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ACLU Article , The Drug War is the New Jim Crow

Submitted by Thinking CAP on Tue, Aug 24, 2010 - 10:32 pm

Published in July of 2001, this article is worth reading. The statistics are a bit dated, but still appalling.

The Drug War is the New Jim Crow

… thanks in no small part to harsh sentences for drug crimes, especially for low-level nonviolent offenses, almost two million people fill the prisons and jails of the United States. — U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Prisoners and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2000 (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, March 2001) The report estimates that by late 2001, the inmate population will break the two million barrier.

We are incarcerating African-American men at a rate approximately four times the rate of incarceration of black men in South Africa under apartheid. — C. Haney and P. Zimbardo, "The past and future of U.S. Prison Policy," American Psychologist, Vol. 53, No. 7 (July 1998), p. 714.

Property rights, once sacred in the United States, have also been sacrificed to the war on drugs under the strange fiction that property could be "guilty." All assets suspected of "participating" in a crime can be seized and sold, with the profits flowing to law enforcement budgets. The burden of proof for demonstrating the property's innocence falls upon the rightful owner. Often without even accusing any individual person of a crime, the police confiscate the homes of innocent people rumored to have some relative who uses drugs; they seize the money of unsuspecting bystanders whose only crime is to carry an unusual amount of cash ("only drug dealers do that"); and they have gunned down property owners standing in the way of the quest for attractive assets. Beyond the deeply arbitrary process, asset forfeiture poses a deeper threat. A significant part of drug enforcement efforts has shifted from prosecuting drug crime to seizing property; indeed, by the late 1990s, many drug enforcement agencies were raking in more money than they received from their budgets. Self-financed police need not justify their activities through any regular budgetary process. Under the drug war, police construct a veil of secrecy, freedom from legislative oversight, and latitude to set an agenda accountable to no one-a system that lies very far from presumed democratic institutional practices in the United States. — For an excellent summary discussion of the corrupting influence of asset forfeiture, see Eric Blumenson and Eva Nilsen, "The Drug War's Hidden Economic Agenda," The Nation, March 9, 1998, pp. 11-16.

Of all the constitutional depredations of the war on drugs, one stands out for its continuing damage to democracy: the disenfranchisement of former felons. The United States is the only democracy in the world to deprive its citizens of the right to vote after they have completed their sentences. Coupled with the unprecedented rate of incarceration, disenfranchisement laws fundamentally restructure political power and entrench the politicians who support and benefit from drug war policies. In the states with the most widespread and lasting loss of voting rights, harsh drug laws find particularly solid political support.

I encourage you to read the whole thing. Every problem Graham Boyd describes is worse now!