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Race and the Drug War, Part I

The "war on drugs" must be seen as a concerted effort (whether this has been intended is irrelevant) to keep the black population in a secondary status.  Such an effort can be traced to the days of slavery and even for about 100 years after slavery officially ended, at least in the South (see Douglas Blackmon, Slavery by Another Name; Anchor Books, 2009).

Consider the following data: Overall incarceration rates (2006): White male = 736; Black male = 4,789; lifetime chances of going to prison (2001): White male = 6%; Black male = 32%; arrest rates for drugs (2007): White = 476; Black = 1,721 (Bureau of Justice Statistics; Human Rights Watch, "Decades of Disparity").

The racial disparity of the drug war has been fully documented during the past 20-30 years, as a simple Google search will demonstrate (literally hundreds of books and articles have been written about this).  What the research clearly shows is two glaring undeniable facts: every major piece of legislation during the past 100 years concerning drugs has criminalized those drugs used mostly by racial minorities and during the past 20-30 years Congress has been repeatedly told that the current drug war targets mostly Blacks and Hispanics, yet has done nothing to change this.

The most recent study is by Dorothy Marie Provine in Unequal Under Law: Race in the War on Drugs (University of Chicago Press, 2007).  Citing the many studies that show few racial differences in illegal drug usage, she notes that apparently legislators ignored this when it passed what has become the most racist legislation in the history of drug laws: the passage of the Anti-Drug Abuse Acts of 1986 and 1988 that distinguished between crack and powder cocaine, with possession or sales of crack (used almost exclusively by blacks) receiving far greater penalties (this is the famous 100:1 ratio, where it takes 100 grams of powder cocaine (used mostly by whites) to receive the same kind of sentence as 1 gram of crack).  Congress was fully aware of the fact that such laws would target black people.  In fact, as far back as 1967 the Katzenbach Commission brought to the attention of Congress the racial disparities of mandatory sentences, after which such sentences were dropped. Obviously Congress suffered from historical amnesia when it passed the tough laws of the 1980s. 

Keywords: adult corrections, racial disparities, Randall Shelden

Posted in Blog, Drug Policy

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