The war on drugs is a complex one to say the least. I believe it’s safe to say that growing up most of us feel, and are led to believe, that drugs will kill you and ruin your life the moment you take them. This fear mongering begins in elementary school and follows us past university and into the real world with the media’s coverage. I’m guilty of buying into these lies. Growing up I thought smoking weed would kill you. And then I read the book “Chasing the Scream” in first year of university, and boy did that shatter my reality.
You see, I quickly learned that the war on drugs was founded on political and racially motivated reasons rather than protecting the public from dangerous substances. After reading the book “Chasing the Scream”, I believed that the war on drugs was predominantly due to the rise of psychedelics in the 60’s and 70’s. These mind altering substances were providing the people with an awakening like never before, everyone was becoming a hippie and preaching, peace, love and f*ck the government. Although this may have contributed to the creation of the war on drugs, more specifically the war on psychedelics, the war on drugs was actually predominantly founded on the grounds of a racial caste system in America.
Now, this is a very complex and intricate discussion, one that can have an entire book written about it(incidentally there is an amazing book written on it called “The New Jim Crow”) but I thought I would summarize and express the main points as I’ve learned through my research.
1. Black People are Disproportionately Arrested
It’s safe to say that poor black people are disproportionately arrested in America compared to their counterparts. And that’s because they’re an easy target. Imagine a police officer goes onto a college campus and arrests a young white male for possession of cocaine. Not only will his father, with his money and political connections, impede on this action, but society as a large will be in an uproar. When a white person commits a crime it is deemed a mistake, when a black person commits a crime then justice to the fullest extent must be served.
Black people account for 13% of America’s population and 40% of the prison population. What is even more scary is that black people are less likely to use drugs than white people and they actually use safer drugs than white people. Crack cocaine swept black neighborhoods in the 1980’s, at a time when cocaine began sweeping the white business world. Both drugs are simply different forms of one another(crack cocaine is in the smoking form), and yet crack cocaine is significantly more sought after by police compared to cocaine, because it’s associated and found in poor black communities.
2. New Forms of Discrimination
So we discovered how black people are being arrested. The War on Drugs started as a form of targeting black people, police go into black communities and arrest them for carrying small amount of recreational drugs. What happens next?
The victims of the war on drugs are then deemed a felon. Felons are then discriminated in numerous ways including but not limited to; employment discrimination, housing discrimination, unable to vote, denial of education opportunities, and denial of food stamps. Essentially, these “felons” barely have more rights than a black man living in the South during the Jim Crow Era. These victims are finally released out of jail and have a huge stigma lying over their head. They have no money, are unable to get a job, can’t get food stamps, are denied education and public housing, and are essentially left with only one option; commit more crime to survive. They can’t contribute to society or to their own lives in any meaningful way(millions of African Americans are victims of this system and can’t vote; a number that can swing elections) and therefore are pushed to fulfill the stigma they were given.
You see, with the abolishment of the Jim Crow laws, all laws from that point forward were made with the idea of colorblind terminology. None of the laws state anything about race, or prejudices, but the system uses the excuse of drugs to directly target poor black communities who don’t have the resources to defend themselves. The racial caste system in America was never ended, it was simply redesigned.
3. The Profits of Mass Incarceration
There is a lot of money involved in the business of mass incarceration. When the war on drugs began, the federal government incentivized police departments to increase the number of arrests made by providing substantially more funding to those with higher numbers. This led to an increase from 40,900 drug arrests in 1980 to 469,545 arrests in 2015. The police departments aren’t the only ones profiting off of the mass incarceration. Prisons have begun to become privately owned, making the incarceration of citizens a profitable business. There are even more private players like bail bond companies that collect 1.4 billion in nonrefundable fees from families of the victims of the war on drugs, phone companies charge $24.95 for a 15 minute phone call and commissary vendors bring in $1.6 billion a year. Needless to say, there are a lot of private players that financially benefit to a great degree from the mass incarceration due to the War on Drugs. There’s an entire system with millions of jobs at stake involved in incarcerating petty crimes such as carrying a gram of weed for recreational use.
Hope on the Horizon
Despite everything I’ve discussed thus far, it’s not all doom and gloom. The first step to solving this issue is educating the general public, making more people aware of what is truly going on. Apart from that, drug reform is a big part of solving all of this. The legalization and decriminalization of drugs will greatly assist communities and individuals who have had their lives ruined by the War on Drugs. Additionally, states across the US are attempting to implement new rules regarding felonies. For example, there’s been a push for employers to consider an applicants qualifications without looking at the criminal record checkbox. The only way for people to better themselves and their lives after prison is to be given a second chance, something that we all deserve.
I highly recommend everyone reading this to read the book “The New Jim Crow”, it goes into much more detail on the issues I discussed and will educate you far more than I can with just a single blog post. Apart from that, continue to educate and seek other resources as this is an important topic, one that affects millions of African Americans and is detrimental to the “equality” that the US preaches.