The American Dream seems to be quickly fading away with the people losing jobs at much higher rate. Unemployment has shot up to highest rate in last 60 years. Most of the existing jobs are dedicated towards minimum wage criterion. No need to worry, It isn’t that there are no options to live this dream, a door is always open. A $360 billion global Industry which comprises 1% of the total global trade is always ready to hire more. For anyone looking out, America is the land of opportunity. Of all the cocaine in the world, America consumes about 40%. According to the largest study, done in 2009, it was found that 90% of US currency bills were tinted with cocaine. It is not just cocaine, any illegal substance that americans are willing to consume, would provide with an equal opportunity of trade. There are many levels in this food chain. Starting from the streets of neighbourhood, to corner hustler. From private retailer; climbing up to domestic distributor and further to an international smuggler. On being creative enough, one can become kingpin. Here, many people are required to count heavy flow of cash which is coming in, and to run smooth operations. Still always, the bulk of drug money finds its way to the masters of the game outside country i.e. drug lord or cartel, with owned armies, custom made tanks or any material thing that one can imagine in life.
For African-Americans, climbing up this food chain is going to be very difficult as compared to white americans or latinos. On being a latino, it’s a low risk, but still more vulnerable than whites. Here we are trying to find out why African-Americans are at a higher risk of incarceration than everyone else who is doing the same job.
According to, New York attorney general, New York City Police is 6 times more likely to stop frisk black driver than a white. It is four times more likely, than white, that a frisk latino is stopped. Although the hit rates remain 12.6% for whites, 11.3% for Latinos and 10.5% for blacks. Whereas, hits for the blacks should have been much more higher, at least six times more. It clearly shows that at least, whites are as much likely to possess drug as blacks. Black Americans represent 13% of the total population in US and about same percentage of drug users. Still, Blacks represent 44% of those incarcerated for drug crimes. There seem to be no statistical logic behind this.
Whites comprise, six times drug offenders than blacks. The arrests of blacks is drastically higher, while for whites it reduces. Number of convicted blacks also more. The whole story flips, after looking into state prison sentences. Are these prisons built for the blacks? This raises question on the judicial system of US. Also, if this ‘war on drugs’ is designed to target specific race. Laws discriminating crack cocaine(cheaper, but on possession, more time to be spent in prison) and powder cocaine by are focused to hit the poor. And, why even the independent systems like judiciary works in close coordination to this?
America appointed its first drug czar in 20th century, Harry J. Anslinger. In his report to senate he said,”There are hundred thousand marijuana smokers in the US and most of them are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and Entertainers. Their satanic music, jazz and swing result for marijuana use. It causes white women to seek sexual relation with them”. And where Harry left, Richard Nixon picked up,”Homosexuality, dope and immorality in general. These are the greatest enemies of strong society, that’s why the enemies and left wingers are pushing this stuff. They are trying to destroy us. Every one of the bastards that’re out there for legalising marijuana is Jewish. What the christ is the matter with Jews? What’s the matter with them?”, said he.
On july 1, 1973 Nixon created the Drug Enforcement Administration(DEA) and with an annual budget of $65 million and started this war on drugs. It helped massively on political grounds because in those days only 2% of american population was cognizant with drugs. Reagan also seeked it as a political opportunity. Even Reagan’s drug czar mentioned that marijuana leads to homosexuality and therefore to AIDS. Just before, in 1960s, Harry took his case to United Nations and lobbied whole world to adopt the policy outlawing drugs. Since 1971, expenditure on running this war has been more than $1 trillion. And, drugs have increased dramatically and became purer all over the country. John McWhorter from University of California, Berkeley, mentions in one of his speeches that if war on drugs is terminated, race based resentment in america’s social fabric will no more exist and it would be better place for all. In the poor working class of america, John finds it unusual, that man and women are raising their kids together(about 2.7million children have parent behind bars).
Even after, African-Americans have got the fundamental civic equity, they appear to be living like colonial citizens. In most wars, poor is the most affected, here, this seems to be designed to affect poor. This idea of racism has been built so profoundly in whole continent. This idea has got general patterns, significant regularities and has formed a law-like nature. And the law-like-structure is the one controlling meaning and language of understanding drugs. A cop is not discriminating race but still he would definitely think of stopping a black driver to find drugs. When and where was this idea planted? How come blacks, who came recently, became primary target of drug laws in modern era?
Looking into the 19th century, this was exactly a war on race. In 1800’s opium was suddenly banned in California. On the contrary, in Mississippi, it was still being used by white housewives. The reason for it to happen in California, was majorly the people associated with it. The Chinese, were working hard in industries, at a low salary, taking job of the whites. Politicians got together and tried to find something about the chinese, on the basis of which they can be criminalized, and opium seemed to be the best solution. This was the strategy to get them out of the way. Similar, story went on with the cocaine. White middle aged successful people were using it, even housewives, but, then around the turn of the century, cocaine began to be associated with the blacks. After these came the marijuana, which was once a reputed crop in country, it was associated with Mexicans who were working hard and cheap. These laws set up very dangerous precedent of racial control. It’s seen time and again that drug laws target immigrant groups, which are seen as a threat to established economic order. The immigrant story of African-Americans, starts with the transition from rural to urban, one of the greatest mass migration in the history of the world. Blacks came out of slavery in south, where they were heavily concentrated, working in the farmlands. As industries were expanding in the north, blacks were recruited to come in the factories. This gave rise of blacks flowing into urban areas. This formed a new ‘Jim Crow’ era, a new age of racially discriminatory laws, ensuring that poor/blacks would be confined to certain parts of the city, we now think of as ghettos.
The culture of home ownership, that was emerging in the country was execultonary of the black people. In the map above(created in 1934 by J.M. Brewer), which shows a housing in Philadelphia, red has been marked as hazardous, considered to be high-risk areas for mortgage defaults because blacks were living here. Till 1950s, blacks were poor but had a job. In 1960s, Industries moved out from inner city leaving behind concentrated population of poor vulnerable to drug trafficking. It was not just blacks but Italians, Irish, Jews etc. also, were denied access to core economic engines in the society, hence, they created their own out of prohibited economies. As Nanny Jane remembered, one of the the reasons for blacks coming to the north, was discrimination. She said, “No black women was considered raped, it was only white women who were thought of.”
Even today, more commitment is seen towards legal formalism, more than legal realism. War on drugs discourages black men from seeking legal job because illegality keeps the prices high. Civil rights attorney Christopher Reinhardt mentions that stats indicate the major impact on African-American men obtaining employment, housing, professional licences, parental rights, educational opportunities etc. Justice department found that most people report getting drugs from the dealers of same race, hence opportunities in illegal market are wide open to whites with less risk. Thus, demographics of distribution are likely to reflect the demographics of drug use. About 77% of African-American, most of which are men, are disenfranchised. War on drugs, what it looks like, is aimed to cease mobility in African-Americans, although the system is considered open to all.
Patrick Reynold’s grandfather founded RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company. He mentions that tobacco is killing more people than all the murders, drug overdoses, suicides and car accidents combined together. He floated an idea, if tobacco was made illegal, first of all it would be made cool to the kids, then there would be all kinds of tobacco available in illegal market which may also be black mexican tobacco. All these drugs find the way on their own. It is the law of nature, where there is demand, there is supply. America has shown a positive reduction in number of smokers because it’s legal. The factors like banning public smoking, high taxes, help quit programs, education and ban on advertising have worked out really well. Jose Socrates, former Prime Minister of Portugal, had adopted this for all the drugs and the problems were really solving. If drugs are decriminalized, there would be billions of dollars to fight poverty, addiction and drug abuse. In united states, is it really about problem solving?
In 2012 alone the federal Drug money was $25.2 billion. In 1990s forfeiture laws came into being and government found an easy way to grab assets. Critics believe that it is the single greatest public policy failure in the last 50 years. Private companies like Geo Group Inc. emerged, who would make best cages. Black prisoners would work as slaves to maintain or build these cages. And the stocks will rise high, since number of prisoners are the direct consequence of profit to these companies. Gateway drugs like Alcohol are continuing to build the already owned legal market, spending huge money to keep distinction between legal and illegal. To many, this war on drugs, looks like child protection act, unknown to the fact that they are making reach of drugs(which may be any quality) towards their children more easy by keeping it illegal. Drugs need more regularization than criminalization approach.This approach is not just making future generation more vulnerable to drugs, it is also backing the longstanding racism.Even Gil Kerlikowske, who was drug czar of US till 2014, says that addiction is a disease.
This war has also destroyed police deterrent in the subtle way. The cops who are solving murders, rapes and other crimes are getting just one slip signed for overtime, doing paperwork on their desks, processing prisoner etc. but ones solving drug cases have 50 slips. Definitely everyone of them is looking forward to become a sergeant, and the one with more cases will find way.
This system, despite, its proposed intent is a very destructive program for criminal justice & social digression for significant subset of the population. There are almost no chances that the masses will rally, march/protest or seek righteous indignation, because millions of African-American are incarcerated. 50% american have used illegal drug. Should it be about caging half the country or just ascriptive?
Further films, readings and papers:
Essay: Lawrence D. Bobo and Victor Thompson; Racialized Mass Incarceration, Poverty, Prejudice, and Punishment.
Report: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime(UNODC); International Statistics on Crime and Justice, 2010
Report:The Sentencing Project; The Sentencing Project to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, Regarding Racial Disparities in the United States Criminal Justice System
Paper: David Cole; Formalism, Realism, and the War on Drugs, 2001
Article: Judge Frederic Block: Racism’s Hidden History in the War on Drugs, The Huffington Post, 04/01/2013
Film: Directed By:Eugene Jarecki; The House I Live In (Documentary, 2012)
Article: Helen Kennedy; New study finds that 90% of U.S. currency has cocaine residue, August 17, 2009
Film: Directed By:Kevin Booth; American Drug War: The Last White Hope (Documentary, 2007)
Paper: Brian G. Gilmore and Reginald Dwayne Betts; Formalism, Deconstructing Carmona: The U.S. War on Drugs and Black Men as Non-Citizens, 2013
Map: Property Services, Inc, 1934;. Obtained from University of Pennsylvania: Cartographic Modelling Lab