Drug Warring

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One frequent retort to the notion that blacks pay a particularly high price for the drug war, is the argument that this is the case because blacks do a disproportionate share of the dealing. Probably not. Here's Jacob Sullum (via Andrew, again) replying to Jonah Goldberg:

Goldberg assumes that blacks are disproportionately arrested for selling drugs because they are "disproportionately in this line of work." That is not at all clear. Considerable research, including studies by the National Institute of Justice, indicates that drug users tend to buy from people of the same racial or ethnic group. (This report [PDF] includes a quick summary of the research.) Given this pattern, since whites are about as likely as blacks to use illegal drugs, they should be about as likely to sell them. Yet blacks, who represent 13 percent of the general population, account for about 40 percent of drug offenders in federal prison and 45 percent of drug offenders in state prison (PDF). 

Further evidence that blacks' disproportionate share of drug arrests cannot be explained by disproportionate involvement with drugs comes from New York City's little-noticed crackdown on pot smokers under Mayors Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg. Survey data indicate that among 18-to-25-year-olds, the age group where these pot busts are concentrated, whites are more likely than blacks or Hispanics to smoke marijuana. Yet a 2008 study by the New York Civil Liberties Union found that in the Big Apple blacks and Hispanics are, respectively, five and three times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession...

Read the post, there's a lot of great stuff in there. The tough thing about drug law is it require that you accept that, while two groups will commit a crime at the same rate, one group will be more harshly punished. I was just wondering how far this goes. In a country like ours, wealth will always impact, not just crime rates, but actual sentencing. The better representation you can afford, the more likely it is that you'll get off or get a lighter sentence--regardless of what  crime you've committed.

Thus on some level, we're going to have to expect that poor people are going to suffer more than those who aren't poor. The troubling thing about the drug war is that it, as Jacob notes, it doesn't simply hit blacks harder, it actually has racist roots. At some point it seems fair to say, Look these folks have been screwed over pretty royally. Let's do what we can to not make it worse.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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