Racism in Law Enforcement? Perish the Thought


A new federal study has confirmed what anyone paying attention has known all along, that the war on drugs is fought primarily against black people rather than white people. Blacks are almost 4 times as likely to be arrested as whites for marijuana, though they use and sell it at the same rate.

Black Americans were nearly four times as likely as whites to be arrested on charges of marijuana possession in 2010, even though the two groups used the drug at similar rates, according to new federal data.

This disparity had grown steadily from a decade before, and in some states, including Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois, blacks were around eight times as likely to be arrested…

The new data, however, offers a more nuanced picture of marijuana enforcement on the state level. Drawn from police records from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, the report is the most comprehensive review of marijuana arrests by race and by county and is part of a report being released this week by the American Civil Liberties Union. Much of the data was also independently reviewed for The New York Times by researchers at Stanford University.

“We found that in virtually every county in the country, police have wasted taxpayer money enforcing marijuana laws in a racially biased manner,” said Ezekiel Edwards, the director of the A.C.L.U.’s Criminal Law Reform Project and the lead author of the report.

It’s time to end the war on drugs.

Comments

  1. serena says

    Huzzah and hear hear! For almost a century we’ve created a class of non-citizens, it’s well time we ended this kind of cultural repression too.

  2. D. C. Sessions says

    We found that in virtually every county in the country, police have wasted taxpayer money enforcing marijuana laws in a racially biased manner

    “Wasted” is debatable. For one thing, it’s much more cost-effective to bust minorities than whites for the simple reason that they can’t afford as much legal defense, so law enforcement gets far more convictions per dollar spent.

    For another, a high rate of felony convictions among minorities takes them off the voter rolls. This is increasingly important as the numerical advantages of white Americans dwindle. Other means of voter suppression have limited effectiveness and require continual effort, where in contrast the felony conviction disenfranchisement is permanent and has little risk of being overturned or having the perverse effect of raising minority turnout.

  3. Pen says

    America should also end the war on drugs, but it should also look into the context of this racial bias because it can and will affect other areas. You can imagine all sorts of possibilities:
    a) the cops more or less unconcsciously stop and search more black than white people and so discover drugs in their possession more often
    b) the cops intensively patrol areas where black people are likely to be in the possession of drugs and ignore areas where white people possess and use drugs (college campuses, wall street, middle class residential suburbs)
    c) some or many of the cops do all this while being openly motivated by racist ideologies and beliefs
    d) some or most of the discrimination happens in court – white people are more likely to escape a sentence than black people or get shorter sentences
    e) other???
    f) all of the above but in what proportion?
    g) how does this change across different localities considering that the racial makeup of America isn’t uniform and nor are attitudes to race?
    h) where do America’s other races fit into the picture?

  4. says

    The dope laws aren’t the issue – it’s the racism in the “justice” system and police that’s the issue. Ending the war on drugs would just mean that they’d start looking for terrorists among the communities they’re targeting because of their skin color.

    Disgusting.

  5. sundoga says

    I don’t agree, Marcus. Now, let me be clear – institutional racism IS a major problem, it IS something we should be fighting harder, and it IS one of the biggest problems of our times. But I disgree completely that the dope laws are not the issue here.
    Without the dope laws, the entire house of cards that American law enforcement has built up over the past seven decades falls. Without the drug laws, half the search-and-seizure legislation ceases to be meaningful. Unreliable “drug dogs” cease to touted. Crime statistics drop to the point where even the dumbest Joe Voter can see through the continuous calls for “more police on the streets”. An entire division of the Justice Department – and a renegade one at that – ceases to exist. And prisons close.
    Less institution will mean less institutional racism.

  6. says

    Without the dope laws, the entire house of cards that American law enforcement has built up over the past seven decades falls.

    Really? There was no police injustice before the War on Drugs?

    …Crime statistics drop to the point where even the dumbest Joe Voter can see through the continuous calls for “more police on the streets”.

    Seriously? You really believe that?

  7. baal says

    Ending the war on drugs would be a good first step but we need to set up wholesale review of the prison population & release of low level offenders. Concurrently, we need better mechanisms for re-integrating ex-prisoners into society.

  8. cafeeineaddicted says

    lacks are almost 4 times as likely to be arrested as whites for marijuana, though they use and sell it at the same rate.

    How do we determine this? Arrests are easy to check, but how do we know actual usage?

  9. left0ver1under says

    Selective prosecution and discrimination are nothing new. In 19th century England, prohibition targeted those who drank cheap alcohol like gin. The rich who drank wine weren’t targeted.

  10. D. C. Sessions says

    Arrests are easy to check, but how do we know actual usage?

    Among other things, by the collected statistics of random drug tests.

    I will note that you can get an idea of the scope of illegal drug use at the C-level by the simple fact that so few companies actually do drug testing on their employees. The ones that do are almost always employers of low-status workforces; the major companies with a high proportion of high-status employees don’t. Every study ever done tells us that there’s a near-certainty that random testing in a mid-sized company will find a lot of high-status employees testing positive — incuding occupants of the executive suite. So they don’t test.

  11. kermit. says

    At least some of this is class disadvantage, also. Poor young adults hang out in parking lots, smoking. Middle class young adults go back to their apartments. Middle class dopers get lawyers. Etc. This effect is impossible to separate completely from racism, however, especially because racism is a major cause of poverty.

  12. sundoga says

    Raging Bee –

    “Really? There was no police injustice before the War on Drugs?”

    I honestly don’t know what to say. I’m quite serious – I’m trying to parse how you got from what I said to that comment, and I’m just failing utterly. What are you talking about?

    “Seriously? You really believe that?”

    Yes, i really believe that without the war on drugs and it’s twin deleterious effects on first, the law enforcement community, and second, the rate of crime (being, that the illegality of drugs makes crime so very much more lucrative), that we would in fact see a massive drop in criminality.
    As to Joe Voter, i can hope, can’t I?

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