How the War on Drugs Fuels Racism
Ending the Drug War is the best way to heal the divide between police and the communities they serve.
Now that it’s basically impossible to ignore this grotesque and increasingly militarized divide between police and the communities they serve everybody has his or her own band-aid they’d like to slap on this pus-filled, gaping wound. Many (the Rudy Giuliani crowd) think this can be solved with a sturdy belt, turning around your baseball cap and saying “yes sir” while tap dancing during every police encounter. More thoughtful folks make strident calls for stricter accountability for bad actors, body cameras, sentencing reform and community policing. All of which sounds great at a Hilary rally (especially since the crime bill she supported in the ‘90s did a lot of the damage we’re trying to undo today) but do very little to change the dynamic between police and communities, and affect the necessary structural change.
What can fundamentally change this dynamic is an end to the vile War on Drugs. Because unregulated drug markets breed violence and corruption, while enriching criminal gangs and terrorist organizations, cops are trained to treat drugs like a biblical scourge. Encouraged with propaganda, praise and cold hard cash-hish, law enforcement does all it can to make arrests, often compromising civil liberties and damaging the community’s trust along the way. It infects interactions with police with unease and tension that isn’t always obvious.
The Drug War promotes racism in ways you may have not even considered.
I hate quoting statistics but it’s generally understood that people tend to enjoy and sell drugs at similar rates regardless of their ethnicity. And why not? Drugs are a convenient and effective way to change bad feelings into good feelings and are a damn good investment. Wanting to feel good and make money is not the sole domain of any skin tone. Yet, black men bear the disproportionate brunt of drug enforcement. You don’t need a statistician to look inside the jails and prisons to tell you that.
This disparity, while incredibly important, only tells you about the end result of a racist system and does little to explain how it looks on the ground. Many of the neighborhoods police think of as drug hotspots are poor and usually predominantly black. When a cop patrols a neighborhood like this looking to bust drug crimes he looks for the characters, in his or her mind, that are likely to have drugs. Obviously, the cop is going to look for young black men from the neighborhood because that fits the caricature of the street dealer, but he also is looking for white people who seem out of place (the users).
While that may seem insignificant (who cares about a white junkie in the hood, right?) it imposes a de facto segregation of geography and mind. White people who may want to move in, open a business or invest are discouraged by suspicion. Black children grow up seeing white people as police who intimidate them into following their interpretation of the law or degenerate addicts who beg them to break the law. Add this to the fact that drug gangs often organize themselves by ethnicity and you create the perfect recipe for what feels like completely justified prejudice.Cartoon by Tim Kelly
The Drug War convicts people and property that have nothing to do with drugs.
Though millions have been arrested or worse due to absurd laws governing which chemicals are ok (gunpowder good, cannabis bad) few will cry for them because they’re nothing but filthy junkies and morally bankrupt dealers. Let’s assume for a minute these people are motherless scum, hatched from a herpes sore on Satan’s taint, completely unworthy of compassion.
Even if you forget about these little Hitlers, law enforcement has decided that drugs are so bad anywhere they may be or may have been, is probable cause for arrest and seizure. In public housing, police often enforce strict trespass and loitering laws to deter drug dealers. This may force some dealers inside, but it is also cause to arrest someone visiting their grandmother. Maybe you’re on your way to buy a car and the seller gave you a deal if you pay cash, don’t let the cops catch you on the way down there, they can seize your assets and call them drug proceeds. Perhaps a drug dealer broke a $20 in your store to make change for a customer. You just abetted a drug crime and your store can be seized without trial.
The point is you don’t have to have anything to do with drugs to get caught in the dragnet. Innocent people are deprived of liberty and property everyday in the name of harshing your buzz.
“Sir, please bend over. I need to perform a cavity search.” Becomes a way less common statement at the end of the Drug War.
Consider this for a moment. If it weren’t for drugs, what reason would a police officer have to want to look inside your anus? Maybe after a diamond theft. Honestly, I’m hard pressed to come up with other examples that aren’t ridiculous. The point is, though some are more comfortable than others with butt play, a rectal search is always invasive and becomes sexual assault in the worst instances.
You would think, considering the gravity of it, examining a suspect’s sphincter would be a last resort, reserved for the most extreme situations. Yet in the twisted logic of the drug war suspected stash crammers are enemy combatants. Those drugs are a pestilence to be seized; no matter how much dumper diving it takes.
Though it’s the most extreme example, it’s as important as it is instructive. If your anus is not secure from the prying eyes of government agents what is? If suspicion of drug possession is enough to warrant a cavity search, it certainly warrants a stop and frisk or a traffic stop that leads to ripping a car apart. To be fair to cops, drug dealers and users do hide their stash wherever it can be hidden so it makes a twisted kind of sense to search everywhere if you’re a dedicated drug warrior.
If you’re a soccer mom who only gets fucked up on your prescribed valium and white wine spritzers, this may be irrelevant to you (and is probably the reason nothing’s been done about it). The drug war promotes racism and infringes on the rights of people who have nothing to do with drugs. If you’re a black man from an area police have designated as a drug dealing hot spot, or even just a shady white guy who always smells like weed (like me!) chances are cops have touched your genitals. Even if you’re educated in the challenges and nuances of law enforcement, it’s hard to respect and trust the people literally digging in your ass.