In today’s panel discussion about the Drug War, former U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott got pretty angry at me when I mentioned that there were racial disparities in the enforcement of drug laws. So angry, in fact, that he angrily called me “intellectually dishonest.” I responded that I considered it intellectually dishonest for him to deny what everyone in the room knows to be true—that members of racial minorities are vastly more likely to be arrested, more likely to be convicted, and more likely to be sentenced to longer terms, than are their white countrymen. I stand by what I said. Mr. Scott cannot be ignorant of the statistics, and although he sophomorically demanded that I “prove it”—presumably by looking up statistics on my iPhone in the middle of my presentation—he knows well enough that members of minorities, and particularly young black men, suffer disproportionately from the morally indefensible effects of this pointless and stupid War on Drugs.
Since he wanted me to “prove it,” I recommend starting with some interesting studies from Human Rights Watch, including their 2000 study, “Punishment And Prejudice: Racial Disparities in The War on Drugs,” which found that black men are sent to state prison on drug charges 13.4 times as often as are whites, and constitute 80 to 90 percent of all drug offenders sent to state prison. There’s also the more recent report, “Decades of Disparity: Drug Arrests And Race in The United States,” which found that blacks were arrested on drug charges at rates that were up to 5.5 times more often than were whites. One third of the 25 million drug arrests in the years 1980-2007 were black. HRW also produced the report “Targeting Blacks: Drug Law Enforcement And Race in The United states,” which found that blacks are 10.1 times more likely than whites to enter prison for drug offenses, that a black man is 11.8 times more likely than a white man to enter prison for drug offenses; that a black woman is 4.8 times more likely than a white woman to enter prison for drug offenses; and that among blacks entering prison, almost two out of five (38.2 percent) were convicted of drug offenses, compared to one in four whites (25.4 percent).
Don’t trust Human Rights Watch? Well, the Kennedy School of Government produced a study in 2001 that found a significant difference in the treatment of blacks and whites in drug cases. There was the report of the Sentencing Guidelines Commission in 2000 that found such a disparity. There’s this report from NORML, which found significantly higher arrests for marijuana possession among blacks than among whites. Statistics like this have led the ACLU to observe that
Even though whites outnumber blacks five to one and both groups use and sell drugs at similar rates, African-Americans comprise:
• 35% of those arrested for drug possession;
• 55% of those convicted for drug possession; and
• 74% of those imprisoned for drug possession.
Now, perhaps Mr. Scott misunderstood my point, and thought I was accusing the law enforcement community of purposely targeting blacks in the Drug War. I have no doubt that many law enforcement officers do, in fact, do this, but that’s irrelevant to my point. My point was that the Drug War has a radically disproportionate impact on racial minorities in this country. That is a fact, no matter how much Mr. Scott might not want to admit it.
Now, maybe you think that’s okay. Maybe you think drugs are so bad that it’s okay to send a massive proportion of the black male population of America to prison. Maybe you’re so eager to tell other people what they can do with their bodies that you don’t care what sort of havoc the Drug War has wreaked on American communities. Who am I to judge? But don’t deny that these are the facts, and don’t get offended when someone points them out.