Title: The New Jim Crow
Rating: 5 Stars
A fearless, remorseless, heartbreaking, unarguable condemnation of the War on Drugs as just another way to oppress minorities in the US.
It’s a pretty straightforward argument:
- Blacks were first deprived of all rights by being enslaved
- After fighting a civil war, Blacks were freed from bondage
- After about a decade or so of freedom, blacks became oppressed and disenfranchised by Jim Crow laws
- After the civil rights movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s, the Jim Crow laws were overturned
- After about a decade or so of freedom, the War on Drugs was started, which despite drug usage being consistent across all races, ended up overwhelmingly targeting black / brown men, thus oppressing and disenfranchising entire generations of minorities yet again
This is a thin book (somewhere around 250 pages). I heard about it and I figured that I’d quickly read it over a weekend. What is written here is so shocking and infuriating that I found it difficult to read more than ten pages at a time. It took me close to two weeks to finish it.
One of the horrible beauties of the war on drugs and the resulting mass incarceration is that this gave cause to poor white people who were suffering at the expense of affirmative action to hate on black people for being criminals. Similarly, since black communities are themselves being destroyed by the War on Drugs, many in the black community are supportive of the police presence in their neighborhood.
The War on Drugs was started in the early 80’s. Later when the crack epidemic hit the inner city neighborhoods, the War on Drugs was used as a weapon of convenience to attack the black communities. The fact that there is substantial evidence that the crack epidemic was to some degree facilitated by the CIA as a means to provide cash in support of the Contras in the Central American wars is doubly heartbreaking.
I also find it interesting that blacks have been so stalwart in their support of Hillary Clinton as she runs for president. The War on Drugs led to unprecedented draconian sentences, of which Bill Clinton was a huge proponent. He refused to let the Republicans get to the right on him on the crime issue, thus condemning millions of predominantly black and brown men to a veritable lifetime of deprivation and disenfranchisement.
The Supreme Court are also complicit. Their rulings have increasingly given essentially unlimited powers to police to pull over anyone they want whenever they want.
Prosecutors have essentially unlimited powers to bring any charges they want. They routinely overcharge people to force innocent people to plead guilty. The public defenders’ office is seriously underfunded. Indigent defendants accused of even serious crimes spend literally minutes with their public defender.
Once you plead guilty you are in the system. Even after imprisonment, you cannot vote, you cannot be live in public housing, you cannot even get a job. How is this anything other than a recipe to commit more crime?
With increased federal funding from the War on Drugs, police forces are now militarized. In some places, all drug raids must be performed by SWAT teams. This is nothing more than a military force bearing down upon domestic US citizens.
The forfeiture laws reward communities for making drug arrests. Auctions become a significant source of revenue, and therefore, not illogically has been abused. A husband caught smoking a joint in his wife’s car has led to the wife’s car being confiscated as being part of the crime. Police have seized ninety-eight cents in a drug bust, essentially forcing someone to empty their pockets and calling that forfeiture.
The alleged point of the War on Drugs was to capture and imprison the drug kingpins. Ironically, thanks to forfeiture laws, it is precisely the drug kingpins that have the most assets to seize. They negotiate with cash hungry governments to limit their jail time by forfeiting heavier fines. Thus, the people with the least assets get the heaviest jail terms while the wealthy kingpins get off with the lightest. It’s been estimated that forfeiting $50,000 leads to an average sentence reduction of 6 years.
Although usage of drugs is consistent, regardless of race, eighty to ninety percent of all drug arrests are to black / brown people. The criminal penalties are heavily weighted towards the type of drugs minorities are most likely to use.
Police are allowed to pull over anyone, even for the most minor of traffic offenses (eg signalling a turn either too late or too early). They are allowed to be suspicious and can ask to search a vehicle for the slimmest of contexts (eg person is too calm or too nervous).
Drug activity takes place in all neighborhoods. Police target minority neighborhoods nearly exclusively.
Despite widespread, convincing, conclusive evidence that racial bias exists at all levels of law enforcement, the Supreme Court has ruled that no case can be overturned based on racial bias unless there is overt proof that it has taken place in that specific case. Since there are very few cases in this day and age where the police / prosecutor make overt racist statements, the systemic racial bias that routinely occurs goes unchallenged.
There is no incremental progress on this issue. We must acknowledge and deal with the fact that we do not live in a colorblind society. The War on Drugs must be stopped.