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Straight racist the drug war is, simple and plain

This is an article I wrote for the Nubian Message, the African American newspaper on my campus. It will run this Wednesday, October 3rd. All thoughts and comments are welcome! Drug War Hysteria: A Roadblock to Equality of Opportunity No one can deny racism still exists in the United States. Nothing demonstrates this more than our nation’s drug prohibition laws, otherwise known as the War on Drugs. This so-called war, waged under the pretense of protecting our children, has done nothing to stop the flow of drugs into the U.S., and it has done nothing to decrease the rate of drug use. However, prohibition has been successful at perpetuating a system of institutionalized racism which sells out entire communities by using the most racist laws since Jim Crow. The federal government’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health tells us the population of drug users reflects the population demographics, with blacks constituting approximately 13 percent of American drug users (roughly the same segment of the overall U.S. population they comprise). This is shocking when considering that blacks constitute approximately 53 percent of state prison inmates serving time for drug offenses, with white inmates making up a little over 25 percent. The national incarceration rate for white men is 709 per 100,000 while the incarceration rate for black men is 4,682 per 100,000 according to the Justice Department. This rate is more than five times higher than the rate in which black men were incarcerated under South Africa’s apartheid laws. This problem of disproportionate sentencing can be traced back to the 1973 Rockefeller Drug Laws in New York. These excessive laws made the penalty for selling two ounces of a controlled substance or possession of four ounces of a controlled equal to those of second-degree murder, which carries a minimum of 15 years in prison. Under these mandatory minimum laws, it is the prosecutor not the judge who ultimately has the power to reduce sentences. Once convicted, a black man has a 55 percent chance of receiving prison time, while a white man has only a 33 percent chance of being sent to prison. Disparities exist within the mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines, especially when dealing with cocaine convictions. Distribution of a mere five grams of crack cocaine, the form of the drug used predominately by black Americans, is all it takes to trigger a five year mandatory minimum sentence according to the federal sentencing guidelines. To trigger the same mandatory sentence for distributing powder cocaine, the drug used mostly by white Americans, requires 500 grams. That is a 100 to 1 sentencing disparity. One major problem of prohibition is it creates an underground market that fuels crime. Black Americans experience high rates of poverty due to years of racist policies and attitudes and so the artificially inflated profits created by prohibition’s illicit market would naturally be alluring to those who feel they have no other way to rise out of the system of poverty and inopportunity. Since the government has declined to take a regulatory role in the drug market, the distributors take it upon themselves to regulate the industry, and that almost always involves guns blazing on the streets of our nation’s most fragile neighborhoods. When was the last time you saw two distributors of beer, a government-regulated drug, shooting each other over the right to stock a particular store? Never. The War on Drugs is often waged in the name of America’s youth and any attempt to discuss the failures of the drug war is met with an official cry that it would send the wrong message to our children. However, according to the FBI, a black child born today has a 1 in 3 chance of serving time in prison. If the War on Drugs is supposed to protect children, something is obviously wrong. Drug prohibition affects children directly. Mandatory minimums and disproportionately applied prison sentences result in a far greater number of black children being raised in single-parent households. The absence of a second income in the family often results in women having to take on second jobs to support their families. This causes a lack of parental supervision coupled with economic hardships and is a large part of the reason why 1 in 3 black men between the ages of 20 and 29 are under some sort of correctional supervision or control. Race relations are a complex and complicated issue, and no one magic solution exists, but ending the government’s War on Drugs would have several positive effects on race relations in the U.S. First, it would significantly cut back on incidents of racially motivated police stops, otherwise known as “driving while black.” Second, it would remove the stigma of drug users as being social deviants and would allow us as a society to focus on treating people with severe addiction problems, rather than allowing them to be cycled through the revolving-door judicial system until they are locked away permanently. This would keep more black men in the workforce and give families a chance to stay together and work out a loved one’s drug problems as a family. Finally, ending the drug war would remove the criminal market from our neighborhoods and place drugs in a system of controlled distribution. Government control would mean no more murders over drug deals gone bad, no more theft to afford the artificially inflated prices of addiction to an illegal substance, and a far more difficult environment for children to acquire drugs (since illegal drug dealers never check for ID). Legalizing drugs is not impossible. Alcohol kills more people than all illegal drugs combined, yet Americans realized in 1933 that prohibiting alcohol was causing more harm in our society than good. We need to stand up as a society against the status quo and have a real, rational debate about the effects that drug policies are having in our country, in our communities, and on our friends and family members. As the youth of America we must take a stand and say we do not want this dreadful, racist war fought in our names any longer.
Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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And, because of the, above, well documented behavior, racism will continue in this country, unabated. But, it is politically sanctioned racism. How do we legislate morality? We cannot. But we can demand equal rights. And, get the inequity in the laws fixed, AS THE FIRST STEP! There will still be lots of work to be done, to get the public to understand they are not winning the war on drugs! We, the public, are the losers, in so many ways!

Matt_Potter's picture

We the losers

I completely agree with you. I study political science at NC State and when issues of race, class, or opportunity come up there will always be several students who truly believe that there is equality of opportunity in the US, and that everyone has the potential to "pull themselves up by their bootstraps," as the saying goes. There is still much, much work to be done.
Matt Potter
North Carolina State University
Chair, Student Senate Campus Community Committee
President, Students for Sensible Drug Policy

Race is a factor

It all began with racism, but it doesn't continue solely because it. I believe money is the biggest factor. The racism that exists in drug policy is the racism of the law. Old laws in the South that treated crimes believed to be committed more by blacks are a good example. This mentality is why crack/powder disparity exists. It makes me sick that Sen. Biden acts as if he is making strides.

I deeply hope fellow blacks wake up. I spent two horrid years on the front lines, and It me very little time to see that the drug dealer on the street was a byproduct of the policy. When people see their children and other loved ones dying in the streets it's so hard to think rationally. Blaming the drug dealer for selling drugs is like blaming the grocery store for selling grapes.

I find more and more who are waking up, and it is one of things that keeps me going.

Biden Didn't Start It

Black Congressman Charley Rangle and a number of other Black Congressmen begged for the disparity.

This is not racism, classism, or genderism. What some call Angry Studies .

If you frame it in those terms you will lose. It will just raise the hackles of the right and you will lose a part of the audience we desperately need to beat this damn war. We are going to need 60%, 70%, 80% of all Americans against this crap to end it. The powers are too entrenched without a mass movement.

If you make this left/right you are responsible for keeping this in a ghetto. There are not enough people in the ghetto to win.

Focus on qui bono. Who profits?

BTW for what it is worth, I'm a righty. I support the war on Islamic Fascism (You know the guys who practice gender apartheid and hang gays. You know the guys who captured African blacks and sold them into slavery). I hate the g-damn drug war.

In any case let us not make this political. It is divisive. It is not a winning strategy.

It is not whitey

It is the black community calling for its own destruction, so says Cliff Thornton:

The religious community has always been the backbone of the black community. We have seen this through out our history with slavery, segregation and the civil rights movement. Why are they (black politicians, preachers and leaders) bemoaning racial profiling and not the war on drugs, when racial profiling is a direct result of the drug war? Why are they not talking about AIDS and that the war on drugs is the primary culprit for the spread of this incurable disease in their communities? Why do they have this dumb look on their faces when you mention that intravenous drug users, through homosexual and heterosexual encounters are the primary conveyers of AIDS in prisons and our communities? Is it because the religious community is tied to local, state and federal funding and the authorities forbid discussion? Is it because they have become employers and employees of the drug war through rehabilitation centers and drug counseling etc.? Is it because they have become gatekeepers where their prosperity depends on not solving the drug problem but perpetuating it?

Says Cliff Thornton. You have the leaders of the Black Community calling for the destruction of that community for profit.

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