V. Drug Policy, Drug Law Enforcement And People Of Color
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The empirical evidence available clearly demonstrates that the adverse effects of current drug policy impact disproportionately on people of color. Although it is estimated that over 80% of drug users are white, minorities comprise 74% of those incarcerated for drug offenses. (46) Therefore, the injustices inherent in the enforcement and criminal prosecution of drug offenses impact more profoundly on communities of color.
Mandatory drug sentencing laws and the mass guilty pleas they entail lead to insufficient checks on improper police activity, since, generally, no trial or suppression hearings occur when a defendant pleads guilty, at which forums improprieties on the part of law enforcement officers may be exposed. Civil rights are eroded with the creation of additional exceptions to the Fourth Amendment's bar on warrantless searches (in what has effectively become the "drug exception" to the U.S. Constitution), while discriminatory stereotyping regarding the profile of a drug dealer leads to the more frequent search and seizure of people of color. Further, vaguely worded loitering and curfew laws, intended to curb drug dealing, are disproportionately enforced on inner city streets.
Other factors lead to a disparity in the racial makeup of those arrested for narcotics offenses. Wealthier white drug users make their purchases behind closed doors, in business districts and in more isolated suburban communities, away from the eye of law enforcement agents -- and therefore, more frequently escape detection. On the other hand, street dealers, and many drug users in inner city neighborhoods are considerably more exposed.
At the same time, a statistically high number of drug prosecutions result in convictions. This is largely due to the "professional" nature of witnesses involved in narcotics cases, and because drug offenders are typically apprehended as a result of "buy-and-bust" operations or pursuant to "observation sales," where police set up operations in designated "high crime" neighborhoods, so as to make undercover purchases from street dealers, and/or observe and apprehend individuals involved in street sale and purchase of narcotics. (47) Additionally, such community based "buy-and-bust" and other similar operations tend to concentrate on low level dealers and users rather than the drug kingpins, since street sellers and purchasers are simply easier to locate and apprehend.
Current drug policy has other irrational and discriminatory consequences, e.g. the disparate treatment of crack-cocaine offenders (generally poor people of color), versus powder-cocaine offenders (generally white, middle-upper class), and the inequitable prison sentences which this duplicity engenders. (48)
Due to lack of other forms of attention, by government and private industry, inner city neighborhoods have become the battleground for much of the drug trade, including enforcement efforts by police. Moreover, the great sums of money involved in the illegal drug trade encourages police corruption, leading to a breakdown of appropriate law enforcement efforts in these communities. Furthermore, broadly drafted civil forfeiture and other similar laws, providing for the eviction of entire families where one of its members may be involved in drug dealing, (49) are more frequently enforced in poor communities, leading to greater hardship in communities where higher numbers of black and Latino people reside.
In summary, many of the social costs outlined in Section II(B) above, are more profoundly felt in minority communities, to wit: high incarceration rates, increase in fatherless and motherless homes; active recruitment of children into the drug trade so that dealers can escape harsh penalties of the drug laws; greater financial and emotional instability in households; greater financial and social instability in neighborhoods; criminalization and stigmatization of many young members of these communities, affecting their future employability; serious injury to innocent bystanders caught in the "cross-fires" of rival drug dealers and their battles with police; and a pervasive street culture of guns and violence growing out of the drug trade affecting other forms of social interaction in urban neighborhoods, with violence becoming a commonly accepted mode of conflict resolution.
Since current drug policy so profoundly and disproportionately impacts upon people of color, review of present laws must be undertaken to remove any discriminatory bias, and steps taken to ensure that whatever drug control laws and strategies are employed in the future, that they are fairly conceived and even-handedly enforced.