The War on Drugs policy of drug prohibition and harsh crackdowns has had an extensive effect on minorities in America. Many credit the drug war for enhancing racial disparities between blacks and whites and playing the key agent in the disproportioned incarceration rate of African Americans and Hispanics. Further, the penalties for crimes among convicts usually involve permanent or semi-permanent exclusion from educational opportunities, a revoking of the right to vote, and the creation of criminal records which make employment far more difficult.
To understand the drug war in the black community you must first understand the crack epidemic which caused many blacks to be arrested.
The crack epidemic refers to the surge of crack cocaine into the major inner cities in the United States between 1984 and 1993. Crack is a cheap, smokable, and highly addictive form of cocaine, and because of its wide availability in the 80s to African Americans, it was widely dispersed in poor black neighborhoods.
Crack first came into the scene on a large scale in Los Angeles in 1984. The allocation and use of the drug erupted that same year and by the end of 1986, was accessible in 28 states. The effect of the crack epidemic on the African American community has been shattering. Although two-thirds of crack cocaine users in the United States are either white or Latino, 80 percent of people who are sentenced in federal courts for a crack cocaine offense are African American. Consequently, African Americans are disproportionately affected by severe drug penalties.
Following the Iran-Contra Affair, a number of politicians and journalists began arguing that the CIA put crack into the black ghettos. While to exactly what extent the CIA was involved in crack smuggling is not known, on April 17, 1986, the Reagan Administration released a report admitting that there were some Contra and cocaine links in 1984 and 1985. In 1988 Senator John Kerry’s U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations reported on Contra drug smuggling and concluded that members of the U.S. State Department “who provided support for the Contras are involved in drug trafficking, and elements of the Contras themselves knowingly receive financial and material assistance from drug traffickers.”
African Americans, according to the Human Rights Watch, are just as likely as whites to use or sell illegal drugs yet they have a higher rate of arrests. In addition, African-Americans were 13 times more likely to be imprisoned for drug offenses than other races while they only comprised 13 percent of regular drug users. Once convicted, offenders who are black have longer sentences compared to white offenders. The U.S. Sentencing Commission states that in the judicial system black offenders are given sentences that are 10 percent longer than white offenders for the same crimes. According to The Sentencing Project, African Americans are 21 percent more likely to receive mandatory-minimum sentences than whites and are 20 percent more likely to be sentenced to prison. What these statistics show us is that the criminal justice system has not operated solely as a punisher for crime, but as a force that has inflicted upon black communities harsher penalties and in turn more devastation to the socio-economic status than it has on the any other racial community.
My analysis on the War on Drugs as a whole is that it is an unsuccessful attempt to control the uncontrollable and needs to be abolished. Compared to the 80s, recent years have seen a significant decrease in drug markets, yet incarceration rates are still rising. However, for the money that is spent on prevention, education, and treatment, one must ask how it is that these aspects of the War on Drugs remain the least effective of the strategies. The drug war has been shown to be an agent of racism in a supposedly post-racial age, with disproportioned arrests, effects, and policies having disparaging consequences for the black and Latino community. My recommendation is for the U.S. to end prohibition and criminalization, and move federally to decriminalize drugs in America.