By Avery Warren ’24
There are so many nuances that stem from the terminology of “The War on Drugs”. Whether it is pertaining to mass incarceration or the criminalization of drugs, one thing is prevalent within our institution: the government wants to rid the soil of black and brown bodies.
The War on Drugs refers to the political initiative headed by the U.S. federal government to desecrate the distribution and usage of drugs within the country. The declaration that drug abuse is “public enemy number one” ignited this prolonged cycle of viewing individuals who mishandle substances as criminals rather than people in need. The inception of this campaign led to a surplus in the population of jails and prisons. The inauguration of President Ronald Raegan, in 1980, prompted an increase in the incarceration for nonviolent drug offenses; from 50,000 convictions in 1980 to 400,000 convictions in 1997.
With the shift from rehabilitation to imprisonment, there is an appalling intensification of prison concertation. In 1980, the nation’s prison population was approximately 300,000 inmates which later rose to over 1,000,000 inmates in 1997. The introduction of mandatory minimums under Raegan’s government is perceived as a racially charged institution.
The most apparent instance of this is the distinction between the sentencing of powder cocaine and crack. Possession of five grams of crack led to an automatic five-year sentence while it took the possession of 500 grams of powder cocaine to trigger that sentence. The properties of these substances are pharmacologically the same; invoking similar reactions in the user. However, cocaine is commonly associated with white users whilst 80% of crack users are black causing a higher incarceration rate within black communities.
In the history of the United States, the prohibition of drugs has been utilized to endow certain racial groupings with a generally negative connotation.The correlation of these substances to an identity has transpired to the disproportionate policing and enforcement of drugs in minority communities.
Legislation pertaining to the intake of crack cocaine was an attack against Black workers out of fear of them taking jobs from white people.The initial laws surrounding the consumption of marjinuana directly targeted Mexican work migrants. This adverse sentiment regarding cannabis was fueled by an anti-immagration mentality that was raging through the country at the time. Thus harming the societal perception of Mexicans. The national regulation of opium was directed towards Chinese Americans. The stigmatization of narcotics in this country is purely due to the foreign aspect of these substances and how it interplayed into American cultural values. The legality of these drugs has destabilized many neighborhoods.
There are escalating disparities in the policing of drugs within white communities and communities of color. Marijuana is consumed at comparable rates by both white and minority individuals. However, there is a notable discrepancy in the arrests and convictions of people. In a 2021 analysis, POCs accounted for 94 percent of marijuana related arrests in New York City. Correspondingly, in Ozaukee County, Wisconsin black people are 34 times more likely to be arrested than their white counterparts.