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March 24, 2007

Politics and the war on drugs

Today's Los Angeles Times has this strong op-ed by Arianna Huffington entitled "The war on drugs' war on minorities: Democratic presidential candidates crave the Latino and black vote, but ignore the Drug War's unfair toll on people of color." Here are some snippets:

There is a subject being forgotten in the 2008 Democratic race for the White House. While all the major candidates are vying for the black and Latino vote, they are completely ignoring one of the most pressing issues affecting those constituencies: the failed "war on drugs" — a war that has morphed into a war on people of color....

[A] quick search of the top Democratic hopefuls' websites reveals that not one of them — not Hillary Clinton, not Barack Obama, not John Edwards, not Joe Biden, not Chris Dodd, not Bill Richardson — even mentions the drug war, let alone offers any solutions.  The silence coming from Clinton and Obama is particularly deafening....

Because of disenfranchisement statutes, large numbers of black men who were convicted of drug crimes are ineligible to vote, even those who have fully paid their debt to society.

A 2000 study found that 1.4 million African American men — 13% of the total black male population — were unable to vote in the 2000 election because of state laws barring felons access to the polls. In Florida, one in three black men is permanently disqualified from voting. Think that might have made a difference in the 2000 race?

Our shortsighted drug laws have become the 21st century manifestation of Jim Crow. Shouldn't this be an issue Democratic presidential candidates deem worthy of their attention?

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March 24, 2007 at 07:07 AM | Permalink

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Comments

The implication of this editorial is stunning. Whether disenfranchising felons is a good idea or not or whether incarcerating people for drug offenses or not is a good idea should turn on the merits of doing so, not whether members of certain groups decide, on a disproportionate basis, to engage in the applicable criminal activity. To suggest otherwise is to give criminals a say over society as a whole's rights to deal with them.

It's also completely nasty to suggest that this is the new Jim Crow. Jim Crow laws were based on skin color alone, and it is offensive (a) to suggest that people who think that felons shouldn't vote or that drug criminals should be incarcerated are in favor of Jim Crow laws and (b) to suggest that such applicable criminal activities are a proxy for race--as there is no inherent association with criminal behavior and race.

Posted by: federalist | Mar 24, 2007 5:12:46 PM

Federalist, what was Jim Crow but a set of laws? Guess what? Anyone who violated them was a criminal. The comparison is not that extreme. However, the drug war is really a war on poor and the outcasts despite color.

Posted by: George | Mar 24, 2007 6:51:41 PM

So people who support incarceration of drug offenders want to bring back Jim Crow . . . ?

Posted by: federalist | Mar 25, 2007 5:38:37 PM

Federalist, George wasn't saying that, it is hurts your credibility (even as a non-lawyer) to make such an analogy.

George’s point was even simpler: that the fact that a law is validly enacted does not mean that its enforcement is morally sound.

Whether enforcement of drug laws (which minorities usually feel the brunt of) is, itself, constitutional is a different story.

Posted by: S.cotus | Mar 25, 2007 11:06:27 PM

S.cotus, George's post was a clear implication that if you support the drug laws, you support Jim Crow.

If I am not a lawyer, why do I have an office with an outdoor view in a law firm. I'd better watch out, they're going to move me.

Of course, neither you nor George can deal with the fundamental point I raise, which is whether criminals being concentrated in certain groups can dictate the propriety of certain laws (e.g., felon disenfranchisement) due to disproportionality.

But hey, I'm not a lawyer, what do I know?

Posted by: federalist | Mar 26, 2007 2:30:03 AM

You do not look deeply enough into the problem of the drug prohibition and the disparity of sentencing guidelines based on the substance of choice. It is not about the sentence, it is about the criminality of the act.

Poor peoples' drugs (crack), long draconian sentences.
Rich peoples' drugs (marijuana), quasi-legality.

We have demonstrated not only the futility of drug prohibition but suffer the unintended consequences of huge jail populations, disenfranchised ex-felons, huge sophisticated criminal enterprises, gang violence, proliferation of guns, destabilized governments in South America and the Middle East and finance for terrorists.

It is time to insist our government abandon this terribly costly, destructive and ultimately unwinnable war on drugs and reassign these resources to education and rehabilitation.

Posted by: Alan Kabakoff | Mar 26, 2007 5:19:22 PM

"George's post was a clear implication that if you support the drug laws, you support Jim Crow."

That wasn't the implication and S.cotus even explained it to you. The point is, sometimes IDIOTS pass laws and only the courts can point out what IDIOTS they are and tell them to quit being IDIOTS. The executive will suck up any and all power the IDIOTS will give them and enforce it to the hilt, so no check and balance there.

Posted by: George | Mar 26, 2007 8:15:49 PM

Federalist, We explained it to you. The reason we think that you are not a lawyer is that you don’t cite authority for your propositions.

I don’t know why you have an outside office in a law firm.

Posted by: S.cotus | Mar 26, 2007 9:27:14 PM

If a Presidential candidate were to talk about reforming drug laws they would get a lot of media attention (both positive & negative) but they could lose a lot of votes. That is why they don't talk about it. If you want to know their position on drug laws you have to ask them a question during a forum. It does not seem that the press will ask them about that issue.

Drug treatment and aftercare are cost effective anticrime measures but they lack broad public support because it is a slow imperfect process. I think the general public is not very interested in drug problems and they want a quick fix. Incarceration of a person who has an alcohol/drug dependence is not a quick fix.

I fail to see the connection between drug laws and "Jim Crow" laws. There is no cure for being black.

Posted by: John Neff | Mar 27, 2007 5:12:04 PM

Poor peoples' drugs (crack), long draconian sentences.
Rich peoples' drugs (marijuana), quasi-legality.

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If Obama wins the election, will he do anything about the War on Drugs?
Nobody talks about the War on Drugs anymore, especially those who may have the power to change it. Do you think, if Obama wins, he will do anything to make the War on Drugs less about getting people arrested and making money for prisons and more about education and harm reduction? Ralph Nader says Joe Biden has a hell of a pro-Drug War record, which doesn't seem hopeful. Why isn't the Drug War a good debate point anymore? Is it because it benefits both parties too much?If Obama wins the election, will he do anything about the War on Drugs?
Nobody talks about the War on Drugs anymore, especially those who may have the power to change it. Do you think, if Obama wins, he will do anything to make the War on Drugs less about getting people arrested and making money for prisons and more about education and harm reduction? Ralph Nader says Joe Biden has a hell of a pro-Drug War record, which doesn't seem hopeful. Why isn't the Drug War a good debate point anymore? Is it because it benefits both parties too much?

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Jim Crow laws and (b) to suggest that such applicable criminal activities are a proxy for race--as there is no inherent association with criminal behavior and race.

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