The “Drug War” in America has been raging on for decades, and people keep going to jail on possession charges — despite every indication that jailing people for crimes of addiction is pointless. Even worse, it is increasingly apparent that drug laws are applied unevenly against people of color.
That isn’t something new. The history of drug laws in this country indicates that racist politics were always a guiding force. At the start, however, the racist overtones of many drug laws were much harder to see. Now, the statistical evidence makes it clear that racial bias often comes into play where drug law enforcement is concerned.
Consider these statistics from the American Civil Liberties Union:
- Marijuana is used pretty equally among both black and whites aged 18 to 25 years of age.
- Nationally, blacks are arrested almost four times as often as whites for possession of marijuana.
- In some locations (Iowa, Washington D.C., Minnesota and Illinois), blacks were 7.5-8.5 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites.
In 2010, the last year the ACLU included in its report, nearly half of the drug arrests in this country were for possession charges — meaning that the defendant wasn’t a drug dealer or trafficker, but someone that simply used drugs. That’s a lot of recreational users and addicts who are going to jail for no good reason.
Why, if whites and blacks are using an illegal drug at roughly the same rate, are blacks going to jail far more often? There’s one sad, obvious answer: Racial bias on the part of law enforcement. That bias, whether conscious or unconscious, may lead an officer to target people of color for closer examination and cause the courts to react more harshly than they would toward a white defendant.
If you’re a person of color, you cannot expect leniency in the courts when you’re faced with a drug possession charge. You need to assume that the scales of justice are weighted against you — and get the most experienced help that you can for your defense.