the growing rift in St. Petersburg, Florida's black community:
should we call it containment or demand reduction?

an editorial by Wesley M. Fager © March 14, 2004



Reference: Visions divide black leaders by Marcus Franklin, Saint Petersburg Times, 3-14-04

The St. Petersburg Times published the referenced article today on the growing rift between the NAACP in Saint Petersburg, Florida and the Uhuru, another group seeking social justice for blacks. The Uhuru is protesting the chummy relationship between the NAACP's Daryl Rouson and the Semblers and others in the town's white power elite. At about 5:30 PM today ABC Action News covered the story of about 15 Uhuru members protesting at Ambassador Sembler's Treasure Island home. Last month the Straight Awareness crowd conducted a protest of Sembler at an awards ceremony put on by the Florida Holocaust Museum. They were protesting because of the museum's ties to Mel Sembler. Also last month the Straight awareness crowd and the Uhuru conducted a combined protest at Sembler's American residence. Two weeks ago the Uhuru protested an event at Sembler's $40 million BayWalk shopping and entertainment center. They had signs reading, "Jesus had Judas ... black folks got Darryl Rouson."

The Uhuru feel that the local police have developed a plan to contain blacks and that the St. Petersburg Times backs the police in the dispute. According to Uhuru leader Omali Yeshitela, "police containment is aggressive policing of blacks to secure the peace and comfort of white tourists and residents." If you look at the record of Mel Sembler, the US Ambassador to Italy and a man behind Daryl Rouson, there just might be some historical basis for Mr. Yeshitela's claim. For 17 years Melvin Sembler directed a juvenile treatment program for white teenagers. That program was Straight, Inc. Straight was a very destructive place that harmed many kids. Straight targeted the children of affluent white parents because they were in a better position to pay Straight's high fees. By 1993 the claims of abuse had become so widespread that Mel and his wife Betty had to close Straight. Betty then joined the board of directors of Operation PAR, another teen drug treatment program that has been around for years. Historically, Operation PAR seemed to get the black kids Straight was not interested in. Amazingly, Betty Sembler was the keynote speaker at the June 5, 1999 St. Petersburg NAACP Awards Banquet!

Mel and Betty Sembler have been on a worldwide kick to rid the world of illegal drugs since they founded Straight in 1976. The Semblers don't treat kids for addictions any more but they remain powerful forces behind national and international drug policy through their Drug Free America Foundation. DFAF was formerly Straight, Inc. DFAF is a major player behind the worldwide "demand reduction" effort. DFAF backs the Drug Prevention Network of the Americas and the Global Drug Prevention Network. Mel Sembler is on Jeb Bush's Council of 100 which recommended and is helping the governor implement a plan for the privatization of jobs in the state of Florida. Jeb Bush is on the Advisory Board for DFAF. Mr. Sembler backed Tennessee Governor Lamar Alexander in his bid to be president. Governor Alexander instituted the privatization of prisons in Tennessee. While "demand reduction" might sound like a good thing, at heart it is a plan by drug war warriors to eliminate the demand for illicit drugs by locking up those who would use them. This is containment, if you will.

It seems that Mr. Sembler is just as hell bent on drug testing kids as a rite of passage to get their driver's license as his friend Dick Cheney is in going to war with Iraq so Halliburton can make $3 billion feeding our soldiers. Who do you think are the major investors in Corrections Corporation of America and Wackenhut? Who do you think is going to manage those federal and state jobs that politicians like Mr. Sembler and Senator Alexander would like to move to the private sector?

According to former White House Drug Czar General Barry McCaffrey, American drug policy has led to the creation of a vast "drug gulag" of federal and state prisons. Due to American drug policy the prison population has quadrupled since 1980 making the incarceration rate in America the highest among western democracies. That's what demand reduction is. Unfortunately, as usual, the black man has once again been caught in the cross fire. According to Human Rights Watch, "most drug offenders are white. Five times as many whites use drugs as blacks." But, nationwide, "black men are sent to state prison on drug charges at 13 times the rate of white men." "Lock 'em up, boys" as a recent Uhuru protest sign read. Let the tax payer pay private prisons to contain the blacks, and others. Somebody is making a lot of money here just as Straight grossed nearly $100 million containing affluent white kids.

Omali Yeshitela can coin a new phrase, police containment, if he wants to, but I think we've got enough phrases. Besides there's already words that describe what Mr. Yeshitela alleges the St. Petersburg Police Department is doing. They spell demand reduction.