Breath of Clarity

The War on Drugs: Racism Inhibits Progress

American Politics and Government

The structural violence imposed on Black Americans inhibits the public from viewing the drug problem as impactful on all races. The reality results from historical attitudes that still prevail from when the country was founded. In The New Jim Crow: Mass incarceration In the Age of Colorblindness, Michelle Alexander explains America’s current lack of egalitarian democracy as consequential to the denial of black citizenship when the Founding Fathers created the original union. Hundreds of years later, America is still not an egalitarian democracy”1. However, as America incarcerates more individuals than any other developed country, the quantity impacted by the war on drugs is astounding. As Alexander illustrates, “No other country in the world imprisons so many of its racial or ethnic minorities”1. The United States imprisons a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid.1 The current correction system is comparable to Jim Crow laws, as prisons operate as a network system of policies and institutions that collectively ensure blacks will be excluded from mainstream society. Therefore, following Jim Crow laws, “we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely resigned it”1. The purpose of this essay is to show the prison system’s perpetuation of structural violence can be combatted by compassionately perceiving addiction as a public health issue among whites and blacks.

There’s no question that early police enforcement pursued black Americans, even though the addict population was always distinctly biracial. This is to due the fact, “enormous financial incentives have been granted to law enforcement to engage in mass drug arrests”1. They target the low income neighborhoods, which are predominantly black due to structural violence making it difficult for marginalized minority to experience mobility. For this reason, so many affluent white individuals who suffer from drug abuse are not sought out. Race is confused with the user “2

population. It’s problematic because those who were already living in the low-privileged complexes face additional barriers to overcome their conditions. It’s particularly clear when we investigate those who are released as they are “often denied the right to vote and relegated to a racially segregated and subordinated existence”1. It results in a permanent marginalization, as they are denied access to the mainstream economy.

The historical framework about authority’s intention for drug imprisonment in the past century clarifies why the war on drugs necessitates economic equality. Originally in the 1800s, drug over-use was sympathetically viewed and treated as a medical problem. However, when Chinese immigrants and Black Americans started taking white people’s jobs, the enforcement started to target racial minority2. The lack of job openings among inner-city residents increased incentives to sell drugs. It became more difficult for a black non-felon to get a job, compared to a white man out of prison. Alexander confirms, “the job market in America regards black men who have never been criminals as though they were.”1. The popular opinion was well-articulated by the National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals, which issued a recommendation in 1973 that “no new institutions for adults should be built and existing institutions for juveniles should be closed. […] There is overwhelming evidence that these institutions create crime rather than prevent it.”1. The private prison system increases the inequality gap which necessitates crime by exploiting those who are suffer from pain in order to lock them up and make money. Clearly the current American correction system is ineffective.

The structural violence imposed by the prison system against blacks is evident, as it’s a group of people who are identified as a cause for problems in society which makes authority respond in fear rather than compassion. It makes “people start to perceive their fellow citizens as” 3

bad and their lives are worthless” 2. The issue becomes cyclical when we consider impact on black self-image as, “the new caste system is now as obvious as my own face in the mirror. The new caste system lurks invisibly within the maze of rationalizations we have developed for persistent racial inequality”3. When blacks view one’s own fate as a victim of their race, they are unmotivated to restrict themselves from illegal activity.

The cyclical quality of individuals who pass through the prison system is to due the authority’s inability to compassionately assist those recovering from pain. Physician Dr. Gabor Mate asserts, “the problem with the war on drugs is that it tries to deal with a health problem as if it was a legal problem. Addiction is an effect of human unhappiness and suffering. When people are depressed, they want to soothe their distress”2. Therefore, policy-makers role is not to investigate why the addition, but rather the pain’s roots. According to Alexander, “[President Bill] Clinton made it easier for federally assisted public housing projects to exclude anyone with a criminal history […] Thus, for countless poor people, particularly racial minorities targeted by the drug war, public housing was no longer available, leaving many of them homeless.1 Isolating individuals from their loved ones and putting them on the streets increases their feelings of loneliness, which will instigate drug intake. Individuals who are most in need of assistance are deprived, as the TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) “imposed a ban on eligibility for welfare and food stamps for anyone convicted of a felony drug offense—including simple possession of marijuana”1. During Clinton’s presidency, the government decreased funding for public housing by 61 percent and boosted corrections by 171 percent. According to Alexander, this “effectively makes the construction of prisons the nation’s main housing program for the urban poor”1. However, this leaves the family, who were already severely financially struggling, “4

the expenses to pay for an incarcerated loved one. According to Coates, “these economic factors fray a family’s bonds,” which makes the inmate’s existence feel burdensome3. It increases their sense of unworthiness which perpetuates self-destructive drug use behavior. While viewing incarceration and households as related vectors, it’s evident the inmate’s background is “a tangle of interrelated reinforcing perils”3. We need to address the structural impediments which create stressors that cause individuals to escape towards drugs. That will clarify action against the law as a response to conditions, rather than criminal activity justifying a person to be designated as deservingly unfree. The role of government programs is to address public safety needs. However, those who suffer the emotional consequences of America’s unjust capitalist system are punished instead of cared for.