and con about this issue," Rush told the Sun-Times. "I believe that somehow we've got to look at, at least have a discussion about how do we take the profit out of drug use. And we've got to be bold about it."

Rush's press secretary, Robin Wheeler, told DRCNet that although Rush had not spoken out on drug policy before, his comments were not a departure.

"It may not have been an issue he touted before," she said, "but he's been prompted to put it on the agenda because of the violence issue. All too often, drugs are at the center of the violence, so you've got to look at drug policy."

Wheeler, however, was careful to emphasize that the congressman called only for putting decriminalization on the table for discussion and he was not taking a stance in favor of decriminalization as a policy position.

Rep. Rush will host the Emergency Black Leadership Summit in Chicago on July 22nd. According to a press release from the congressman's office, the aim of the conference is to "end the devastating killing in the black community."

Wheeler told DRCNet that decriminalization will be discussed at the conference.

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