Americas first drug laws and the racial issues that may have spawned them

The war against drugs and substance abuse has for years been the centerpiece of American domestic and foreign policy, and to some extent can be viewed as war against a particular race. The war on drugs in this context can be viewed as inaccurate yet convenient metaphor. This war can be seen as the employment of violence and force against a community or their institutions so as to attain some political objectives. Race has over the years played an essential role in the identification of communities, and this has become the main target of the war on drugs. This main focus has consequently exposed cultural practices of the targeted groups to police control and military-style attacks. Though the drug policies were originally sought to eradicate substance abuse while destroying their distribution networks, this is just but part of the story. This paper seeks to give a discussion of the state’s efforts to eradicate and control drug abuse as means of the dominant group expressing racial powers over the minority group. The paper will first explore the origin of the war on drugs also called American Anti-Drug policy and the impacts of these policies on the African American communities. The paper will finally address the cultural and historically entrenched connections of race and drug control. Origin of the war on drugs In 1982, the then US Present Ronald Regan launched a campaign against drugs (Cook and Davies, 1999). The president described the camping in military terms using words like œwar, œsurrender and œbattle. The Regan administration initiated a campaign geared towards changing the public perception on drug use and the threats posed to the public by the use of illegal drugs. The other leaders came after Regan continued the initiated anti-drug policy. President Bush initiated the national office of drug policy, raised anti-drug spending, appointed drug ˜czars’ and intensified drug enforcement efforts and laws (Gahlinger, 2001). President Clinton, in his part, raised ant-drug budget, proposed expansion of drug testing rules and sought efforts of curbing drug prosecution and interdictions (Gahlinger, 2001). Tonry (1995) argued that the drug war was fought mainly from the perspective of a political motive, and to show that the Regan and Bush administrations were concerned on public safety, and prevention of crime. In as far as the war on drugs was initiated from the perspective of a political motive, this assessment does not tell the whole story. To get a picture of the origin of the war on drugs, it is essential to understand what was happening in the then cultural landscape making it politically gainful to fight the war on drugs. When President Regan first declared war on drugs, there was a cultural change that was underway in America. The country was transforming from a relatively liberal period including skepticism towards authority and government, and focus on personal freedom, to a period of conservatism including respect for authority and government, and focus on personal responsibility. The election of President Regan was to some extent the biggest part of the manifestation of the shift in the above stated attitudes. Regan represented a conventional reaction to the counterculture of that era. Part of the changes in cultural practices and attitudes constituted different perspectives towards drugs. As a way of shaping the methods used to handle the problem of drug abuse, war rhetoric shaped the consequences of the methods used. For a war requiring military strategies to exist, there must an enemy. From the objectives sought by Regan administration, it was easy to reach people of color and in this context the African Americana and Hispanics as the enemy in the war. This enemy represented a group that the White American had over the years considered them as a source of crime and vice in the society. President Regan’s oratory was skillfully designed to tap into people’s cultural attitudes concerning the people of color, and their connection to drug abuse and other behavior considered illegal. President Regan’s rhetoric and declaration had deliberate effects on the country’s political arena. The rhetoric allowed the president to appear as a powerful leader, tough on crime and concerned about the public’s domestic issues related to the drug, but is strategically ambiguous in portraying the urban minorities as responsible for problem concerning drug war and solving such problems. Drug War Targeting Black Communities The impact of the drug war on African American communities has been overwhelming. Thousands of African Americans have gone to prison; most of them have been unfairly treated by the system of criminal justice and the rights of legitimate suspects have been violated. These effects are as a result of intentional decisions; to fight the war, and to fight the war against drug dealers in communities that are populated by people of color. As a consequence of the war on drugs, the affected communities and mostly the African American suffer from the fear of mass imprisonment or mass incarceration. In as far as the US population is made up of only 12% of the African American; this group makes 46% of those imprisoned at the federal and state prison, on drug related cases (Adler et al., 2013). By 1999, over five hundred thousand African Americans were held in federal and state prisons (Carter and Glaser et al., 2004). The inequality clearly appears when viewed from the perspectives of the rates of incarcerations and the proportions of the group that is incarcerated. The rates of incarcerations show the probability of any person going to prison; the rate of incarceration for African American males in the year 2000 was 3,457 per 100,000 people. On the other hand, the rate for white male stood at 449 per 100000 people (Karmen, 2012). The average African American male was 7.7 time likely to be imprisoned. The racial disparity was even worse for some ages in that it stood on 8.8 for the age ranging from 18 to19. The mass imprisonment of the African Americans is as a result of the direct consequence of the war on drugs. As one author once mentioned that, the primary reason why there are large numbers of Black citizens in American is as a result of the faults found in the criminal justice system (Blomberg and Cohen, 2003). Since President Regan’s declaration of war on drugs, populations in prison have doubled and even in some cases tripled. This rapid growth is clearly seen in federal institutions and is directly related to drug use. Solomon gave an analysis of the statistics derived from various American cities and in so doing determined the effects of the war on drugs in policing (Solomon, 2012). Solomon established racial disparities in the way drug arrests were made. In most jurisdictions, it was established that African American men accounted for 80% of the total arrests concerning drugs. For example, in Baltimore, it was established that the percentage stood at 86%. The disproportional arrest of the African American concerning drugs is shocking and can only be argued out that, there is a fault in the system of American criminal justice. Claiming that the African Americans infringe the drug laws at higher rates, and taking this to justify the enormous disparity in the rates of incarcerations is unlikely. It is evident that most of the arrests are as a result of drug possession. Drug possession is a crime that all drug users commit, and in America, it has been established that the whites make the highest proportions of drug users. In 1992, the Public Health Service Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration released statics showing that, in the US, the percentage of drug users were as follows; 76% whites, 14% African Americans, 8% Hispanics (, 2013). It is evident from the above findings that African Americans are less likely to use drugs as compared to the white. A question that still persists is what is the cause of the disparity in the number of arrests? Concluding the black Americans stand high chances of being drug dealers lacks concrete evidence. It is a fact that a drug user will buy drugs from people of the same background. The large numbers of white drug users suggest an equal number of white drug dealers. It is arguable that there are many African Americans dealing in drugs; however, it is unlikely that drug offenses are out of balance, and that the African Americans constitute the largest offenders bearing in mind that they make a small part of the population and minority of drug users. It can only be argued that, maybe the difference in how the two groups market and sell their drugs maybe making the law enforcement officers concentrate one group than the other. Conclusion The origin of the drug war can be traced to have attempted to shift public attitudes towards drug use in 1980s. President Regan attempted to exploit the change in attitude through his public relation campaign promising to handle the drug problem. A war requires military artillery and the existence of an enemy. Policies against drugs work as the military weapons and the African American are the enemy. Unbalanced law enforcement is the cause of the existing racial disparity in the system of criminal justice. Apparent in racial discrimination, war on drugs has resulted in a misery experienced by the minority communities of color. Though drug use rates remains comparable across racial boundaries, African Americans stand high chances of being arrested and convicted for drug law violation when compared to the whites. The high rates of arrest and incarceration of the African Americas is not reflective to their increased drug use or violation of drug rules, but a focus of the law in the African Americans and the fault of inequality in the system m of the US criminal justice. Reference Adler A, P., Adler, A., O’Brien, P. (2013). Drugs and the American dream: An Anthology. Chicago: John Wiley & Sons. Blomberg, T. and Cohen, S. (2003). Punishment and social control. New York: Aldine de Gruyter. 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