There’s definitely an underlying current of racism with regards to drug policy in the US. The phrase “underlying current” that is used in the title for this thread is
rather euphemistic-it’s really more like the proverbial elephant in the room that goes unnoticed.
Initial public perception of illegal drugs is that those drugs are bad and the public needs to be protected from them and from those who sell or use them. The
problem with this line of thinking is that it ignores the perfectly legal drugs (that are used for recreational purposes) which will kill more people, be the
source of more pain and suffering and destroy more families than all of the
illegal drugs combined-literally several times over.
That being the case, there must be another reason we have the drug laws that we
do and racism is a big part of it. There are some people -intelligent people- who argue that race IS the defining item with regards to our drug policy. It’s ironic that anyone could feel that way especially in light of the election of Barack Obama- many people believe that his ascension to the Oval Office effectively ended any concerns about racism, but of course it didn’t.
WHEN EVERYTHING OLD IS NEW AGAIN
Remember back in the eighties when there was that debacle about Old Coke and
New Coke? Well, surprisingly, Old Coke isn’t really that old when compared to
the ORIGINAL formula which contained COCAINE as the name Coke suggests. John Pemberton started selling his cocaine-laced, non-alcoholic beverage when the distribution and consumption of alcohol was demonized during the Temperance Movements of the late 19th Century. A popular cocaine wine called Vin Mariani could not be sold in many communities so, Pemberton figured, people would buy his alcohol-free libation. Today Coca-Cola is probably the most recognized brand on Earth, possibly second to only General Electric, Disney or McDonald’s. Today of course there’s no coke in Coke because cocaine is illegal. Alcohol is legal again however.
ATTACK OF THE NEGRO COCAINE FIENDS
Negro Cocaine Fiends Are a Menace… the title of a New York Times article
(February 1914) pretty much settles the issue about whether or not race is a
factor in current drug policy. Click here to view the entire article, or google “Negro Cocaine Fiends”. Here are some of the key points in the article.
*Negroes/Black men are more likely to attack and or rape White women while
under the influence of cocaine.
*Law enforcement has found it necessary to increase the caliber of its
bullets because Black men under the influence of cocaine require more
*Black men under the influence of cocaine suddenly become much better
Similar claims have been made in the public record regarding Chinese men
working on the railroads (opium) and Hispanic men (marijuana).These claims are
outlandish and haven’t been proven, of course. Any lawyer worth his salt will
tell you, however, the important thing is not what’s true but what you can get
people to believe. And believe it, people did.
THE ACTS OF HARRISON
Twas no surprise, then, when in December of 1914 that the Harrison Narcotics
Tax Act became the law of the land. The law effectively made it a crime to
possess cocaine and opium unless you were a physician in the practice of
prescribing those drugs for treatment, not addiction or recreational purposes.
Harrison and the other drafters of the measure capitalized on (unfounded)
social fears regarding black men attacking white women (sound familiar?), the
fear of degenerate Mexican pot heads and the fear that Chinese men were using opium to seduce White woman. The document of course couldn’t come out and say all of those things directly though so to hide their racial intent, the bill was
disguised as a means to generate funds through taxation. America had decided to incarcerate people for the crime of enjoying themselves, White, Black or Other.
The New Jim Crow
Author Michelle Alexander argues very convincingly that the current paradigm of
mass incarceration of people of color is merely the latest iteration of racial
social control. The primary way a person finds themselves subjugated to this
system is through illegal drug activity. She notes that there has always been a
perceived notion to control people of color and/or curtail their activities in
America especially those of male minorities. From slavery to share cropping to
Jim Crow segregation to “Separate but equal”, each new iteration has
at its core social control based on race. However with each new change the
likelihood that poor and/or political impotent Whites would fall victim to the
system increases. This phenomenon is part of the design of the system; the
disenfranchisement of Whites has been used historically as reason to tighten
control on minority groups. That however, is another issue.
In her book called “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of
Colorblindness”, Alexander promotes the idea that people who fall victim to
the US corrections system are really no better off than those people who found
themselves victims of the Jim Crow system of the 1900s. She also points out
that most of the people involved in the corrections system are people of color
and that most of those people are there for drug-related offenses. The results
of the system have decimated inner city communities still reeling from the economic impact of “White Flight” and gang violence, the latter of which is
almost exclusively drug related.
At first glance it would seem that the system is unbiased because (presumably) people have to be involved in criminal activity in order to enter the system. This is not the case, Alexander argues. She points out the epidemic DWB (Driving While Black) and other forms of profiling. Law enforcement agencies have federal financial incentives to make as many drug busts as possible. The easiest people to bust for drugs are the same people that society stereotypically associates with criminality-people of color. There is no doubt that many of the most prestigious colleges in the nation are hotbeds of illegal drug use and trafficking yet law enforcement tends to be incompetent when it comes to investigating elite colleges which are predominantly white institutions-in apparent violation of “equal
protection under the law.”
Alexander explains in her book that politicians can gain massive political capital by adopting a “tough on crime” stance. During the 1980s and 1990s the biggest crime issue in America was illegal drug activity which as mentioned earlier carries a racist bias. (The Willie Horton ad was used very successfully by the Bush campaign to convince voters that Michael Dukakis was “soft” on crime. Willie Horton was a convict whom Dukakis as governor had granted a furlough to. While on leave, the African American Horton raped and murdered a White woman. The Bush camp used the ad to effectively show that the Republicans were “soft” on crime.)
A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME
While it is stretch (though not much of one!) to suggest that the CIA was
PURPOSEFULLY targeting African American communities when it was raising money for its covert war in Nicaragua (by allowing the Contras to conduct drug trafficking operations in LA. Whether or not the CIA was DIRECTLY involved in “fund raising” can’t be clearly determined. The reporter who broke the story,
Gary Webb, said that he believed that they (the Contras and/or the CIA would
sell to anyone); the end result was a racially polarized attitude when it came
For layman’s purposes, cocaine comes in two forms: inhalable powder and crystal or “crack” cocaine, which unlike the powder can be smoked. Thanks to people like “Freeway” Ricky Ross and a very savvy (and racially insensitive) media, Black Americans became the stereotypical crack addict- criminal-whore, while their white counterparts were depicted in media as sophisticated, affluent and eccentric “snow babies”. This of course despite the fact that both crack and the powder are the same thing. In spite of this, sentences federal punishments for possession of crack cocaine are one hundred times harsher than the punishment for an equal amount of cocaine powder. Put another way, possession of five ounces of crack cocaine will earn the person convicted the exact same prison sentence as if he or she were convicted of possessing five hundred ounces of cocaine powder.
Crack cocaine is perceived as a drug that only poor people of color use. The fact is that while crack cocaine is cheaper than powder, a person’s economic status is no indicator of whether or not they will use crack cocaine. The price of powdered cocaine does make it effectively exclusive to those with the financial means to purchase it however. Whitney Houston (a very wealthy person of color) in a famous interview insinuated that she would NEVER and HAD NEVER done crack because crack is for poor people. She lied on both points.
THE WHEEL KEEPS TURNING, ROUND AND ROUND…
There can be no doubt then, about the racial origins of our current drug policy and the racial bias that the judicial systems uses when it delivers “justice” to those who fall victim to the corrections system; know the root and know the fruit. Clearly since the foundation is racists, the entire institution has been corrupted, infested by racism as a “little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.”