Does That Make John Walters the New Lester Maddox?


Ira Glasser, former executive director of the ACLU and current chairman of the Drug Policy Alliance's board, argues in The Nation that drug prohibition is the new Jim Crow.

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  1. P.J. O’Rourke covered this in Parliament of Whores or Republican Party Reptile (I can’t recall which). He explained that you can discover the “secret message” of the War on Drugs by substituting the “N-word” for the word “drugs” in any press release or political speech on the subject.

  2. “The sheriff is a [bell clang]!”
    “What did he say?”
    “He said the sheriff is a loner.”
    “No, Dag Nabbit, I said the sheriff is a [bell clang]!”

  3. I originally read “John Walters” as “John Waters.”

  4. …drug prohibition is the new Jim Crow.

    I unreservedly agree with this simile. What I worry about, is a new Civil Rights movement that starts off pure (striving simply to end discrimination at the hands of the state) and winds up in the hands of the self-serving and ambitious, bequeathing a host of legislation subsidizing drug use.

    I must admit however, that the thought of young people taking up a dope habit to increase their chances of getting accepted to the college of their choice, does strike me as pretty funny.

  5. Glasser’s thesis is based on an unstated fallacy: that drug enforcement is directed eqaully at all types of drug law violations. It is not. Considerably more resources are targeted at sellers than at users. And the sellers are disproportionately black.

    David Brudnoy pointed out the paradoxic reason for this. Drug sales occur disproportionately in ghettos because it’s safer to conduct that business there. In white neighborhoods the police are less occupied with victimful crimes, so there’s more risk of prosecution there for victimless ones. The drug trade therefore gravitates to higher-crime areas. Therefore of those who do get prosecuted, blacks are going to constitute a disproportionate fraction, but not as large a fraction as they actually represent of the business.

  6. Much of drug prohibition is centered on large cash outflow from the U.S. The restrictions on pseudoephidrine had been pondered for well over a decade but weren’t brought into the spotlight until meth production had mostly gone south of the border.

    Of course, not all drugs on schedule I are imports but They can’t be that obvious about it.

    Sources of this information shall remain confidential but it does not come from outsiders.

    Enforcement is definitely racially biased and I have an interesting anecdote to illustrate this but wish to not in any way risk breaching the confidentiality of the people involved.

  7. Robert,
    You don’t know what you’re talking about. There are more white dealers than black dealers, and it is WAY safer to do business in the suburbs than the ghetto.

    The difference between ghetto dealing and suburb dealing is volume. In the hood, dealers claim a corner, or other choice location, and deal to whomever drives up. Everybody can see what’s going on. In the burbs, deals take place behind closed doors and involve people that know each other. The cops have to wait for the girlfriend to call.

    Furthermore outright racism by cops is not to be discounted. Blacks that get busted are more likely to get put into the system.

  8. Blacks that get busted are more likely to get put into the system.

    Bingo, but not ONLY blacks. I must make that clear. Latinos will have a pretty tough time of it too especially if they get busted out in corntown, USA.

  9. I originally read “John Walters” as “John Waters.”

    Me, too.

    That would have been funnier.

  10. I totally sympathize with what Ira Glasser is saying, but I fear that it is the wrong way to sell drug legalization to the masses.

    If you tell white folks who support prohibition that blacks are disproportionately likely to be arrested for drug crimes, the response you’ll likely get is that we clearly need to make the system fairer, i.e. arrest more white people as well. If you suggest an alternative, namely legalization, and point to disproportionate arrests as one of the arguments in favor, they’ll conclude that you’re just obsessed with identity politics, and they’ll tune you out. After all, you just argued in favor of drugs, and drugs are clearly bad for The Children. If you support legalization just to even some racial scores then you must be a race-baiter.

    To me, the argument most likely to get traction is still the fact that drug prohibition just enriches very dangerous people and fuels violence. By all means, use whatever works with the audience at hand, and maybe the readership of The Nation will respond sympathetically to Glasser’s arguments about race. But those arguments will be counter-productive if pitched to a larger audience.

    I hate to sound like I’m engaging in in-fighting, but I simply don’t think that arguments based on racial inequality will work. Maybe somebody can prove me wrong.

  11. “bequeathing a host of legislation subsidizing drug use”

    oh, yeah, what a nightmarish vision.

    no, really.

    oh. horrors.

  12. ROBERT submits: Glasser’s thesis is based on an unstated fallacy: that drug enforcement is directed eqaully at all types of drug law violations. It is not. Considerably more resources are targeted at sellers than at users.

    SH: Respectfully, this is utterly incorrect.

    Well over 85% of all drug arrests are for simple possession of drugs and/or drug paraphernalia.

  13. One black guy in Detroit was pulled with about $250,000, a bunch of coke and illegal weapons in the trunk of his Mercedes. When the cop saw that he said “just forget it” and let him go on his way. I’m not sure if that was because the cop was frightened or if this person was a critical component in local police corruption but I didn’t want to get too nosey.

    No BS here! But you won’t too often read about that stuff in the papers.

  14. “I hate to sound like I’m engaging in in-fighting, but I simply don’t think that arguments based on racial inequality will work. Maybe somebody can prove me wrong.”

    It will work as soon as the impacted race can break free from Baptist dogma.
    Once again I beseech Walter Williams to be more forthright on this issue.
    I’ve also directly challenged Leonard Pitts down Florida way.
    Not to mention local politicians to whom I have forwarded the piece.
    This will be the golden key to unlocking the dreaded War on Drugs.

    All our pink karmas need to form a vee and run over their Baptist dogma suede shoes.

  15. “Well over 85% of all drug arrests are for simple possession of drugs and/or drug paraphernalia.”

    But they don’t account for most incarceration time. And even the enforcement actions that snare people for possession are said to be a by-product of, or a tactic for, finding & prosecuting sellers.

  16. I’m not interested in arresting sellers. I’m interested in bankrupting them. And the ones who weren’t caught. And the many government employees taking money from them: local cops, federal agents, judges, prosecutors, prison guards, border patrol agents, customs inspectors, IRS auditors (money laundering), intelligence agents, radar operators (how do you think drug planes get thru?), coast guard patrols, legislators, business regulators (somebody has to turn a blind eye to the front companies), and no doubt lots of other people that I’m not even thinking of.

    Legalization: The best way to starve the leviathan’s henchmen.

  17. The varously strip club owners had better keep up on their payments to local law enforcement or the unannnounced raids will be forthcoming. The money pays for protection from and fair warning about raids so the bars can be cleaned up ahead of time. If you’re a Jewish owner in certain places they’ll raid unannounced anyway but might just not shut you down.

    I’m not personally involved in any of this stuff but if you drive a stripper to work everyday you get to see and hear about some interesting goings on.

  18. I don’t believe that most drug dealing goes on in the ghetto. There isn’t enough money in the ghetto to support the drug trade in the manner it has become accustomed to.

    Most of the enforcement is in the ghetto, however, which can lead to the impression that most drug dealing goes down there.

    Actually, given the amount cash that flows into the trade, most of it must come from upper/upper middle class whitebread neighborhoods. That’s the only source that makes sense.

  19. What Robert said. In a short drive I can find blacks and ‘Hispanics’ (‘Mestizo’ is a better word) hawking drugs on street corners, outnumbering whites by several to one. Also non-drug crime rates for blacks and Hispanics are several times those of whites (about 5 to 6 times as high, and 3 to 4 times as high, including murder rates).

    The article was a load of malarkey and shoddy scholarship meant to appeal to self-hating white liberals.

    Here’s why: the author uses a common and dishonest tactic: he picks data which supports his thesis and omits data which contradicts it, i.e., the drug-‘crime’ data for Asians. If he had not omitted the inconvenient data, he would have had to explain why those Evil White racists ‘target’ whites more than they target Asians.

  20. There are surely, out in the `burbs, “drug houses” moving significant amounts of product. The thing about such places in city neighborhoods is that the contraband-trading is obvious to the neighbors. Those who want to live in a low-crime area, but can’t afford to, complain to the precinct, or their alderman or councilwoman, to “do something.” So you get the kind of crap that was just pulled off in Buffalo. Selling on street corners, in empty lots or in parks and playgrounds is also highly visible behavior in a city.

    Rural areas have their share of drug operations the cops try to bust, from marijuana planted on public land to floating meth labs in motel rooms. It is harder to catch folks in exurbia if they know a thing or two about guarding their privacy.* Many of the city drug dealers operate out of rental housing, which means the landlord doesn’t know what’s going on in his buildings. That’s a sure sign of another hallmark of disintegrating neighborhoods – absentee landlords/property managers.


    *And, yes, I know that imported meth far outsells any home-cooked product. More deytukarechobs, right?

  21. thoreau,

    You repeat the #1 fallacy of the drug war. “Drugs are bad for children”. In plainer words – drugs cause addiction.

    Even the NIDA now says that drugs don’t cause addiction. They say genetics and “environmental factors”. Substitute trauma for “environmental factors” and you have my thesis.

    In other words the #1 way to prevent drug abuse is to prevent child abuse.

    Heroin discusses the child abuse issues in heroin use.


  22. thoreau,

    You also do not factor in rent seeking by the medical cartel.

    Pot is an anti-depressant. Drug companies sell a lot of anti-depressants. Drug companies are also big contributors to the “Drug Free America” campaign.

    See any connection?

    Addiction or Self Medication?


  23. “There is racial inequality in our criminal justice system caused by the war on drugs”.

    I support drug legalization, but this is a bad argument and a typical liberal one as well. “There’s to many ‘blacks and latinos’ in prison”. Well then I suggest they follow the advice of Rush Limbaugh and send more “white guys” up the river for breaking the law.

    I’ve also been hearing about to many “woman” who are “non-violent drug offenders”( hey, isn’t burglary and wire fraud “non-violent”?) I’m now waiting for liberals to start saying there’s to many “gays and lesbians” who are “non-violent drug offenders”. Pity the poor working class, responsible, gun owning, heterosexual, white guy who uses a schedule 1 controlled substance from time to time.

    David Boaz had a good OPED before the 2004 Democratic primary where he said the only “choice” democrats give woman is the “choice” to have an “abortion”. How come democrats can’t let woman “choose” hashish instead of heineken ?

    Of all the recently published books critisizing the drug war I still think Jacob Sullum’s “Saying Yes” is the best. Especially chapter 2 where he quotes all those verses from the bible. Of course, that’s not a good argument for liberals to use because that implies a “religious motivation”. Therefore, to end the drug war would violate the “separation of church and state”.

  24. “Does That Make John Walters the New Lester Maddox?”

    No, but it does make John Waters the new Lester Maddox, which is a hell of a lot funnier. And, please, stop me before I kill again.

  25. I happen to agree that the drug prohibition laws originated with racism, but over time the enforcement has evolved into hardcore classism rather than hardcore racism. But it’s fairly easy to guess that certain minorities are rather likely to be poor.

    It’s pretty obvious the prisons are filled with drug offenders who simply couldn’t afford better attorneys. If there’s a call to arrest more white guys, where do you think the police are going to look – the country club or the trailer park?

  26. “The article was a load of malarkey and shoddy scholarship meant to appeal to self-hating white liberals.”
    Mr. F. Le Mur,
    I’m probably coming in too late for you to see this, but, while I disagree with your appraisal of the article, let my ask you this.
    If you want to end the hysteria of the war on drugs, what emotion is strong enough to do the trick? How about the hysteria of white guilt?

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