A couple of notable segments on NPR today. First was an interview of John Walters by Ed Gordon: U.S. Drug Czar on the ‘War on Drugs’ and Race — a somewhat vapid interview with Gordon asking the Czar if we’re spending enough money to make a dent in the problem.
The second segment was much better — a delightful musing report by Courtland Milloy: America’s Drug War Targets Blacks Unfairly — a testimony to the fact that the government doesn’t have the right answers to drug problems.
But… back to that first segment. The Drug Czar, of course, spouted his usual nonsensical string of talking points throughout the interview, but one exchange caught my attention.
The drug war has clearly had racist elements to it — not only in terms of sentencing disparities (crack/powder), but also in terms of pure numbers. African Americans make up approximately 12% of the population and use drug to the same degree or less than whites, yet they account for 38% of drug arrests, and 60% of drug convictions.
So the question got asked in the interview [this is my own transcription from the audio]
Ed Gordon: Let me ask you this as it relates to the African American community and it’s a strange question based on the fact that oft-times people you’re talking about are, quite frankly, not doing the right thing. But it is very clear that disproportionately the African American community is A: beseiged by the problems of — not necessarily drug use, but drug dealing — 60% as we said of all convicted drug dealers — or drug convictions I should note — are of African Americans. 38% of all drug arrests are of African Americans. There are those who will say, it is a simple target — an easy target to go after the Black community as it relates to this. What do you say to that?
A very timid way of asking if the drug war is intentionally racist in its targeting, but still an understandable question. So how does the Drug Czar respond to a question regarding whether the massively disproportionate arrest and conviction rates of African Americans (as opposed to their actual involvement in drugs) is policy? Watch closely.
John Walters: Well I think that we have to take it in its reality. I’ve met with many citizens in African American community. They want what everybody wants in the suburbs — they don’t want their kids to walk to school past open-air drug markets. They don’t want generation after generation of young African American males sucked into drug use, drug dealing, and prison. And I think that’s what every American wants for their child. They have felt that they don’t get the public safety — there’s too much of this that continues in their neighborhood. What we’re working in – and we’re working in the major cities, my office are now around the country – Detroit, Chicago, Baltimore, Boston, Miami – and we’ve been working with city government there to make sure the resources that we’re applying are applied where the problem is — so that we look and we map what’s happening here so maybe communities who don’t have the biggest political voice sometimes in these communities receive the attention because the federal programs ask that that happen – and we’re trying to work in partnership here. [at that point he moves to another subject]
Yes, we’re mapping our efforts in order to intentionally disproportionately target African Americans, and the excuse we’re using is that we’re doing it for their own good.
Can you say “racist”? Good. I knew you could.
Update: Walters has a slightly different take on the interview at his fantasy blog:
Director Walters Sets the Record Straight.
Listen to Director Walters on News and Notes with Ed Gordon on NPR. He appeared on the program this morning to dispel “drug war” myths and discuss how drug use takes away our freedoms.
Uh, sure. And putting people in jail gives them their freedom back, right? (I’m almost getting the hang of Drug-Czar-speak.)