America’s War on Minorities

(Excellent and crucial essay. 10:21 Big Apple Time – promoted by srkp23)

In 1980, an African-American was equally likely to be either living in a college dorm or living in prison.  Not anymore.  In the last twenty-six years, we have made remarkable progress.

Today, the Census Bureau will release a study showing that American blacks are more than three times as likely to live in prison than in a college dorm.

And the study has more good news as well.  Hispanic Americans in 1980 were more likely to live in college dorms than in prison.  Now, there are 2.7 Hispanics in prison for every Hispanic in a college dorm.

Clearly, those fine minds of the US Supreme Court are correct – America has overcome its racial issues, and can now begin to dismantle the system of affirmative action.

What can offer us some insight into how this happened?  Well, in 1980, Ronald Reagan was elected, and the “Just Say No” era of the War on Drugs began.  And Drug War Facts has a handy chart which shows us the results.

In 1980, there were 10,441,000 total arrests in the United States.  Of those, 475,160 were for violent crimes, while 580,900 of those were for drug arrests.  Of the 580,900 drug arrests, 401,982 were for marijuana, with 338,664 of those for marijuana possession.

In 2006, there were 14,380,370 total arrests in the United States.  While the total arrests increased by less than four million over the last twenty-six years, drug arrests more than tripled to 1,889,810.  Marijuana arrests more than doubled to 829,627.  And still, less than one hundred thousand of the marijuana arrests were for anything more than possession.  For the fourth year in a row, marijuana possession arrests outnumbered violent crime arrests.  In 2006, 611,523 Americans were arrested for violent crimes; that same year, 738,916 Americans were arrested for marijuana possession. 

How does that impact American blacks and Hispanics?  With more good news.  In 2004, 250,900 state prisoners were serving time in prison for drug offenses.  133,100 (53.05%) of those were black.  50,100 (19.97%) were Hispanic.  24% of black and Hispanic inmates in all state prisons are there on drug offenses, compared to 14% of white inmates.  In 2001, the Department of Justice reported that between 1990 and 2000, “Overall, the increasing number of drug offenses accounted for 27% of the total growth among black inmates.”  This is despite the fact that most drug users in America, 72% of the total, are whites, with blacks making up only 15% of America’s drug users. 

And yet, blacks constitute 36.8% of those arrested for drug violations, over 42% of those in federal prisons for drug violations. African-Americans comprise almost 58% of those in state prisons for drug felonies; Hispanics account for 20.7%.

Among persons convicted of drug felonies in state courts, whites were less likely than African-Americans to be sent to prison. Thirty-three percent (33%) of convicted white defendants received a prison sentence, while 51% of African-American defendants received prison sentences. It should also be noted that Hispanic felons are included in both demographic groups rather than being tracked separately so no separate statistic is available.

So much of what we talk about regarding race in America is symbolic.  Can we get Bill O’Reilly or Don Imus off the air for a few weeks or months?  Are people singing the national anthem in Spanish?  Can we get the N-word out of rap music?  This is hundreds of thousands of minorities charged with felonies, losing their voting rights, and being imprisoned, every year, as a matter of institutional policy.

I don’t know how there can still be a question in America that the War on Drugs is in large part a war on American minorities.  I don’t know how there can still be a question that we are establishing a massive police apparatus to quixotic purpose.  And I don’t know how anyone can’t see that this issue, more than any other, is destroying the opportunities of America’s poor and minority populations.

And now the Census numbers are out, and we cannot deceive ourselves anymore about what this policy and others are doing for American minorities.  Which assures me we’ll use the other time-tested technique to shift these facts out of sight.

We’ll change the subject.


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    • Jay Elias on September 27, 2007 at 13:36

    …this may end up not cross-posting after all.  I dunno why, but DK won’t let me post a diary today.

    Sorry to harp on this, but seriously, this is really important.

  1. and i think that the corresponding neglect of education at all levels serves to continue the advancement of those who can afford, not those who necessarily earn or deserve it. 

    • srkp23 on September 27, 2007 at 16:37

    I once attended a panel where one of the speakers did a history of the mass incarceration of African-Americans as another way of controlling that population post- slavery, a history of the relation of the black body to U.S. law. As slaves, they were not constituted as legal subjects at all. The legacy of slavery puts these subjects in a negative position vis-a-vis the law. They are on the receiving end of the law’s discipline–they are subjects of criminal law–much more often than they are subjects of the law as justice.

    We see the same kind of movement concerning undocumented workers. The Right wants to make them subjects of the law by disciplining and punishing them, not by integrating them into the legal and social life of productive members of our body politic.

    I absolutely agree that the drug war is a war on minorities … and also a war on alternative styles of life within this highcapitalist culture. Discipline the pot-smokers!

    • snud on September 27, 2007 at 17:01

    are a monument to failure.

  2. of minorities affects subsequent generations. How many kids have one or both parent in jail? That does wonders for (i) food security (god, how I loathe that term), (ii) educational opportunities and (iii) behaviour.

    Wonderful… just wonderful…

  3. a racist state still self-identifying as a bastion of Puritanical Holiness and giving God and Manifest Destiny credit for its delusional all-white Christian greatness…even as that greatness fades as we become more and more of a “faith based’ nation under the Republicons?

    And why did I phrase this as a question?

    Or that?

    • srkp23 on September 27, 2007 at 18:06

    just put up a diary Right Wing Censoring Award Winning Drug War Documentary!

    Why in the year 2007 is an award winning documentary on the most important and expensive domestic policy issue for at least the past 50 years not being shown at our theatres ? I’ve just seen a documentary called AMERICAN DRUG WAR : the last white hope that if ever widely seen by the American public would send the drug warrior establishment that we fund billions of dollars with each year running with their tails between their legs. Powerful Drug Warrior lobbying groups both private and in government have so far succeeded in keeping this well written and informative documentary out of American Theatres. This film exposes the DRUG WAR as the TRILLION FRAUD that it is.

  4. I’d suggest watching the HBO series “The Wire.” I’ve become addicted to the show since I heard about it a few months ago. The first 3 seasons are out on dvd and I’m waiting patiently for the 4th since I don’t subscribe to HBO.

    David Simon, the creator is a prophet of our times as far as I’m concerned. One of the things he’s trying to show us in the series is how ridiculous the drug war is and how it has corrupted the work of law enforcement. Especially season 3 – which is all about reform – tackles this issue in an amazing way.

    Here’s a link to a speech by David where he talks about his views. This is the third in a series of 3 youtube videos of the speech. If you’ve got an extra 30 minutes, I recommend watching all of them. In this one he talks about his views on the drug war and what’s its done to law enforcement. He takes this on at about 3:40 in the video.


  5. …all those folks going to Jena, it was like being plugged in, that there was finally an issue where perhaps people would see what’s happening everywhere, not just some little southern town.  Then I saw an article saying that about 90 percent of the people who went were black, and the author cited a “massive experience gap” which makes sure most white people (though they’re not alone) see it largely as a matter of law…if not, perhaps, in Jena. 

    Nonetheless, the outcry over Jena gave me some hope that people will or can get this.  It is indeed a GI bill in reverse, the civil destruction of whole generations of black and hispanic men.  It’s also I think a foundation issue, in that a society which does such a thing is primed to ignore and condone further bad stuff.  Great issue & diary.

    • TOG on September 27, 2007 at 23:21

    Another way that the “civil destruction of Black and Hispanic (I would say) families” that jessical refers to above is being achieved, is through the devastating effects of child-support enforcement on the poor and working class.
    Young Black and Hispanic men who father children without any means of supporting them are doomed to a life of ever mounting debt to the State, not only for the child-support itself, but for fees and interest charges. A minimum-wage income garnished for child-support leaves these young men with no incentive and little hope for their (or their children’s) future. But hey, we loves our punishment, especially when it’s so carefully targeted at the powerless.
    I’m sure there is significant overlap in this population of “deadbeat” dads and the minority prison population.

  6. proved that there isn’t a dime’s worth of difference between the ?criminals? and the ?guards?  America is no longer the land of the free and the home of the brave, it’s the land of the incarcerated and the home of the paid!  Goes right along with the coalition of the billing!  Free Range Capitalism at its finest!

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