Friday, August 17, 2007

Racial Underpinnings of the War on Drugs

By Mark Verhoff, Summer Intern at the Kirwan Institute

There is a tendency in America’s public discourse to avoid a detailed treatment of the complications of the War on Drugs. In making a handful of known drugs illegal (cocaine, heroin, and marijuana, in particular), the nation has undergone a whitewashing of history and seen its law enforcement divisions undergo an intense process of militarization. Despite this, the hyper-racialized outcomes of the Drug War (a disproportionate representation of minorities as victims of neighborhood crime and severe drug-crime sentencing) and its effects on the urban complex are plain to see. The consistent historical themes of racism and the militarization of oppression are clearly visible in relation to illegalization of the coca plant, and similar drugs.

The process of demonizing the drug and marginalizing its users was not instantaneous or accidental, but rather gradual, intentional, and intensely racist. The process of racial discrimination through drug prohibition can be divided into roughly two time periods. In the earlier period, both cocaine and marijuana use had been historically associated with Mexicans and the greater Latino community. While the coca plant has a long history of social and utilitarian use for life high in the Andes Mountains, the 19th century isolation of the Cocaine alkaloid created a highly recreational concentrated preparation. Cocaine and marijuana’s risks to society were, due to the demographics of their use, therefore phrased in terms of risks to white society, and the “lazy” and “loco” Mexican was the frightening mascot of uncontrollable drug use. Similarly, cocaine and marijuana were said to be used by black men shortly before reaching an uncontrollable state and victimizing white women.

In the later period, the final quarter of the 20th century, the racial effects of demonizing and marginalizing some drugs and their users had matured. With the War on Drugs officially declared, America’s urban cores have become veritable war zones where drug profits help determine gang territories, and adjacent police departments are locked in a never ending process of using drug arrests to secure state and federal grants for increasing militarization (increased weaponry, defense, intelligence capabilities, etc.) of their departments. In a vicious cycle, increasingly segregated black “ghettos” and impoverished areas see increasing rates of drug use and increasing rates of poverty and drug related crime. In response, law enforcement vies for ever more oppressive means to fight the drug war. The increasing globalization of the drug trade (itself an international and racial issue, with nearly all cocaine coming from Colombia and nearly all heroin coming from Afghanistan, and both nations under siege by white America) drives the price of drugs down, and organized cartels and their urban counterparts assure a steady supply, and conversely, assures a steady intensification of law enforcement activities.

In a nation where the racial divide is becoming more geographically pronounced, especially in the urban-suburban complex, the unbelievably racist effects of the drug war can no longer be ignored. This is a nation where baking soda, the only difference between powder cocaine and crack (freebase) cocaine, increases punitive measures in some cases by over double. Powder cocaine is a predominately white and suburban drug, while crack cocaine (the exact same chemical, but in an oily, rocky form) is a predominately “black” and “ghetto” drug. The introduction of this type of disparate sentencing and the rapid militarization of urban police forces in the second age of racism and drugs, beginning in and through the 1980s and 1990s, has rapidly accelerated the destruction and oppression of minority urban enclaves and must be reversed and rectified immediately. Please visit to help.

No comments:

Post a Comment