Activists gathered outside the 10th Ave Manhattan headquarters of the Drug Enforcement Agency Friday with a stark message. “Shut down the DEA!” chanted the protestors, holding signs and a banner proclaiming: “Just Say No to the DEA.”
The DEA, with a budget of $2 billion, has been responsible for some of the worst excesses of the War on Drugs, and the protesters included people who have been directly affected. VOCAL-NY, which organized the protest along with the Drug Policy Alliance, is ramping up its activities ahead of the UN special session on drugs, due to be held at the United Nations in New York in April.
Fred Wright, one of the organizers, was in high spirits despite the prospect of being arrested. “The DEA represents all that is wrong with our approach to drug use in our country,” he told The Influence outside the DEA HQ. “We are gonna finish here soon and we are gonna walk out into 5th Ave. and block traffic. I dressed up today because if I get arrested, I wanna look good all weekend when I am in jail.”
When the protestors walked out to block the intersection, police in attendance became agitated and threatened to arrest participants. A tense standoff lasted a few minutes before the protestors dispersed as planned.
But the protestors also made an apparent gesture of reconciliation towards the police, chanting: “Cops need raises!” The idea was that funds currently used to fight the drug war could be spent in so many other ways.
Bobby Tolbert, a board member with VOCAL, explained his purpose for the day: “We are here because we are tired of the policies and practices of the Drug Enforcement Administration; they have racist policies… meant to target a certain demographic of people while other people get rich from our misery.”