Jim Crow’s Drug War: Why the War on Drugs is a War Against Black People

Attorney Michelle Alexander has been shaking things up across the nation over the past two years, yet you may not have heard of her. Her book, The New Jim Crow, Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, takes on race and the War on Drugs in ways few people would dare to approach. The point of her book is that there is a new Jim Crow system that traps many African-Americans in a permanent underclass. That system is driven by the War on Drugs which causes many young people to be stigmatized by felony records — for a victimless crime — that keep them from employment, education and housing.

"The arguments and rationalizations that have been trotted out in support of racial exclusion and discrimination in its various forms have changed and evolved, but the outcome has remained largely the same. … Rather than rely on race, we use our criminal justice system to label people of color ‘criminals’ and then engage in all of the practices we supposedly left behind. Today it is perfectly legal to discriminate against criminals in nearly all the ways that it was once legal to discriminate against African Americans."

Alexander, a former ACLU lawyer and now associate professor of law at Ohio State University, was a key player in convincing the NAACP to call for the end of the War on Drugs at its national convention in 2011. Last year, she spoke to members of the Michigan Legislature, which led Republican Rep. Rick Olson to begin writing legislation (not yet introduced) that would legalize marijuana in Michigan. This Sunday, she will be the keynote speaker at Central United Methodist Church’s Eighth Annual Peace and Justice Banquet, a fundraiser for the church’s progressive work in the community.

"We need occasions where the people who are fighting for peace and justice can gather in a place where they know they are not alone," says the Rev. Ed Rowe, pastor at Central United. "It’s a gathering of unions and peace networks and people fighting for everything from ecological issues to those trying to eradicate white racism. It looks like the struggle continues. Defeating the emergency manager law is one occasion where we know our efforts together had impact, but if we think for one minute we can stop working because of one victory, we are badly mistaken."

Rowe is not advocating for drug use, but he is advocating for justice, and it doesn’t take long when reading The New Jim Crow to understand why justice is not served by the drug war. The War on Drugs is mainly conducted as a war on black and brown people. A study of New York drug arrests from 1997 to 2006 by sociologist Harry Levine and drug policy activist Deborah Small found that 18-to-25-year-old whites are more likely than blacks or Hispanics to smoke marijuana, yet blacks were five times and Hispanics three times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession.

– Read the entire article at Metro Times.

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