Drug Enforcement Effort Not Evenly Administered 

Drug Enforcement Effort Not Evenly Administered 
Posted by FoM on June 08, 2000 at 21:35:19 PT
By Mitra Ebadolahi, Daily Bruin U. California-L.A.
Source: U-WIRE
Almost two months ago, hundreds of students gathered in Meyerhoff Park to celebrate "4/20" by smoking a bowl. Clouds of smoke rose above the crowded space with an abundance of pipes, bongs and joints. Across a narrow stretch of Bruin Walk, officers from the university police department watched, supposedly powerless because of some vague stipulation about the laws affecting the area. 
I sat on Bruin Walk for hours that day and saw countless students "blazing the weed up." To be honest, I am still amazed that the only student I saw harassed was a young male student of color, who was singled out to be fingerprinted and cited for a misdemeanor. For me, this instance embodies all that is illogical, hypocritical and downright racist about America's so-called "War on Drugs." Despite media propaganda and constant government anxiety over America's "drug problem," it seems all too apparent that this battle is really "a war of cultural prejudice waged primarily against the young, the poor (and) the non-white to the advantage of the elected, the corporate, the privileged and the few," according to the Lycaeum: the past 20 years, America's drug "policies" have strengthened the prison-industrial complex, disproportionately incarcerated youth of color and wasted money on increased law enforcement rather than improved treatment and prevention programs. Essentially, these policies have failed in every respect. Over the course of the past two decades, both state and federal legislators have enacted laws which prescribe mandatory minimum sentences for certain felonies, including petty drug transactions. Under these mandatory minimum laws, judges cannot impose sentences lower than those specified by the statutes, regardless of the defendant's role in the offense, prior history, character, individual circumstances or actual threat posed to society. Mandatory minimum laws and drug felonies have been identified as the major causes of the explosion in America's prison population, which now surpasses two million inmates. Even more disturbing, the ethnic makeup of prisoners incarcerated for nonviolent drug violations indicates the inherent racism and classism of America's growing prison-industrial complex. According to the advocacy group Families Against Mandatory Minimums: drug defendants made up 60 percent of the federal prison population in 1998. Of those incarcerated, 41 percent were African American, 28 percent were Latina/o and 27 percent were non-citizens. In 1995, the U.S. Sentencing Commission reported that although whites accounted for 52 percent of all crack cocaine use, only 4.1 percent of the white population was incarcerated for crack offenses. African Americans, however, made up 88 percent of those sentenced for such offenses. These statistics indicate that people of color and poor people living in America's urban jungles have been unfairly targeted as the major causes of this nation's drug problem. By irrationally placing the blame on these groups, the War on Drugs has exacerbated misconceptions and prejudice as well as criminalized large segments of the population. Through such policies, politicians wishing to appear "tough on crime" and intolerant of drugs have also diverted funds to America's prison --industrial complex and away from treatment and prevention programs like rehabilitation clinics and recreation centers. According to policy analysts Eva Bertram and Kenneth Sharpe, 70 percent of federal drug war funds were invested in enforcement while only 30 percent went to treatment or prevention programs in 1997 ("War Ends, Drugs Win," The Nation). This trend continues, despite the fact that a recent RAND Corporation study found treatment to be seven times more cost-effective than law enforcement, 10 times more effective than stopping drugs at borders and 23 times more effective than attacking the drug trade abroad ("Beyond Legalization: It's Time for Realism," The Nation). As noted by Human Rights Watch, mandatory minimum sentencing also limits a judge's ability to send nonviolent offenders to substance abuse treatment programs or other effective alternatives to prison: spending priorities indicate that the government and its policy makers have failed to realize or target the root causes of drug addiction and abuse. The images invoked by government propaganda fail to take into account the legacies of institutionalized structural violence bred by unemployment, depression, poverty and lack of education. In this way, the War on Drugs has diverted America's attention away from the fundamental issues of poverty and inequality perpetuated by resegregated school systems and inaccessible social services, job opportunities and health care. Meanwhile, the media have demonized residents of low-income communities of color as "lazy drug addicts," ignoring the fact that drug use is often more widespread in wealthy white suburbia than it is in the inner cities. America's drug policies are designed to specifically target the working class, poor whites and communities of color. For example, a measure was recently passed that punishes low-income students who are convicted of drug distribution or possession by suspending or terminating their eligibility for Title IV student financial aid: Now, one must consider that students of color and students from poorer neighborhoods are targeted by law enforcement much more aggressively than their wealthy suburban counterparts. It is both ironic and tragic that this punishment seeks to eliminate an individual's human right of access to education. For many communities, education serves as the key to a more empowered future and just social order, and could potentially provide a true escape from a cycle of drugs and poverty. Finally, the racist notion that these statistics "prove" that communities of color are degenerate law-breakers must be challenged. Wealthy or white Americans are no less likely to abuse drugs than anyone else, and, given their incomes, they may be more to blame for the "drug epidemic" than other segments of society. The scapegoating of poor and minority communities in the name of ending drug abuse is counterproductive and inherently responsible for America's social ills. In March, California voters passed Proposition 21, the juvenile (in)justice initiative. Besides specifically targeting youth in poor communities of color, the proposition earmarks still more money for prisons while continuing to allocate funds away from treatment, gang intervention programs and education. Proposition 21, the "Three Strikes" law and mandatory minimums all serve as loaded guns in the government's real war -- a war waged against youth, the working class and communities of color. Until we are honest about the true goals and targets of the War on Drugs, America's streets will continue to serve as a battlefield where youth are trained as soldiers instead of students. Let the counteroffensive begin. (U-WIRE) Los AngelesUpdated 12:00 PM ET June 8, 2000 (C) 2000 Daily Bruin via U-WIRE  Copyright  2000 At Home Corporation.CannabisNews Articles On The War On Drugs:
Home Comment Email Register Recent Comments Help

Post Comment

Name: Optional Password: 
Comment: [Please refrain from using profanity in your message]
Link URL: 
Link Title: