War on drugs: Racist at its core

For those who missed it, Leonard J. Pitts had a great Sunday column about Michelle Alexander’s new book, “The New Jim Crow.” Read his column, then go out and get the book and read it.

Pitts is no Chicken Little, and he’s often written about the need for the black community to stop making excuses and start taking responsibility. But in this column facts trump preaching to the choir. Just one tidbit:

“… blacks and whites use drugs at roughly equal rate in percentage terms. In terms of raw numbers, WHITES are far and away the biggest users – and dealers – of illegal drugs. So why aren’t cops kicking THEIR doors in? Why aren’t THEIR sons pulled over a dozen times in nine months?

While it is convenient to think that we are a post-racist society (we’ve got a bi-racial president, after all), it is also woefully ignorant of what happens out there on the mean streets on a daily bases. If you doubt that, just talk to any black mother about how she and her sons are followed by security guards when they go shopping at Dillard’s – and think back to if that ever happened to you or your whites sons.

I’m not black, so I can’t speak to this with as much street cred as Pitts can. I am, however, someone who raised four children in a paycheck-to-paycheck, no-extras existence for a number of years. From that experience I learned that people in the poor parts of town frequently get treated differently than people in the wealthier parts of town. Worse still, people who look poor but happen to live in upper middle class neighborhoods get treated differently than people who look like they “belong.”

The best example of this came when one of our sons, then a junior in college, was driving a small, black, not-in-the-best-shape car through Oro Valley. His hair was wild and long, and his face covered in a scraggly beard and, as I recall, he as wearing the uniform of many NAU students – baggy, raggedy jeans and a t-shirt. He was stopped for a minor driving offense (I think it was changing lanes without signaling), but when the cop got through with him, he was cited for five separate offenses.

He was none too happy about it, and I gave him the typical parental grilling to figure out why on earth a police officer would come up with a citation that had five moving offenses on it: Did you smart mouth the officer? Did you disrespect in any way? Did you look him in the eye? No, no, and yes. So we went to court and the judge took one look at the citation and said our son must have caught the cop on a really bad day. After talking to him, the judge dropped four of the five charges, chuckling about an equation like this: cranky cop + scraggly college kid in dirty car = someone getting pulled over in Oro Valley who would have been given a pass had he not looked like a hippie or had been driving a nicer car.

So, if a white kid can get stopped for little more than looking like he doesn’t belong in the neighborhood through whch he was driving, you can bet your next paycheck that black and hispanic kids are stopped all the more (and with SB 1070, this stopping of hispanic kids will get even greater). It is racist, it is unethical, it is immoral, it is sinful, it is flat out wrong. If you want to have proof of it happening, read “The New Jim Crow.” If you want to have proof that it is wrong, read the Constitution.

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30 thoughts on “War on drugs: Racist at its core

    1.  Do the crime, do the time

      Or not, depending on who you are.  What your statement implies, without the burden of proof,  is that justice is equally applied in the US of A.  This is not true.   Or perhaps you are saying that even if the justice system is racist, it’s just too bad and minorities could avoid a racist system of justice by just leaving all the crime-committing to white folk.

    2. Not a bad idea Lefty.  Leave all the lucrative enterprises to the whities.  Drug and people smuggling must be pretty lucrative.  So let’s get the mexicans out of the business.

  1. It’s about time. The war on “drugs” was created by President Richard Nixon for the express purpose of controlling black Americans. There is proof of this in journals kept by his aids. Before that, the war on cannabis (marijuana) was created in the 1930’s as a direct result of racism against blacks and Mexicans. For over 70 years the US government has waged war on minorities in the name of the “War on Drugs” and yet I have never, ever, until now, heard anyone from the black community bring this up.
    What is most disturbing lately is the way Mexicans are reacting to the Arizona SB1070 anti-illegal immigration bill, crying that it is race-based and anti-Mexican – but all these years they’ve never said word one about how unjust, racist, and biased the war on drugs is against them. Why is that?
    The only purpose for the war on drugs is to leverage power and money in the hands of the most corrupt individuals and groups on the face of the earth: Governments, law enforcement, politicians, the rich, owners of pharmaceutical companies, beer and alcohol companies, drug cartels, gangs, dealers, and many, many others who at their core know that criminalization of everyone for the mistakes of the very few is wrong. It is especially wrong because drug problems are a social/health issue and should never be criminalized. It is even more wrong because of the mixed messages they give society: that drinking beer or smoking or chewing tobacco is an American tradition, but using a safer and healthier alternative (cannabis) is wrong. We are a nation of hypocrites. It is far, far beyond time to end the farce that is the war on drugs. I’m tired of paying for it.

    1. Anne: Do you have links to the documents you are citing that you could share with readers. Very interesting claims!

  2. The time is near for the  laughable dominant culture as you put it to be sent back to the land of their ancestors, 2052-2062.  Dominant what a joke.   

  3. Not only does the US have the highest rate of incarceration, but the racial disparity of arrests, convictions and imprisonment have become grossly pronounced. Black people do not use illegal drugs disproportionately to their numbers in the population. But nationwide they are arrested, convicted and imprisoned disproportionately. Thirty-seven percent of drug-offense arrests are black; 53 percent of convictions are of blacks; and 67 percent — two-thirds of all people imprisoned for drug offenses — are black.

    This is not because more black than white Americans use drugs: therefor there is no justification for racially targeted stops and searches or for racially targeted arrests and convictions.

    Much of the voting rights & victories won by the civil rights movement during the 1960s have effectively been eroded. Nearly 5 million people are now barred from voting because of felony disenfranchisement laws. The United States is the only industrial democracy that does this. Drug prohibition has become a successor system to Jim Crow laws in targeting black citizens, removing them from civil society and then barring them from the right to vote.

    If harsh sentences deterred illicit drug use, America would be “drug-free” by now. But that is not the case, and never will be. The drug war has given the “former land of the free” the highest incarceration rate in the world and disenfranchised millions of citizens. It is a cure worse than the disease, it finances organized crime at home and terrorism abroad, which is then used to justify increased drug war spending. It’s time to end this madness and instead treat all substance abuse, legal or otherwise, as the public health problem it is.

    Apparently mandatory minimum prison sentences, civil asset forfeiture, random drug testing and racial profiling were not necessarily to drastically lower tobacco use; so maybe the most cost-effective means of discouraging unhealthy choices is not by declaring war on a huge proportion of the civil population.

    Drug abuse may be bad, but the drug war is certainly far worse.

  4. Sometimes I think that we should just legalize drugs, but then I know that druggies (not pot users, in general, but the meth heds, etc) are more likely to be violent and commit crimes.
    So then I think, just legalize pot, tax the heck out of it and pay for our schools! If we legalize it, we would definitely take the wind out of the powerful sails of the drug cartels – or it seems we would. But maybe that is wrong, maybe they would still be around and doing their awfulness.

  5. RSH,
    Doesn’t your anecdotal evidence prove that police can, and do, “harass” whites and not just minorities??????
    To use an expample of a white kid being pulled over as some kind of proof that cops are racist is quite a stretch.
    (gee, imagine if he was mexican..he probably would’ve been shot!)

    And as for the quote from Mr. Pitts,
    Police DO kick in the doors of white drug dealers. Police DO pull over white kids (as evidenced by your experience)

    I submit that it is fully possible that your son was let off easy because when he showed up to court, his intelligent, presentable, well-spoken, mother was at his side to fight for him.
    I also submit that if the boy was black, or mexican, and his mother was: intelligent, presentable, well-spoken, and inclined to fight for him, that the outcome would’ve been the same.

    Now consider what would’ve changed if you had walked in looking like a strung-out, haggard, meth-head. Yelling about how the cops were corrupt, and the system was out to get you.
    Wheteher black, white, brown or green. The judge would likely have had little patience, and the outcome would’ve been different.

    So, you used the tools that you learned/were given by God to negotiate the best possible outcome. Most mothers, (black, brown, white, green) would do that for their kids. BUT, not everyone has learned/was given (or is capable of leaning) those same tools.
    Does that make you feel guilty?

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