Thanks to Shaleen for sending me this data from a recent CNN poll.
Do you favor or oppose the legalization of marijuana?
White Non-White Favor 43% 36% Oppose 54% 62%
And yet, not really.
For us, it’s hard to imagine that minorities would support the drug war. After all, we know that it’s the single most racist public policy since slavery. We’ve seen the figures of use versus arrest versus incarceration. We seen the numbers that South Africa under Apartheid incarcerated 851 black males per 100,000 population while we incarcerate 4,919 black males per 100,000 population.
We’ve seen how Hispanics are targeted by law enforcement in the drug war, including the incredible statistic in the Chicago area that 73% of Hispanics whose cars were searched because a dog sniff “detected” drugs actually had no drugs (the result of the dog’s handler believing they had to be there).
With all of this, there can be a natural tendency for people in drug policy reform to throw up their hands in exasperation at the lack of interest in drug policy reform in many minority communities.
However, we know these things because we study them. The average person does not (at least not until we do a better job of telling them). The average person knows what the government has told them, or what their church has told them, or what has been passed down as “common knowledge.”
One of the few “successes” (and I’m speaking ironically here) of the drug war has been to convince people that the negative effects of prohibition are actually the negative effects of drugs.
People see violence on the street and say “that’s because of drugs” when, in fact, it’s because of the drug war. And so they call for more enforcement even though (as we know) that won’t help the problem but rather make it worse.
And, quite frankly, this issue is much more visible out on the streets in poor/minority neighborhoods than in affluent neighborhoods where the drug trafficking takes place discretely in the country club locker room.
I know. I live in one of those poor/minority neighborhoods. I talked to a neighbor once who told me “I think the next door neighbors are selling pot. I hope the police come and bust them and take away their kids.” I was flabbergasted. But she saw the problem in the community as drugs, rather than as the by-product of the drug war.
This, in my mind, is what drives the fact that minorities lag behind in understanding the need for drug policy reform.
The fact is that we still have not done a good enough job of educating the public regarding the damage done by the drug war. Because of that, we often end up with the strangely incongruous image of a mostly white population of drug policy reformers carrying the banner for ending the most racist policy since slavery.