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The war on drugs is an unconstitutional war on African-Americans | Race-Talk | 102

The war on drugs is an unconstitutional war on African-Americans

Filed under: African Americans,Criminal Justice,Featured |

By Renay Patterson-Scott, Public Policy Journalist Student, The Ohio State University,

While President Barack Obama is busy signing bills into law that will improve life overall for Americans, his administration is completely ignoring one of the most pressing issues affecting African-Americans, the failed “war on drugs” — a war that has morphed into a War on African-Americans resulting in the violation of their constitutional rights and the near total destruction of our community at large.

Consider this: According to a 2009 report by the American Civil Liberties Union, African Americans make up an estimated 15% of drug users, but they account for 67% of those arrested on drug charges, 59% of those convicted and 74% of all drug offenders sentenced to prison.

Or consider this: The U.S. has close to two million people incarcerated on nonviolent drug charges and more than 70% of them are black.

The United States is the world’s leading jailer housing 25% of the world’s prisoners, and most of them are African-American men. We (The United States) have approximately five times the rate of incarcerated black men in South Africa under apartheid.

Worse still, we have managed to replicate,( at least on a statistical level) the shame of chattel slavery in this country: Currently, there are more than one million black men incarcerated in US jails and prisons, that is double the amount of blacks on slave plantations in 1820. With the current momentum of the drug war fueling an ever expanding prison-industrial complex, according to Graham Boyd writer for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) only 10 years remain before the United States incarcerates as many African-American men as were forced into chattel bondage at slavery’s peak, in 1860 which was 12 million.

Yet according to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), African-American men are six times more likely than white men to be pulled over while driving and have their vehicles searched, while white men are ten times more likely to actually have drugs on them.  Also, according to that same study conducted by the DEA, 64% of the illegal drugs sold in this country are sold in suburban neighborhoods.

The higher arrest rates for African Americans do not reflect higher abuse rates in these communities but rather a law enforcement emphasis on inner city areas. This is really interesting considering that the first rule of war (or engagement) is to go to where the enemy is.  If the Drug Enforcement Agency knows that most of the drugs are in the suburbs, then why are they policing the inner city so heavily?  Areas with high populous of blacks and indigents are terrorized by city Drug Task Force Agencies, while the residents and youth of middle class white America are resting comfortably in their prescription/ meth/ crack/ Xanex induced sleep.

The war on drugs has decimated the Fourth Amendment, a measure intended to limit the power of law enforcement to search and arrest, as well as the Sixth Amendment which guarantees trial by jury.  Unlike other crimes, drug offenses do not typically have complaining witnesses, and according to a CNN news report, 95% of the felony parties are convicted by plea bargains, which according to that same report, “People plead guilty so that they can go home.  Most do not understand their charges or the subsequent severity thereof, and most do not know that they’ve been set up to fail.”

In order to unearth drug crimes, the police resort to wiretapping, surveillance, peering through private windows, flying over houses, undercover operations, bribery of informants, entrapment by offering to buy or sell drugs, even having sex and using the drugs themselves in order to gain the trust of suspected drug dealers.  Michele Leonhart, the new head of the DEA, said “[t]he police uses countless shady and corrupting practices in order to make arrests on suspected drug dealers.”

Defender of the “War on Drugs” Randy E. Barnett professor of constitutional law at Georgetown University is cited as saying in his article:

The problems inherent in finding and seizing so many elusive targets, creates a rationale for speed, accuracy, secrecy, and the element of surprise. Unannounced raids on drug suspects, or frequent surprise street sweeps, are made much more difficult by the need to obtain search warrants, show probable cause, or to protect certain legal rights, by demanding that the police do a job that cannot be done effectively without violating constitutional rights.  Our drug laws ensure that constitutional rights are broken.

This, my friends, is sad and disturbing on many levels.

Property rights, once sacred in the United States, have also been sacrificed to the war on drugs, under the strange fiction that property could be “guilty.”  All assets suspected of “participating” in a crime can be seized and sold, with the profits flowing to law enforcement budgets. The burden of proof for demonstrating the property’s innocence falls upon the rightful owner.

Often without even accusing any individual person of a crime, the police confiscate the homes of innocent people rumored to have some relative who uses drugs; they seize the money of unsuspecting bystanders whose only crime is to carry an unusual amount of cash (“only drug dealers do that”); and they have gunned down property owners standing in the way of the quest for attractive assets, that along with holding guns on children while they arrest their parents suspected of dealing drugs, makes this war deeply egregious.

Beyond the deeply arbitrary process, asset forfeiture poses a deeper threat. A significant part of drug enforcement efforts has shifted from prosecuting drug crime to seizing property; according to a 2004 article published by the ACLU, most drug enforcement agencies were raking in more money than they received from their budgets. Self-financed police need not justify their activities through any regular budgetary process. Under the drug war, police construct a veil of secrecy, freedom from legislative oversight, and latitude to set an agenda accountable to no one, a system that lies very far from presumed democratic institutional practices in the United States, an institution that your body (The Black Congressional Caucus) has historically prided itself to uphold.

Once released from prison, felony disenfranchisement laws often perpetuate the disparate effects impacting African-American citizens. 1.4 million African American men have permanently lost their right to vote because of a felony conviction even though their sentences have been served. This rate of disenfranchisement is seven times the national average.  With over one million black males currently under the control of the criminal justice system, the applicable voting rolls of the black community are being demolished by this prison epidemic. Some might even argue that the plan of the power elite in constructing more prisons was to ensure blacks could not effectively participate in the political process. Unless we act now to stop these increasing incarceration rates, black political power will be nothing more than a memory a decade from now.

The racial inequalities of the war on drugs also disproportionately affect pregnant African-American women. Despite similar or equal rates of illegal drug use during pregnancy, African American women are ten times more likely to be reported to child welfare agencies for prenatal drug use. In a recent Supreme Court case, Ferguson vs. the City of Charleston, the practice of drug testing pregnant women violates their fourth amendment rights.

Such facts have been bandied about for years, and our politicians have consistently failed to take action on this new form of “Jim Crow” as suggested by OSU Law Professor Michelle Alexander.  Instead of addressing it, the subject is avoided at all costs by elected officials who fear being incinerated on contact for being soft on crime.  In the meantime, you have Drug Task Forces across the nation that prides itself on using military style tactics to terrorize African-American communities when studies have shown that most of the drugs are in the suburbs.

Perhaps you were as hopeful as I that the election of an African-American President would certainly mean that the number one problem affecting African-American communities and families alike would be addressed.  That he’d at least address this war which rips apart families and incarcerates mothers and fathers predominately for nonviolent charges and leaves 1 in every 15 black children (1.4 million) with either one or both parents in jail. Unfortunately, President Obama has never even mentioned the drug war, let alone offers any solutions. The silence coming from Obama is particularly deafening, because he has written eloquently about his own struggle with drugs but has not addressed the tragic effect the war on drugs is having on African American communities.

As for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, she flew into Selma, Ala., to reinforce her image as the wife of the black community’s most beloved white politician and has made much of her plan to attract female voters, but she has ignored the suffering of poor, black women right in her own backyard.  Located down the road from her Chappaqua, N.Y., home are two prisons housing female inmates, Taconic and Bedford. Forty-eight percent of the women in Taconic are there for nonviolent drug offenses; 78% of those in the prison are African American.

And Bedford, the state’s only maximum-security prison for women, is home to some of the worst victims of New York’s draconian Rockefeller-era drug laws — mothers and grandmothers whose first brush with the law resulted in their being locked away for 15 years or more on nonviolent drug charges.  Yet even though these prisons so nearby, Our nation’s first female Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has turned a blind eye to the plight of the women locked away there, notably refusing to speak out on their behalf.

I urge you to write your local congressman to support Drug Policy Reform to help end these racial injustices caused by the war on drugs/ the unconstitutional war on African-Americans.


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