Since President Richard Nixon coined the term in a press conference in June 1971, the ‘War on Drugs’ has been a forceful weapon for nationwide, institutionalized discrimination and racism in the United States.
Nixon declaring to the Congress on Drug Abuse Prevention and Control that drug abuse was “public enemy number one” was the start of the country’s longest ongoing war, along with the notoriously detrimental effects of its repercussions.
Just to get it out of the way right now, because I know many of you are wondering what my stance is on it… the War on Drugs is a race issue.
But please understand that this isn’t just my stance. This isn’t my opinion reflective of my own personal biases.
This is a cold, hard fact, and this series is going to extensively break down and analyze the many truths surrounding this.
The War on Drugs is a crisis which over the last 45 years has brutally and unjustly targeted and devastated communities of color all across America.
One of the most frequent responses to the pleas for criminal justice reform to solve the epidemic of mass incarceration of people of color is, “Well, the real issue we need to resolve is black-on-black crime!”
But, here’s the thing… black on black crime is in itself a twisted, and quite frankly racist expression used to represent the completely bogus idea that more black people are in prison because more black people are criminals.
This idea needs to be shut down.
What the idea of ‘black on black crime’ does is enable American citizens to turn a blind eye to this form of institutionalized racism by encouraging us to justify it. It allows us to diminish the value of black life and black freedom with implications that it is undeserved. . . that mass incarceration has nothing to do with systemic racism and everything to do with the shortcomings of black people in America.
So let’s debunk the myths.
Myth #1: Black on Black Crime Is Worse Than White on White Crime
One of the worst myths that has been perpetuating the idea of ‘black on black crime’ being more severe than other intraracial criminal trends is that black people commit crimes at a rate significantly higher than other racial groups. This is false.
According to recent FBI statistics, 90% of murders of black people are committed by another black person.
Similarly, 83% of murders of white people are committed by another white person.
77% of the US population is comprised of white people, and 13% of black people.
39% of the US prison population is comprised of white people, and 40% of black people.
That last statistic is frequently used in attempts to show that black people commit more crimes than white people.
However, research has shown time and time and time again that this simply is not true. What is true is that black people are policed more than white people. Black people are illegally stopped and searched more than white people. Black people get let off with significantly less warnings than white people.
And, as if it even needs to be stated, there’s a tremendous amount of overt racism in American policing. These factors all contribute to the mass incarceration of black people at rates five times higher than white people.
Myth #2: Black Children ‘Act Out’ and Have ‘Bad Attitudes’
Throughout American history, we have been told by the leaders of our institutions that black children are just… worse than white children. We’ve been told they have attitude problems, that they’re too sassy, that they act out more than their white peers.
We’ve been told that black children are troublesome and that they deserve what’s coming to them. That they deserve the punishment administered to them all throughout their academic careers and beyond.
It should be noted that as a white Canadian woman, my perspective on the issues that I am writing about is limited and I understand that I will never fully be able to empathize with a black youth in America. And I cannot even fathom how detrimental it must be to one’s psyche to grow up made to believe that you are inherently more troublesome than your peers based solely on the colour of your skin.
I can’t imagine how damaging it is to grow up under the lie that you are destined to a life of being “worse than” and “less than” because of your complexion.
So let’s stop the lies about black children. And let’s stop the systemic racism in educational institutions that allows educators to fail to adequately educate black students, and to punish black children at exceedingly higher rates than white children.
Some quick stats before we move on:
- Black students are suspended and expelled at rates 3 times greater than white students.
- Almost twice as many black students are referred to the police as white students, even though black students comprise only 18% of students.
- 18% of preschool students are black children, who receive 48% of all preschool out-of-school suspensions.
- On average, African American twelfth-grade students read at the same level as white
In summary, black students’ attitudes are not the problem, the education system itself is the problem. Racial disparities in the education system have caused a broad, nationwide failure to provide black students with equal learning opportunities and equal treatment.
While this in itself may appear to be an isolated issue, the truth is that the failures of the education system contribute to an endless cycle of prevention of African Americans from having equal opportunity in countless other aspects of life as we know it, including post-secondary education, employment, healthcare, housing, and more.
Myth #3: The Justice System Treats Everyone Equally
Honestly, this one is laughable. The lie that the American criminal justice system is fair has gone on for far too long.
Crime prevention and enforcement policies throughout every stage of the criminal justice system, from policing to the court system, are systematically structured to disproportionately target people of color.
I could fill my whole website with a never-ending list of statistics showing how severely African Americans are over-represented and disproportionately targeted by the criminal justice system. It’s despicable, really.
So, let’s talk policing:
- From 2005-2008, whites comprised a mere 8% of people frisked by the NYPD, while African Americans accounted for 85% of all frisks
- Police exercise their personal discretion regarding whom to stop & search in the drug war in a highly discriminatory manner
- The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) trains police to conduct discriminatory and racially motivated stops and searches across the country
- Cash grants are awarded to law enforcement agencies who agree to make drug law enforcement a top priority
- In some states, black men are admitted to prison on drug charges at rates twenty to fifty times greater than white men
- African Americans comprise 13% of US drug users, but have been arrested on drug charges 5.5x more frequently than whites for 30 years
- Numerous studies have shown that prosecutors interpret & respond to identical criminal activity based on the race of the offender
- A black man is 11.8 times more likely than a white man to enter prison for drug offenses
- Punishment becomes more severe when drug use is associated with people of color but softens when it is associated with whites
I could and would continue with more myths and more statistics that further disprove them, but this is just the beginning.
This article is the first part of an elaborate series on The War on Drugs and the multitude of ways it has worked over the last 45 years to destroy black life in America.
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Thank you for reading and for your support!