Drugs: crime, punishment and race


This graphic, which illustrated a two-part series of articles in the Cleveland Plain Dealer in 2008, shows how the war on drugs targets African Americans.

Click on If you’re arrested for drugs, you’re more likely to get a second chance if you’re white for the first part of the series.

Click on In Cuyahoga County, you’re more likely to get a plea deal if you’re white for the second part.

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2 Responses to “Drugs: crime, punishment and race”

  1. John Pennington, San Francisco Says:

    For a long time it has seemed to me that the war on drugs would be far more productive as a drive to educate. There is a thriving market for all kinds of dangerous drugs because of demand. Drug dealers would be forced into another line of work if demand fell.

    What young person would be tempted to try heroin after learning what it does, and seeing an addict who has died in his own vomit? Or someone on life support after a cocaine-induced heart attack. Or graphic pictures of “meth mouth”.

    While the injustice that befalls the black community becomes more obvious and less acceptable every day, it does look like drug use is higher in this community. Perhaps the most significant prevention efforts will come from within.

    Regardless of race or cultural background, no young person should be so surrounded by drug use that it looks like normal. These drugs are illegal for a reason. Perhaps the most effective thing would be for grade school children to learn exactly why they are illegal.

    However we proceed, it’s obvious our present course isn’t working.


  2. philebersole Says:

    Drug abuse, like alcohol abuse and tobacco abuse, is a problem. All three do great harm. However, survey results indicate that it is not much more of a problem among black Americans than it is among white Americans.

    The history of drug prohibition in the United States is a history of the dominant groups in our society trying to control the other groups. Alcohol prohibition in the 19th century was a drive by white Anglo-Saxon Protestants control the behavior the beer-drinking Irish and Germans and wine-drinking Italians. At a time when opium-based laudanum was the most popular U.S. patent medicine, there was a drive against the supposed menace of Chinese opium dens. Cocaine was an acceptable ingredient of Coca-Cola when it was sold as a soda fountain drink. When it started to be sold in bottled form, and thus available to black people, the Coca-Cola company started to process the coca leaves to remove the active ingredient in cocaine.

    There are many alternatives to the present policy. I don’t know which would be best. Portugal legalized all drugs about 10 years ago and, while there is an argument as to whether drug addiction has been reduced in that country, Portugal is at least free of a U.S.-style war on drugs. Another alternative would be to legalize the less harmful drugs, such as marijuana, and to reduce penalties to a 1950 or 1960 level for other drugs, while continuing to pursue the distributors.

    The most successful effort to reduce the use of a harmful drug in my lifetime was the campaign against cigarettes—a combination of harassment of smokers and an educational campaign on the evils of smoking.


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