Drug War Racism

Wouldn't it be far more productive if liberals and leftys stopped talking about how opposition to President Barack Obama's health care reform (whatever his plan will actually include, other than $900 billion in costs) is coded racism and about the areas of public policy that clearly have disparate racial impacts?

To wit, the drug war. I don't think the goal of the misguided drug war is to criminalize and incarcerate young minority males, but that's certainly one of its main effects. Here's snippets from an excellent New York magazine article by Mark Jacbson that asks, "How Did New York Become the Pot-Arrest Capital of The Country?"

In this day and age, nearly 30 years after the AMA began flirting with decriminalizing marijuana, you might think New York City marijuana-possession arrests would be in deep decline. You might even figure that Charlie Rangel, the four-decade congressman from Harlem and longtime leader of the Select Committee on Narcotics, had his finger on the pulse when he told a House subcommittee that "I don't remember the last time anyone was arrested in the city of New York for marijuana."

Uh—wrong!

The fact is, New York City is the marijuana-arrest capital of the country and maybe the world. Since 1997, according to statistics complied by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, 430,000 people age 16 and older have been pinched in the city for possession of marijuana, often for quantities as little as a joint, a reign of "broken window" terror-policing that kicked off in the nasty Giuliani years and has only escalated under Bloomberg and Ray Kelly. More than 40,000 were busted last year, and at least another 40,000, or more than the entire population of Elmira, will be busted this year. Somehow, it comes as no shell-shocker that, again according to the state figures, more than 80 percent of those arrested on pot charges are either black or Hispanic....

The kicker in this is the apparently almost unknown fact that possession of 25 grams, or seven-eighths of an ounce—much more than the few joints that are getting people arrested—is not a crime in New York State and has not been since the passage of the Marijuana Reform Act of 1977, or 32 years ago. (Right here add sound of potheads slapping their foreheads, like, how come they didn't know that?) There are exceptions, however. If the pot is "burning or open to public view," then the 25-gram deal is off. It is this provision that has been the basis for the arrest outbreak, many civil libertarians contend.

The scenario of what happens on the street, as told to me by several arrestees, is remarkably similar. It goes like this: You're black, or Spanish, or some white-boy fellow traveler with a cockeyed Bulls cap and falling-down pants. The cops come up to you, usually while you're in a car, and ask you if you're doing anything you shouldn't. You say, "No, officer," and they say, "You don't have anything in your pocket you're not supposed to have, do you, because if you do and I find it, it'll be a lot worse for you." It is at that point, because you are young, nervous, possibly simple, and ignorant of the law, you might comply and take the joint you'd been saving out of your pocket. Then, zam: Suddenly, your protection under the Marijuana Reform Act vanishes because the weed is now in "public view." The handcuffs, the paddy wagon, and the aforementioned court date soon follow.

Whole thing here.

Reason's Jacob Sullum on pot arrests here.

Hat tip: Veronique de Rugy.

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  • ||

    "Division of Criminal Justice Services, 430,000 people age 16 and older have been pinched in the city for possession of marijuana, often for quantities as little as a joint, a reign of "broken window" terror-policing that kicked off in the nasty Giuliani years"

    The nasty Guilliani years also radically reduced crime and made the city livable again. The problem is not with broken windows policiing. The problem is what constitutes a broken window. Marijuna posession should be legal. Then, the police wouldn't be able to arrest you for it. It is two different issues. The fact that marijuana possesion shouldn't be a crime doesn't mean the police should ignore crimes committed in their presence. I am all for broken windows policing. I just think we need a better definition of what a broken window is.

  • ||

    What's funny about this (not!), are the so called conservatives who are so worked up over Obama's socialism and czars that they don't get the irony - they fully support the drug war, which gives the gov't jurisdiction over our bloodstreams, then act surprised when they don't stop there. Who appointed our first czar, William Bennett, the nicotine addict? A Republican! We're either free, or we're not.

  • ||

    It seems as if there needs to be some rights education in NYC, since it's necessary for people to show their weed publicly to garner an arrest.

    How's this for a slogan: "Don't show 'em your weed!"

  • ||

    Michael Loughley,

    You are right. Conseravtives, if they want to have limited government are going to have to give up on at least the federal drug war. If the Feds can tell you that you can't put marijuna in your body, why can't they tell you that you can't eat a cheeseburger or non-pasturized cheese. Conservatives try to argue that drugs are different and the devil weed. But everyone knows that beer is just as bad and no one wants Prohibition again.

  • Barry Loberfeld||

    From WHAT ABOUT THE POOR?:

    And why should we expect investment capital to flow into areas that the War on Drugs - "Programs to drive drugs out of black neighborhoods need to be supplemented by strong and sustained police work" (Roger Wilkins, The Village Voice, 2/4/86) -- has left looking like actual combat zones?

  • Pink Cosmotarian||

    "Raaaaacist!"

  • ||

    """The nasty Guilliani years also radically reduced crime and made the city livable again."""

    The city was livable before Guilliani. He did clean it up. But it was livable.

    ""Marijuna posession should be legal. Then, the police wouldn't be able to arrest you for it.""

    If they were following the law, they wouldn't arrest you for it now.

    """The kicker in this is the apparently almost unknown fact that possession of 25 grams, or seven-eighths of an ounce-much more than the few joints that are getting people arrested-is not a crime in New York State and has not been since the passage of the Marijuana Reform Act of 1977, or 32 years ago."""

  • ||

    ""You are right. Conseravtives, if they want to have limited government are going to have to give up on at least the federal drug war""

    They don't want limited government. They want a government that has world wide authority.

  • ||

    Rangel is out of touch, he's thinking old school.

  • ||

    "If they were following the law, they wouldn't arrest you for it now."

    True. But they shouldn't be able to arrest you regardless of the amount.

  • T-Bag||

    He Nick,

    Yesterday, on the Ed Show, Katrina vanden Heuvel was interviewied. She was wearing a black leather jacket. I believe she's attempting to steal your mojo. I say we sue the bitch.

  • T-Bag||

    "Who appointed our first czar, William Bennett, the nicotine addict?"

    GONG!

    The word "czar" is shorthand coined by the news media and dates back to the Franklin Roosevelt administration.

  • ||

    Being at least conservative leaning, and with most of my friends and family being conservative leaning, I don't know a single person that wants world wide authority. I'm guessing there are a few out there, but for the most part, I think that is a myth used as a scare tactic.

    On to the reasonable conversation. I agree that conservatives need to let go of the drug war. I personally am violently opposed to smoking of any kind, and have been since I was old enough to sit in the grocery cart seat. Despite that, and that I find it extremely unpleasant to be cooped up with, or even near smokers, I am very much opposed to government telling me what I can or can't do within my own property, which would include places like restaurants.

    What I somewhat regularly ask people is why we can't arrest and prosecute people when they actually do harm to others, instead of when we deem their behavior risky. If penalties for causing harm were much more potent, and timely, I believe we wouldn't have to spend as much time and thought on all this nonsense. People through fear of screwing up, and social pressure would self regulate. But then, I'm also in favor of public lashings, and capital punishment.

  • ||

    If Republicans would quit ramping up the WoD they would be doing the country what they claim less government. How they can sit there and claim their for less government and less intrusion while waving their drug war flag is beyond comprehension. Free or drug free we can't have both because to even attempt to be drug free we will have to give up all our freedoms, as evidenced by the laws and violations on our Constitutional Rights becoming more and more all in the name of the WoD.

    As for the disparity in race when it comes to drug arrests I can only come to the same conclusion I always have in the past.

    White people are more subtle about their breaking the law and do no do things to draw attention to themselves in most instances. They use common talk on the phones and never mention anything that can be used against them.

    Black people have a tendency to sling drugs to anyone who pulls up at the local street corner and ask them what they want without even being solicited for the drugs to begin with. So who would I expect is getting popped with greater frequency here, the blacks that can actually over crowd a car window in broad daylight in the middle of the street. Or could the whites be getting popped less because they are a bit more sophisticated about how they do their business and keep it off the streets?

    I mean come on when you run up to car windows of people you don't know and ask what they want your just looking to be arrested IMO.

  • Janeane Garofalo||

    White people are more subtle about their breaking the law and do no do things to draw attention to themselves in most instances. They use common talk on the phones and never mention anything that can be used against them.

    That's racism, straight up.

    Got any oofy-rays?

  • ||

    Then, zam: Suddenly, your protection under the Marijuana Reform Act vanishes because the weed is now in "public view."

    How is this not entrapment? From wiki:

  • ||

    The entrapment defense in the United States has evolved mainly through case law. Two competing tests exist for determining whether entrapment has taken place, known as the "subjective" and "objective" tests. The "subjective" test looks at the defendant's state of mind; entrapment can be claimed if the defendant had no "predisposition" to commit the crime. The "objective" test looks instead at the government's conduct; entrapment occurs when the actions of government officers would have caused a normally law-abiding person to commit a crime.

  • ||

    I agree with Garofalo, that is racism. The question is why do people like Garofalo not admit this? Why don't they ask the black president that they supported why he continues to support the racist drug war policies?

    If they support a racist who insists on continuing racist policies then does that make people like Garofalo racist?

    OTOH people who supported anti-drug war candidates like Ron Paul are anti-racists...in spite of the colors of the candidates skin. Why don't people like Garofalo look past skin color when it comes to judging politicians?

  • ||

    In what kind of fucked up world can bogus cries of racism be tolerated and even get amplified by the compassionate press, yet when real racism takes place, nobody, except a few libertarians, complains?

  • Rimfax||

    I wondered why Matt didn't mention something like this when the pollster (Belcher, I think) mentioned ongoing racism. Matt, however, already mentioned that his time was severely limited and didn't want to vary too far from the few things that he wanted to get across.

  • ||

    From the article: "I don't think the goal of the misguided drug war is to criminalize and incarcerate young minority males, but that's certainly one of its main effects." I disagree on 2 counts.

    First, mass incarceration is the goal of many or most who support the "war on Drugs". Conventional wars are about money. The war on drugs is the same, which is why cops, prison guards, and prosecutors cannot be trusted to tell the truth: the status quo financially benefits them.

    My second disagreement is this. There is a hard core in the Establishment that is always worried about people waking up and exercising their political power. High rates of incarceration and mortality among the poorer classes removes the ability of those directly affected to participate in the political process. The racist motive is strong among many, too, but primarily among the white populace outside the Establishment. The Establishment loves token blacks, so long as they act to the detriment of poor blacks (and others).

  • ||

    If conservatives realized that the wod is being used to keep blacks from living as families they might rethink their support. The cycle of poverty that generates Democratic votes could be crushed if we overturned all of the ploicies that destroy the family structure and leaves government as the Daddy.

  • polio robot||

    The cycle of poverty that generates Democratic votes could be crushed if we overturned all of the ploicies that destroy the family structure and leaves government as the Daddy."

    The Democratic poverty pimps will keep banging the welfare gong and never allow the poor realize that they are modern serfs ruled by the government cheese eating elite.

  • Art-P.O.G.||

    Hypothetically, the drug war contradicts both (classical) liberal and (small-government) conservative principles. But in reality, it gets strong support from the liberal and conservative mainstream. Go figure.

  • ed||

    Please stop with the myth of cops tricking these poor wide-eyed kids into revealling the pot in their pockets. That may happen occasionally, but cops mostly arrest kids smoking openly in public. I know, I live here, I see it, and these kids smoking in the open does contribute to a sense of lawlessness. Smoke in your home and don't whine about the cops.

  • ||

    I did a paper on this in college. The drug war has been *about* racism since the very first drug laws (against opium dens, in Mark Twain's time -- and he wrote campaign material in favor). The health (and behavior) arguments didn't even exist until Harry Anslinger invented them to get the Marihuana Tax Act through Congress.

    The "peril" those first drug warriors feared was that Chinese-Americans would continue to perpetuate their own culture in Chinatowns throughout the US rather than assimilate. Thus, the effort was (and is) really cultural warfare, and as such is banned by the UN charter.

    I have been waiting all my life to see the right lawyer seize upon this opportunity.

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