Drug War Enforcement Still Blatantly Racist

I‘ve been writing for years about the racist nature of our criminal justice system, especially in the war on drugs. A new Brookings Institution study confirms what dozens of other studies have long shown us, that black people are arrested and imprisoned far more often while white people are actually more likely to sell drugs.

Arrest data show a striking trend: arrests of blacks have fallen for violent and property crimes, but soared for drug related crimes. As of 2011, drug crimes comprised 14 percent of all arrests and a miscellaneous category that includes “drug paraphernalia” possession comprised an additional 31 percent of all arrests. Just 6 percent and 14 percent of arrests were for violent and property crimes, respectively.

The black share of people arrested for drug offenses has ranged from 23 percent (in 1980) to 41 percent (in 1991). Blacks remain far more likely than whites to be arrested for selling drugs (3.6 times more likely) or possessing drugs (2.5 times more likely).

Here’s the real shock: whites are actually more likely than blacks to sell drugs and about as likely to consume them.

Whites were about 45 percent more likely than blacks to sell drugs in 1980, according to an analysis of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth by economist Robert Fairlie. This was consistent with a 1989 survey of youth in Boston. My own analysis of data from the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows that 6.6 percent of white adolescents and young adults (aged 12 to 25) sold drugs, compared to just 5.0 percent of blacks (a 32 percent difference).

As for drug use, just 10 percent of blacks report using illegal drugs within the last month, which is not statistically different than the rate for whites. Among college students, 25 percent of whites reported illegal drug use within the last month but just 20 percent of black students. I find a higher percentage of whites than blacks report ever consuming illegal drugs.

There are so many terrible results of this imbalance. Black families and lives are destroyed as 1/3 of all black men will spend time in prison or jail at some point in their lives. A permanent underclass is created and maintained. Michelle Alexander is right when she calls this the “new Jim Crow.” It’s a de facto system of discrimination and segregation that destroys any hope of justice and racial equality in this country.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • daved

    It’s a de facto system of discrimination and segregation that destroys any hope of justice and racial equality in this country.

    So I think what you’re saying here is that it’s working as designed.

  • Chiroptera

    daved, #1:

    As daved says, the point of the drug laws combined with “getting tough on crime” (and with some states’ policies of not allowing people who’ve been convicted of a felony to vote even after the sentence is done) is pretty much to continue Jim Crow and to keep minorities in the place.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    It’s a de facto system of discrimination and segregation that destroys any hope of justice and racial equality in this country.

    That’s kind of the point.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Note to self: update page before commenting.

  • Pierce R. Butler

    … 10 percent of blacks report using illegal drugs within the last month…

    These surveys apparently rely on self-reporting, which means under-reporting among those paranoid/savvy enough to cover their asses. Whether that latter cohort includes proportionately more blacks than whites, I dunno – but many US whites are relatively trusting/stupid about such things…

  • steve84

    Also don’t forget that you are frequently banned from voting if you have been in prison. Sometimes temporarily. Sometimes permanently.

  • wscott

    @ Pierce: I was thinking along the same lines. Given that whites know they’re less likely to be arrested for drug use, I wonder if that makes them more likely to self-report? Doesn’t change the other obvious disparities, of course, but it’s an interesting question and I’m not sure how you’d control for it even if it were true.

  • lorn

    Looks to me more like a preference in law enforcement and prosecution for coming down on poor people. Police get credit on the job for arrests and prosecutions, but the big points go to police who get convictions. Particularly if those convictions cost the locality very little. Police are pushed for arrests that lead to convictions without a lengthy legal process or trial. You want people who won’t bring a lawyer, or fight, people who will quickly plead guilty to a substantial crime without a lot of delay or resort to a trial. Poor people who viscerally understand that the system is against them, who know they can’t win and their best chance is to plea out and hope the judge gives them a break.

  • Anri

    Pierce R. Butler @ 5 says:

    These surveys apparently rely on self-reporting, which means under-reporting among those paranoid/savvy enough to cover their asses. Whether that latter cohort includes proportionately more blacks than whites, I dunno – but many US whites are relatively trusting/stupid about such things…

    Good point!

    I imagine that the people at the Brookings Institution are generally clueless to how sneaky people can be, seeing as they don’t do this for a living or anything.

    If I were you, I’d pop on over there and let them know about this right away.

    They’ll thank you.