(Excellent and crucial essay. 10:21 Big Apple Time – promoted by srkp23)
In 1980, an African-American was equally likely to be either living in a college dorm or living in prison. Not anymore. In the last twenty-six years, we have made remarkable progress.
Today, the Census Bureau will release a study showing that American blacks are more than three times as likely to live in prison than in a college dorm.
And the study has more good news as well. Hispanic Americans in 1980 were more likely to live in college dorms than in prison. Now, there are 2.7 Hispanics in prison for every Hispanic in a college dorm.
Clearly, those fine minds of the US Supreme Court are correct – America has overcome its racial issues, and can now begin to dismantle the system of affirmative action.
What can offer us some insight into how this happened? Well, in 1980, Ronald Reagan was elected, and the “Just Say No” era of the War on Drugs began. And Drug War Facts has a handy chart which shows us the results.
In 1980, there were 10,441,000 total arrests in the United States. Of those, 475,160 were for violent crimes, while 580,900 of those were for drug arrests. Of the 580,900 drug arrests, 401,982 were for marijuana, with 338,664 of those for marijuana possession.
In 2006, there were 14,380,370 total arrests in the United States. While the total arrests increased by less than four million over the last twenty-six years, drug arrests more than tripled to 1,889,810. Marijuana arrests more than doubled to 829,627. And still, less than one hundred thousand of the marijuana arrests were for anything more than possession. For the fourth year in a row, marijuana possession arrests outnumbered violent crime arrests. In 2006, 611,523 Americans were arrested for violent crimes; that same year, 738,916 Americans were arrested for marijuana possession.
How does that impact American blacks and Hispanics? With more good news. In 2004, 250,900 state prisoners were serving time in prison for drug offenses. 133,100 (53.05%) of those were black. 50,100 (19.97%) were Hispanic. 24% of black and Hispanic inmates in all state prisons are there on drug offenses, compared to 14% of white inmates. In 2001, the Department of Justice reported that between 1990 and 2000, “Overall, the increasing number of drug offenses accounted for 27% of the total growth among black inmates.” This is despite the fact that most drug users in America, 72% of the total, are whites, with blacks making up only 15% of America’s drug users.
And yet, blacks constitute 36.8% of those arrested for drug violations, over 42% of those in federal prisons for drug violations. African-Americans comprise almost 58% of those in state prisons for drug felonies; Hispanics account for 20.7%.
Among persons convicted of drug felonies in state courts, whites were less likely than African-Americans to be sent to prison. Thirty-three percent (33%) of convicted white defendants received a prison sentence, while 51% of African-American defendants received prison sentences. It should also be noted that Hispanic felons are included in both demographic groups rather than being tracked separately so no separate statistic is available.
So much of what we talk about regarding race in America is symbolic. Can we get Bill O’Reilly or Don Imus off the air for a few weeks or months? Are people singing the national anthem in Spanish? Can we get the N-word out of rap music? This is hundreds of thousands of minorities charged with felonies, losing their voting rights, and being imprisoned, every year, as a matter of institutional policy.
I don’t know how there can still be a question in America that the War on Drugs is in large part a war on American minorities. I don’t know how there can still be a question that we are establishing a massive police apparatus to quixotic purpose. And I don’t know how anyone can’t see that this issue, more than any other, is destroying the opportunities of America’s poor and minority populations.
And now the Census numbers are out, and we cannot deceive ourselves anymore about what this policy and others are doing for American minorities. Which assures me we’ll use the other time-tested technique to shift these facts out of sight.
We’ll change the subject.