In this essay I will be focusing on the racialization of the War on Drugs by; exploring the classification of drugs and how class background may define the typical use of substances, the popularity of certain drugs within institutions examining how the war on drugs originated how the media influences people’s attitudes on this topic through the public narrative by racial profiling and the racialization of drugs look at policing and how things are no more different to today’s modern society. explore different criminological perspectives and analyze the issues they highlight and flaws in research.
The war on drugs started in America due to the rise of drug related crimes and increasing amounts of criminal activity. This was possible through globalization strengthening the criminal network by connecting sellers and buyers across the world. In 1971 Richard Nixon officially declares a ‘war on drugs’ highlighting this issue and that it must be combatted at source to prevent drugs entering America. The USA handled this poorly as it is known for having previous issues with inequalities through police, ‘which can be traced back to slavery and the enforced segregationist ‘Jim Crow’ laws’. The modern view of racial profiling was made apparent over time from the ‘drug courier profile’ ‘that came about in 1980 by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in order to tackle interstate drug trafficking under the rubric of the’ ‘war on drugs’. Cohen (1999) argues that health issues are ‘constructed as problems of individual behavior, as has been the case with drug abuse, then political accounts put a premium on criticizing individuals rather than larger determinants of health’. This fuels the war on drugs through racialization as institutions will not look into helping and providing a service to aid people who have developed an addiction to certain substances.
It can be argued that the war on drugs was just a smoke screen to portray the wealthy and powerful as the helpers or saviours. For example, Alexander 2012 argues that the war on drugs acts as a system derived as a way to justify new means of ‘racial control’ through the ‘mass incarceration’ of African Americans. The CJS in America and in general is heavily represented by white middle classed privileged judges, where the offender depending on their social class and race may or may not essentially get away with being found in possession off, or taking drugs.
For example The US Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 means that offenders who blatantly break the law would be let off. This gives advantages to white middle classed privileged people as they are more likely to have the means to obtain powdered cocaine which is more expensive and higher quality but will only get you a minimum sentence of 5 years for having almost double the amount as someone in possession of crack cocaine. An ethnic minority person from a working class background might only be able to afford crack cocaine and receive 5 years in a federal prison just for being in possession of the drug. Through this act policing has become more militarized around drugs and reflects certain oppressions when slavery still occurred. Police Chiefs in America argue that the drugs issues ‘threaten community security through street level drug dealing’ and ‘violence which is a by-product of youth gangs’.
Racial profiling can be perceived as an unnecessary police technique, which discriminate individuals due to certain characteristics of those individuals based on the grounds of their beliefs; not what crime has been committed. This unlawful action is becoming all too common and that combined with arrest rates, the criminal justice system has record high amounts of offenders from ethnic minority backgrounds who have arguably been put in prison due to this discrimination in modern society. Kresh and Morone (2005) ‘states that America has a long history of drug scares highlighting the crossing of medical and racial claims in both the racial construction of the overarching epidemic, and the racial construction of specific diagnoses’. For example the ‘Opium scares of the 1890s, cocaine scares of the 1910s and marijuana scares of the 1930s give evidence of these issues falling under epidemiological and pharmacological problems’. As criminologists this informs us that these drug scares are created by the state in order to re affirm their positions of power through moral panics and portraying individuals as folk devils. This understanding of the drugs war provides insight into how policies can be implemented or adapted to be more effective. In modern society criminologists are employed to look into and highlight societal issues such as the criminal justice system and to provide potential solutions.
Radosh explains how a dramatic rise in the ‘incarceration of African American men is a startling effect of the war on drugs’. This disproportionate incarceration can be argued is a result of racial profiling; subjecting them to be targeted with and associated with facilitators to the war on drugs through buying and supplying. African Americans have been labeled as drug takers and drug dealers, which is associated with poorer areas. Police efforts are focused on such areas and create the self-fulfilling prophecy when they arrest these individuals as they fit the profile of the drug dealers and takers.
Statistics suggest that the UK Government although appearing to be ‘tough on crime’ are not. Criminologist Hoare (2009) points out that in ‘1999/2000 total of 105,400 drug arrests in England and Wales dropping to 77,100 in 2006/07’. However we can deduce that this is used to build the argument that due to a large amount of arrests in the first couple of year’s means there was a high likelihood of numbers to be significantly lower in future years. As these statistics are over 10 years old we can argue that they are not an accurate representation of today’s society, although the initial act for trying to be tough on crime is very real.
In the UK CJS drugs are easily smuggled into prison where offenders are meant to be rehabilitated; this is uncommon in America, as prisons are typically privately owned. This means they wish to make profit from prisoners by only taking minor offenders or may receive more funding due to the amount of prisoners they hold. This means that prison owners have the power to run their prison how they see fit. In America the black ethnic minority typically represents a large proportion of the prison population. This is due to the unfair rulings, police personnel abusing their authority and power, the media creating labels and scapegoating individuals to associate these with people with violence, drugs, crime and prone to deviance.
Currie (1993) argues that the faults of the CJS are a substantial cause of crime issues in America, consequently leading to higher levels of imprisonment. The prison population is heavily disproportionate due to this, for example the sentencing project sites data from the work of Bronson & Carson (2017) that shows a rate of imprisonment per 100,000 by gender race and ethnicity in 2017, of which there were 2,336 black males imprisoned as opposed to 397 white males. As criminologists we view these statistics as evidence as well as considering the methods used to arrest individuals and prosecute them. This was obtained through looking at trends in US Correction Facilities, analyzing the data and forming conclusions based on the emerging patterns. As such we can see that the CJS has failed as an institution to be non-partisan. Drugs are typically found in poorer areas populated by black ethnic minorities, further reinforcing the racialization of the war on drugs. This may be fuelled by racism that exists within such institutions leading to disproportionate actions.
These understandings aid criminological expertise to see the methods used to manipulate the public narrative; perceiving drug scares as mentioned by Reinman (1994) these are seen as major issues. This is executed through moral panics, labeling and statistics resulting in what we perceive to be accurate may in fact be biased. However this is where public narratives and criminological perspective differentiate, as criminologists understand that these issues must be looked at objectively.
Media influences the public narrative by labeling of individuals and groups that take illegal drugs by naming and blaming, making distinctions that are both scape goat and the application of certain groups for example: Classing the drug pandemic with the age group of teenagers. The BBC linked Drill music to violent/ deviant behaviour and crime. ‘Drill rapper Daniel Olaloko jailed over county lines drug scam’. The article talks about how Drill music on a regular occurrence depicts and mentions violence that may influence groups such as gangs to cause crime (BBC NEWS). This distinction that has been made creates a moral panic and makes people aware to almost stay away from Drill music as it may be desensitising. The article creates a fear around this type of music and those who produce it; typically black people from ethnic minorities. This, in turn, creates an association with people from black ethnic minorities with drugs, violence and crime. In America the government is supported by some media outlets that share their stance on drugs.
The New York Times, however, argues that there has been a great ‘failure of the war on drugs destroying peoples lives, prisons being filled, and cost a fortune’. It draws upon the faults of the government. For example in ‘1980s Nancy Regan tried to implement ‘Just Say No’ in a campaign to reduce demand for crack. However this gained little support as it focused more on the supply of crack rather than challenging people’s decision to take it’. Naturally criminological perspectives differ from those of the media. The media prioritizes it’s coverage based primarily on the political stance of the editors and program makers. i.e. they tailor their content to their main market; this gives their content a commercial value which is less concerned with factual analysis. Criminologists are not restricted in this way and therefore may provide more in-depth information making any theory that comes from this more reliable.
In conclusion the war on drugs popularized the targeting of individuals and organisations responsible for producing and importing drugs to America and elsewhere. However; the overrepresentation of African Americans in lower socio-economic groups vulnerable to drug culture resulted in the racialization of this war. The harsher sentencing justified by the war on drugs resulted therefore in African American offenders being disproportionately represented within prison populations. This policy provides an offender identity based on typifications and allows those in power to justify potentially biased sentencing decisions.