African American males represent a disproportionate percentage of the American incarcerated population. Experts agree that the perpetuation of the drug war is almost solely responsible for this break down of the justice system, but politicians and legislators refuse to acknowledge the erosion.
African American men are 3 times more likely to become incarcerated in the United States federal prison system than any other demographic group. Data provided by the US Department of Justice suggests that the over-representation of black men in federal prisons shows no signs of relent.
Scholars and analysts have concluded after 25 years of probing that the United States declared war on drugs has actually targeted people of color in disparaging rates.
The Sentencing Project organization a group of scholars and activists dedicated to bringing attention and reform to the racial disparities in prison populations. According to statistics provided by the group's website, people of color make up 75% of the population of incarcerated drug offenders. Many of these offenses are related to personal use rather than sales or distribution. These nonviolent crimes carry harsh sentences which brand the offender with a lifetime stigma of conviction, often snowballing him into the criminal justice system for a lifetime of recurrent "rehabilitation." Personal freedoms are checked at the jail or courthouse doors, never to be fully recovered by millions of affected Americans.
During the last 6 decades of the drug war, the African American male has been represented as a sole proprietor of illicit activity. He has been hunted by law enforcement agents as an assumed culprit of drug dabbling. The American Black Man has been positioned to constantly defend himself from racial profiling and disprove his (assumed) guilty associations before he is treated with credibility. When advocates of the drug war rally their battle charges, it is the American Black Man they place on their target posters.
Ohio State law professor and best selling author Michelle Alexander raises awareness to this alarmingly unwavering trend with some jaw dropping statistics about incarcerated black males. She links these statistics directly to the drug war. Among the chilling facts she gathered in her research, she presents sobering perspective on the topic:
“More African American men are in prison or jail, on probation or parole than were enslaved in 1850, before the Civil War began.”
Alexander's findings have sparked many independent forum discussions to address these tragedies. In an interview profiled on CSPAN's the Washington Journal, she brazenly challenges the widely accepted notions about the motivation of the Reagan era reasoning regarding the initiation of the drug war.
Alexander also calls attention to the second-class citizen branding of convicted drug felons and their direct impact links to the black community. She parallels the positions of modern African Americans caught in the system to that of the social control tactics of the Jim Crow era in her book, The New Jim Crow.
The evidence for Alexander's findings is undeniable. Chicago, Illinois has a population of more than 2 million people. A poll published by the NAACP indicates that 1.46 million black men in the city have lost the right to vote due to their statuses as felony drug offenders. This is a lifetime imposition which directly affects more than half the population of one of the largest cities in the US.
Social control from outside, majority forces is not a new concept for the African American community. It is one that is saturated in American history like an infection in the bones, and it is steadily spilling into the rest of the American body. The drug war serves as a stabilizing tool for the systematic reclassification of African American citizens to second rate citizenship, under legal precedence and practice.
Social stigma carries its own sentence for those convicted of drug-related felonies. Once a person has been convicted of one of these crimes, there is a lifetime felon label which carries with it a long list of restrictions from regular society. In the United States, people convicted of felonies are denied a wide assortment of civilian rights, including voting in elections, serving on juries, and participating in social resource programs. They are also legally banned from many professions, preventing them from overcoming the challenges they originally faced prior to conviction. Among the jobs that are barred from convict participation are dog trainers and barbers, in addition to the healthcare, education, security, financial, and public sector industries. Business ownership licenses can also be difficult for people with felony convictions to obtain.
Without a well to which the stream of those leaving prisons and parole programs might be diverted, the direction will not be changed. Until Americans drastically approach the very real problems of racial disparity in federal and state legal practices by ending the drug war and prohibition, we can all expect to be the next target of social control.
By: Kari Herreman | May 18, 2013