Race and the Drug War

We’ve talked a lot about race and the drug war here, and there’s an interesting article by Jess Singal in New York Magazine: The Black Activists Who Helped Launch the Drug War.

There’s no doubt that the drug war disproportionately affects poor and minority communities and that black communities in particular have been particularly affected. But the article points out that the drug war wasn’t just foisted on the black communities, but in many cases those communities welcomed it with open arms.

Michael Javen Fortner, a political scientist at City University of New York, is hoping to complicate the story that the Rockefeller laws, and others like them, were foisted on black people by white people. His book, Black Silent Majority: The Rockefeller Drug Laws and the Politics of Punishment, out September 28 from Harvard University Press, tells the story of Harlem’s struggles with drugs and crime from the 1940s through the passage of the Rockefeller laws. Key to this story is the role of Harlem’s residents in forcefully advocating for a tougher, more punitive approach to the neighborhood’s “pushers” and addicts.

Yes, many of the origins of the drug war were racist, and racism has often fueled the drug war, but as we’ve noted here before, in the early days of drug policy reform, it was often difficult to get black communities involved in reform. I saw that first-hand in communities where I lived. In recent years, that’s changed, particularly with powerful leadership in organizations like LEAP, NAACP, ACLU, and some church groups.

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