The Drug War: Still Racist After All These Years

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The New York Times reported today on two new reports (one from the Sentencing Project and one from Human Rights Watch) that confirm what any study of prison demographics could tell you: the war on drugs is still being waged only on some people and on some drugs. In other words, it's still a racist crock.

Drug related arrests are up and more than 4 of 5 drug arrests are for possession (as opposed to sale or manufacture). And Black men are 12 times as likely to be incarcerated for a drug crime than are white men. Also, 1/3 of drug arrestees were black, despite the fact that only 12.8% of the population is Black.

The statistics would be bad enough. But the absolute worst part of the Times article is that the author cites a Manhattan Institute staffer as an "expert" on incarceration issues. What does she blame drug war disparities on? The "fact" that Black and Latino men are more likely to be involved in the distribution of heroin and cocaine.


Ms. MacDonald [of the Manhattan Institute] said it made sense for the police to focus more on fighting visible drug dealing in the inner city, largely involving minorities, than on hidden use in suburban homes, more often by whites, because the urban street trade is more associated with violence and other crimes and impairs the quality of life.
“The disparities reflect policing decisions to use drug laws to try and reduce violence and to respond to the demand by law-abiding residents in poor neighborhoods to clean up the drug trade,” she said.


Riiiiiight. The policy makes Ooooooh so much sense. When racism and "personal responsibility" are your starting points.

Not surprisingly, the Human Rights Watch study's author gets it right:
“The race question is so entangled in the way the drug war was conceived,” said Jamie Fellner, a senior counsel at Human Rights Watch and the author of the group’s report.
“If the drug issue is still seen as primarily a problem of the black inner city, then we’ll continue to see this enormously disparate impact,” she said.
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