What’s the connection between the War on Drugs and race relations in America? Prof. John McWhorter of UC Berkeley argues persuasively that it’s strong and negative. Some highlights:
The main obstacle to getting black America past the illusion that racism is still a defining factor in America is the strained relationship between young black men and police forces. The massive number of black men in prison stands as an ongoing and graphically resonant rebuke to all calls to “get past racism,” exhibit initiative, or stress optimism. And the primary reason for this massive number of black men in jail is the War on Drugs.
Therefore, if the War on Drugs were terminated, the main factor keeping race-based resentment a core element in the American social fabric would no longer exist. America would be a better place for all.
The War on Drugs destroys black families. It has become a norm for black children to grow up in single-parent homes, their fathers away in prison for long spells and barely knowing them. In poor and working-class black America, a man and a woman raising their children together is, of all things, an unusual sight. The War on Drugs plays a large part in this. It must stop.
The War on Drugs discourages young black men from seeking legal employment. Because the illegality of drugs keeps the prices high, there are high salaries to be made in selling them. This makes selling drugs a standing tempting alternative to seeking lower-paying legal employment. The result is usually spells in jail, as well as a failure to build the job skills for legal employment that serve as a foundation for a productive existence in middle and later life.
This is my favorite paragraph:
Make no mistake—I propose that hard drugs be available for purchase for prices below anything that could make a living for someone selling them on the street. They should be available in maintenance doses, possibly for free. Resources now tied up in useless enforcement would be used for truly effective rehabilitation programs. Fears of an addiction epidemic are unfounded: none such has occurred in Portugal, where the drug war has been significantly scaled back. Our discomfort with the idea of heroin available at drug stores is similar to that of a Prohibitionist shuddering at the thought of bourbon available at the corner store. We’ll get over it— because we should, and we must. …
This talk from two years ago is another of my favorites this blog lets me recommend to others. Read the whole thing; here is the text. Better, listen to the audio; the restrained passion—or is it fury? –in McWhorter’ grimly calm voice is as eloquent as his words.