DRCNet   home join us news speak out druglibrary.org

Communities of Color and the drug war

While white politicians continue to appeal to their (mostly) white constituents with "get tough" rhetoric and punitive legislation in service to the "War on Drugs," the reality is that what they are engaged in is little more that a war on people of color; particularly African Americans.

African Americans comprise 12% of the nation's population, and 13% of its drug users, yet they account for one third of all drug-related arrests and nearly two thirds of all convictions. The impact of the black market and drug enforcement on the Black community is socially, economically and politically devastating.

On any given day in the U.S., more than one out of every three Black Males between the ages of 18-29 are either incarcerated, on probation, on parole or under warrant for arrest. The figure for Latinos is one in six. For whites, it is one in twenty. In most major cities, that figure is much higher. In Washington, DC, for instance, more than 50% of young Black males are under the "supervision" of the criminal justice system at any given time.

It should be noted that for all incarcerated individuals, drug-related offenses make up the largest single category of crimes.

The secondary impact of these figures is both staggering and enlightening. More than 1.4 million Black men are currently ineligible to vote. Those who are under criminal justice "supervision" do not have to be included in unemployment statistics. And generations of children in these communities are growing up with the implicit belief that being arrested and serving time are "normal" parts of growing up in America. In addition, when economic opportunities are scarce, even those with minor criminal records become virtually unemployable, forcing them back into the lucrative underground economy where there are always job opportunities. And the cycle continues.

Substance abuse, long recognized as a very serious problem in poor communities, must be dealt with and ameliorated. But the creation of an extraordinarily lucrative black market, in communities where legitimate economic opportunities are scarce, has led only to mass incarceration and the institutionalization of social disorder. In many communities the state, personified by the police, has come to be seen as an invading army, interested more in the oppression than the protection of the populace. Whatever its intent, the Drug War has become little more than a mechanism of social control. Worse than ineffective, the policy has caused far more harm than good in communities of color.

The relationship of communities of color to their government has also been twisted by the enforcement of drug prohibition. It is well-known, for instance that "driving while Black" is enough, in many parts of the country, to get one pulled over and harassed. Because drug law enforcement is so much easier to carry out in poor, non-white neighborhoods, leading to high percentages of non-whites arrested on these charges, all non-whites have become suspect in the eyes of the prosecutors of the Drug War.

Perhaps nowhere is this trend better exemplified than on the U.S.-Mexican border. The border, 2,000-miles long, has become increasingly militarized in recent years, causing many to question the wisdom of this exception to the Posse Comitatus Act. That act once prohibited the peacetime deployment of the U.S. military on U.S. soil. But thanks to the Drug War, our military now patrols large areas of domestic territory. The problems envisioned by critics, aside from the inevitable blurring of the lines between military missions and domestic law enforcement, were graphically illustrated recently when Ezequiel Hernandez, an 18 year-old high school student was shot and killed by four Marines while out tending his goats. An American citizen living in the border town of Redfern, TX, Hernandez was tracked for more than 20 minutes by the marines before being shot. Military forces are neither trained nor equipped to take on domestic roles. That fact, however, has been largely brushed aside in the rhetoric-driven hysteria of the Drug War.

It is time to look for less oppressive, less destructive and more creative and humane solutions to the problem of substance abuse. The damage being done to our Constitution, our children and our citizens, particularly as pertains to non-white populations, is devastating. There has been enough oppression. There have been enough chains and cages. It is not within the rights of legitimate government to "control" certain segments of the population in this manner. It is time to end the war.


National organizations:

The November Coalition A grassroots coalition of drug war prisoners and their families, friends, and other concerned citizens.

more membership and professional organizations, and local volunteer opportunities...

New Study Shows that 1.4 Million African American Men are Ineligible to Vote in 1998 (Oct. 30, 1998)

more news...

coming soon

Read Common Sense for Drug Policy's Factbook on Race and Prison and on Crack cocaine

Health Emergency 1999: The spread of HIV/AIDS among African Americans and Latinos


[ Home - Free sign-up - The Week Online ]