The Hutchinson Report
Failed drug war now targets Whites
The headline was surreal. In fact, it was something that could have come straight out of Ripley’s Believe It or Not. The headline screamed that the Sentencing Project, a Washington D.C. based criminal justice reform group, found in its annual report on imprisonment that more Whites are going to jail for drugs, and that Blacks are being jailed at a slower rate for drug offenses than in the past quarter century. For the past two decades the cherished article of legal faith and popular myth is that Blacks commit most of the drug crimes in America, and therefore tougher sentencing, drug sweeps, crackdowns, and even racial profiling are legitimate law enforcement tools to apprehend the law breakers.
Yet the profile of a typical drug user has never been that of a poor, young Black male. The drug profile is one of a middle-income White, aged 12-25. They make up a majority of the drug users in America. The Justice Department’s 1998 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse found that White students were four to five times more likely to sale and use marijuana, heroin, cocaine, (powdered and crack), LSD, PCP, and designer drug derivatives, such as ecstasy, mushrooms, speed, and ice, than Blacks. In the decade since then the numbers of White versus Black drug users has remained constant.
During the same period, legions of articles, news features, and TV specials have been crammed with stories of high-profile White stars, starlets, and athletes, and even a certain conservative radio talk show king who have openly bragged, cried and asked for forgiveness for their drug escapades. They create oceans of public empathy for their heroic battles against addiction. Yet, the lop-sided drug use by young Whites ignites no outcry for mass arrests, prosecutions, and tough prison sentences for them. It would be political suicide for any public official to dare suggest that police profile White drug users as a tactic to win the drug war.
The Sentencing Project report isn’t likely to change that. The way the police wage the war on White drug users and even where they wage it is far different. It’s been done with no media or public fanfare, mostly in Midwestern states such as Iowa and Minnesota. There whole Meth mills are in operation and the buyers are young blue collar Whites. Unlike crack cocaine, the Meth epidemic hasn’t stoked public fears of gun toting gangs, bloody drug turf wars, and a soaring body count.
The result of the fiction that Blacks are the prime drug users and abusers has been devastating in law and public policy. More than two million persons now jam America’s prisons, and that makes America’s prison and jail system the largest on the planet. Nearly half of those stuffing jail cells are African American. They are more likely to get stiffer sentences in state and federal courts than Whites for drug offenses. The weak, tepid effort by then President Bill Clinton in the mid-1990s to ease and later a vague first presidential campaign promise by former President Bush to reexamine the glaring race bias in the drug sentencing laws, went nowhere. Congress said no to Clinton’s effort to equalize sentencing for crack (mostly Black offenders) versus powdered cocaine (mostly White offenders). Bush didn’t utter another peep about the racial disparity in the laws after election.
Even before the Sentencing Project made public its surprising report on drug offense jailings, the debate raged over how and why so many Blacks are in jails than Whites even though far more Whites than Blacks use illicit drugs. The starting point is the arrest. Blacks are far more likely to be arrested for drug crimes than Whites. And, once arrested they are far less likely to strike plea bargains, get summary probation, have their juvenile records sealed, and get referrals to drug diversion programs than Whites. Countless studies show that police officials are much more likely to saturate poor Black neighborhoods with small armies of cops.
This insures that more Blacks will be stopped, searched, and arrested than Whites which in turn further bumps up the arrest totals for Blacks. The never ending vicious cycle of arrest, conviction, and tough sentencing, is more than a numbers racket, with African Americans the perennial losers. The prison-drug nexus is a lucrative and self-perpetuating bloated growth industry that soaks up billions of tax dollars for jails, police, and courts. It allows politicians to burnish their credentials as tough on crime, and promotes the feel good fantasy that the police and politicians are really winning the drug war.
The one saving grace in the sentencing Project report, though, is that with so many Whites now being targeted in the drug war, that may be enough to call at least some public attention to the war’s abysmal failure. At least that’s the hope.
- Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His weekly radio show, “The Hutchinson Report” can be heard on weekly in Los Angeles on KTYM Radio 1460 AM and nationally on blogtalkradio.com.
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