By Amna Husain
At the end of 2014, 33% of Americans imprisoned for drug-related offenses were black and 32.9% were white, according to drugwarfacts.org. However, the US is currently composed of 63% of white people and only 17% black people. Are black people involved in drugs disproportionately more, or does America’s drug policy have a racism problem?
In 1971, US President Richard Nixon began his “War on Drugs”, which has continued to this day. US President Ronald Reagan expanded on Nixon’s policy. In 1982, he said that America must “mobilize all [their] forces to stop the flow of drugs into this country”. Instead of decreasing the already declining rate of drug crime, the War on Drugs disproportionately attacked unemployed black youth and lead to the mass incarceration of Americans.
According to theinfluence.com, under Reagan’s presidency, while rich white neighborhoods prospered and the white employment rate increased, the black unemployment rate quadrupled. This lead to poor black youth being forced into the drug industry in order to support themselves. When media attention was drawn to this, there was a spread of racist stories and ideas, leading to the ideas that black neighborhoods are dangerous and black people are involved in drug crime more than those of other races.
The racial profiling of black people and neighborhoods lead to more heavy policing of black neighborhoods than white. This increased the public’s perception of black people as more likely to be dealing and using drugs, as the presence of more police lead to more arrests. While it seemed that there was more drug crime associated with black people, the rates of black and white youth involved in drug crime are similar. Black youth are just more likely to be arrested, leading to the disproportionate amount of incarcerated black people.
The War on Drugs continued after Reagan’s presidency was over, and racial profiling of black people as drug users continues to this day. America’s drug policy was not founded on a desire to end drug crime. Drug crime was already decreasing when the War on Drugs began. America’s drug policy has always been directed towards black people, with the intention to control minority communities, according to alternet.org. Author of The Fire Next Time (a book containing essays on race) James Baldwin says, “The drug laws can be used selectively and sporadically, against the poor or the otherwise undesirable, which is by no means incidental. Their enforcement is a tremendous political and economic weapon against what we call the Third World.”
America’s history of racism goes all the way back to its foundation, and their drug policy is no exception. Today, the War on Drugs has increased drug crime in America and lead to a “500 percent increase in incarceration… disproportionately affecting poor and disproportionately affecting minorities,” according to New Jersey Senator Cory Booker.