War on drugs delivered mass incarceration of blacks

Robeal Tesfamichael, Staff Writer

The collapse of the Jim Crow era during the 19th century didn’t alter the basic structure of the United States society but merely changed the language necessary enough in order to justify its affairs after President Ronald Reagan declared the “War on Drugs” on inner city communities throughout the country which has led to a system of incrimination and mass incarceration of racialized control towards minorities that has resembled Jim Crow for over the last thirty years; the reasoning for how this took place is expressed by civil rights lawyer, Michelle Alexander in her book, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.”

Scare tactics employed by the Reagan Administration during the 1980s crack-cocaine epidemic within inner city neighborhoods were used to garner public support behind the administration’s “tough on crime” drug policies used to police the outbreak. News channels on television were saturated daily with the images of “crack babies,” “crack dealers,” and both men and women of color being arrested which led to a growth in public perception of minorities being deviant, delinquent, criminals. “Tough on crime” policies included mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders but were purposely done disproportionally as these sentences were set in way that could target black drug offenders more than white drug offenders. These disparate sentencing policies were flagrant with the mandatory minimum sentencing of crack vs cocaine. An individual would need to possess about 18 times more grams of cocaine than crack in order for them to receive the same five year minimum sentencing despite both drugs being pharmacologically identical. The Reagan Administration did this purposely knowing that minorities were using crack at higher rates than white people since it was the cheaper and more affordable version of cocaine, which is the powdered version more commonly used in neighborhoods of higher socioeconomic status.

The War on Drugs has ravaged the inner city communities, especially the African American communities. Over the last three decades, despite crime rates having fluctuated up and down, the American prison population has quintupled from roughly 300,000 to currenly over 2 million with the vast majority of the population being African Americans. Two-thirds of the incarcerations between 1985 and 2000 (the time-frame for the prison population’s largest increase) were for drug conviction. Despite studies having shown for the past three decades that whites and blacks use and sell drugs at similar rates, Blacks are far more likely to be searched, found for possession, and convicted. After purposely convicting minorities while perpetuating the image that they are deviant criminals, they are permanently relegated towards legal discrimination and an under caste that will define them as “second class citizens” for the rest of their lives.