The war on drugs and the discrimination within

by Sydney Sweeney, Staff Columnist

The implication that there’s something wrong with America’s drug policy is an understatement. Justifiably argued, there’s a whole lot of issues in such policy that are fragments of a problematic whole, better known as our government’s war on drugs.

Beginning in 1971, the battle against drug abuse — or what former President Richard Nixon recognized to be the public’s number one enemy — has been a wasteful investment on economic, political and social tiers. Large portions of federal budgets have been allocated to anti-drug initiatives, most visibly resulting in the militarization of civilian law enforcement, and for over 35 years, the police’s involvement in the drug war has become increasingly detrimental to American society, greatly rattling the communities and lives of young people and ethnic minorities. So, is it warranted to say that the drug war is “choosy” with its enemies? Most definitely — but it’s always been that way.

In March, Harper’s Magazine released a 22-year-old interview with one of Nixon’s former advisors, John Ehrlichman, whose words served to dismiss speculation of whether the war on drugs inception was a racist tactic.

“(By criminalizing both populations heavily), we could disrupt those communities,” Ehrlichman said. “We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news.”

Such a statement is timeless, by virtue of the institutional racism that law enforcement reeks of. Today, statistics reaffirm this belief: African-Americans comprise 14 percent of regular drug users, but 37 percent of users arrested for drug offenses are African-American. Also, African-Americans federal crack offenders were sentenced to far more prison time than Caucasian powder cocaine offenders.

But the reality of Ehrlichman’s claims doesn’t stop at individual arrests and searches and seizures. America has watched communities — primarily urban, lower-income ones — become front lines of unsolicited police brutality.

Ferguson, Missouri’s anarchy may not have had anything to do with drugs, but it had everything to do with police militarization and the targeting of poor, predominantly-minority communities. These areas belong to residents who face tens of thousands of SWAT deployments annually, most of the time pertaining to drug searches victimizing minorities.

And nearly four of 10 times, the private homes being ransacked lack any contraband at all.

The perpetual use of SWAT teams in drug operations is especially unsettling, considering the fact that such agencies were invented to suppress riots and violent confrontation with armed individuals.

Police brutality and the war on drugs hasn’t fazed or frightened drug abusers — most drug use has stabilized, while the number of those punished for mere possession continues to rise. It’s been argued that the failure and ineffectiveness of the drug war has lead to the unnecessary and military-style policing of poor, ethnic neighborhoods and incarceration of African-Americans and Latinos.

Law enforcement agencies are grasping for something, or someone, to disrupt.

And unfortunately, under the Military Cooperation with Civilian Law Enforcement Agencies Act, our federal government says that’s OK.

Through the legislation enacted in 1981, the militarization of police was taken to unprecedented extremes. Police agencies were allowed to access military bases and weaponry in order to “better” pursue drug abusers, and to this day, the U.S. government has spent over a trillion dollars on the war on drugs, actively neglecting other areas of the budget that could be catered to with greater spending allowances.

America’s drug policy is a problem, and so are the discriminatory and violent strategies that the war on drugs has so eagerly manifested.

Decades have shown institutional racism and the militarization of police playing a large role in the drug war, but recent years haven’t exactly hinted that any reform or reason will be coming our way —  or at least not any time soon.