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War on Drugs and Mass Incarceration: Essay

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The American dream has always applied to the superior race. Historically speaking white people have proven superiority through various practices. Throughout history, black people were never meant to benefit from what America has to offer it was quite evident that we did not meet the criteria of equal treatment. As history progressed it has come to a realization that African Americans do not have to try twice as hard to maintain a decent living and even come close to what our white counterparts have been benefiting from since the start of the middle passage. Therefore, through policy, Black people are looked at as something less than human, which then has an impact on how society sees our value just as people. African Americans are in a system where race is intertwined within every aspect of life. Racial bias has manifested into an experience that black people are still going through. Whether it is the criminal justice system, jobs, schools, neighborhoods, you name it. “The war on drugs” has constructed unequal outcomes across racial groups specifically African Americans and Latinos. This paper will examine the events leading up to the criminalization of black and brown people and how the use of marijuana has been negatively associated with minorities as well as how that association manifested into the social construct of black criminality we see today. In addition to that, I will touch on the black family dynamic and how the criminalization of marijuana has impacted said dynamic in a way that will take the black family a significant amount of time to come back from. Also, I will talk about the struggles of black individuals who come out of prison and have trouble adapting back into society post-incarceration.

Before getting into the relationship between marijuana and mass incarceration within the black community, it is important to talk about the history of African Americans which plays a major role in the manifestation of mass incarceration. Black and dangerous have been synonymous since the first ship filled with slaves landed on American soil. Our worth as people were diminished before we had the opportunity to show our true value. Slavery was an apparent racial caste system that used laws, as well as the U.S. Constitution also known as the Supreme law of the land. Codes were placed to confirm that blacks were a separate group. Maintaining white supremacy was the underlying goal of all discriminatory laws. After Slavery was over in 1865, after the end of the civil war, and with the implementation of the 13th Amendment, one would think that the Racist caste system was over. The Reconstruction era surfaced and its success regarding blacks was short-lived. While it introduced progress, it also introduced fresh challenges. Under the administration of President Johnson, Black codes were established. The systems were implemented to control the labor of freed black slaves due to the preconceived notion that we were lazy. A few years later, newly enfranchised blacks under radical reconstruction possessed political voices. However, this didn’t last long due to the Ku Klux Klan dismantling policies and regaining its control under white supremacy. Unfortunately, the question of what to do with the Negro was on the minds of many politicians and the white population in general. During this time, black people are incompetent and unable to be productive members of society. This ideology is something people in today’s world still hold onto.

Jim Crow was the next policy introduced as a way to maintain white supremacy. Jim Crow consisted of laws that hindered blacks from being actual members of society. Procedures such as separate but equal which included segregation in education and professional settings. In addition to that policy, there were also literacy tests to block black voting. Jim’s crown brought even more racial divide. Individuals who supported Jim Crow believed that people of African descent were inferior. After the Jim Crow era, white people needed a new way to maintain the racial structure of America. Politicians who were devoted to keeping racial hierarchy, were on the search for a new system to achieve their goal. Moreover, this brings us to the rise of Mass Incarceration. Before the rest of the population can be utterly reliant on the Mass Incarceration of blacks, white politicians had to provide proof that it was justified. Instead of basing incarceration solely on race, they associated criminality with race, which would lead to the imprisonment of that specific race. Under the Administration of President Nixon, blacks being the face of what is wrong in America reached new heights. Michelle Alexander, author of ‘The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,’ quoted a statement from one of President Nixon’s key advisers. In relation to Nixon’s plan, which said ‘ you have to face the fact that the whole problem is ‘really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to’ (NJC 43-44). This specific statement is alarming and explains how mass incarceration was able to manifest, into other disproportionate findings on the quality of life of black people. Polarizing race, allowed associations of crime with blacks to increase. President Regan takes a similar approach in his campaign. Regan’s approach emphasized black women being welfare queens, due to our ‘lazy ‘characteristics.

Regan associated black men with being criminal predators According to Jelani Jefferson Exum, Author of ‘The influence of Past Racism on Criminal Injustice: A review of ‘The New Jim Crow and the Condemnation of blackness.’ These practices bring us to The War on Drugs, which affected the black community only. The American people did not see drugs as an epidemic. Regan ignited a war on drug users and dealers that were racially defined. The War on Drugs was a gateway for the mass incarceration of blacks. During Clinton’s presidency, the number of prison inmate’s number skyrocketed, because of his harsh approach to crime. The war on drugs was allegedly on race-neutral and colorblind terms, but everyone knew according to casualties, that this was racial. The majority of those admitted into prison institutions were of African and Hispanic descent. Minorities were sent to prison for an extensive amount of time, for non-violent offenses. The staggering increase in both the prison population and racial disparity contributed to aggressive tactics of street-level enforcement of drug laws, as well as mandating unnecessary sentences to keep prison populations at high levels during this era. Black people were given life sentences for marijuana offenses. According to NORML: “Racial disparity in Marijuana effects” the article includes a report which states that on average “a Black person is 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person, even though Blacks and whites use marijuana at similar rates. Such racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests exist in all regions of the country, in counties large and small, urban and rural, wealthy and poor, and with large and small Black populations. Indeed, in over 96% of counties with more than 30,000 people in which at least 2% of the residents are Black, Blacks are arrested at higher rates than whites for marijuana possession.’ This quote from the article speaks volumes about the overall message of what being black in America means. Marijuana convictions in the black community lead to other consequences that for most, last a lifetime. The consequences the black community endures from the practices explained above are constantly ignored by our white counterparts. Furthermore, the arrests and convictions of marijuana alone wreak havoc on the community. Some of the consequences include the inability for student loan assistance, job opportunities, child custody, as well as immigration status. The war on drugs and its association with the black community has hindered people from progressing socio-economically as supposed to our white counterparts who most of the time don’t see jail time. According to Lawrence D. Bobo and Victor Thompson, Authors of ‘Unfair by Design: The war on Drugs, Race, and the Legitimacy of the Criminal Justice System.’ They stated that There were 154, 3461 more offenders sentenced to prison in 1995 than in 1985, an increase of 84%. The vast majority increase consisted of nonviolent drug and property offenders; drug offenders alone accounted for over half the increase. Less than one in four of the increase involved a violent offense’ While the war on drugs was running its course through black communities across the nation, Local law enforcement had to show some increase in their crackdown on crime. Law enforcement saw this as an opportunity to over-police the already disadvantaged community. By over policing increases the chances of coming across crime amongst poor ethnic groups. Furthermore, the more arrests you make, the more the public thinks that it’s doing more good than harm. The outcome of policing poor neighborhoods is indeed predictable. Non-minorities who are not affected by this, can’t seem to grasp what is taken from several black families. Further, due to the police and federal government ripping our communities apart to paint their picture of social disorder, there is a disproportionate number of blacks incarcerated compared to whites. Being that minorities make up most of the prison system, there is no doubt that mass incarceration is targeted at specific races, despite how government officials wanted the rest of the world to view it.

When it comes to the effect the targeted conviction of black people and its effect on the black family, it is no secret that it causes detriment to the dynamic of what a family is supposed to be. As previously stated, black people are incarcerated disproportionately compared to their white counterparts on marijuana charges. The sentences these black men face are extreme and as a result, drive a wedge in the family dynamic which then causes a domino effect of everlasting poverty and criminality. In addition to the impact it has on families, it is extremely difficult for those imprisoned to come back home and be of value to society when their means to provide are limited.

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The effects of Mass Incarceration paint an adverse representation to the media, and members of the majority. White people get used to the marginalization of blacks that they don’t think close-knit African American families, and African-Americans with no criminal record exist. In addition to that, the black family dynamic is diminishing because of mass incarceration. The African American man is considered a necessary factor when it comes to the black family having a strong foundation. Black men hold the title of being the provider, as well as being an example of a person with substance. Black men have a substantial influence on their children. The idea of not having your father around in the black community means that you may go through mental roadblocks because of it. Children desperately need their fathers, because they are supposed to instill discipline in them as well as be an example of how a man should conduct himself. Black fathers who do get the chance to come back to a family struggle to get back to their role as providers. Due to his criminal status, his options for making legitimate money are minimal. The system does not allow black men to come home and be conductive members. Instead, they come home and are forced to adjust to their new title of an ex-con. These men must deal with probation, any simple mistakes they make can cost them the duration of their lives behind bars. Most of the time, these young men don’t feel like they have what it takes to live comfortably and provide for their families financially, so they result back to criminal activity. By resulting in criminal activity, the racially induced statistics of blacks being nothing but trouble is alarming. When these negative connotations are given a chance to manifest, the majority starts to believe that their racial bias is accurate. Furthermore, it leads to people justifying mass incarceration.

Having an economic crisis can put a strain on everyone in the household, which could lead to conflict, and ultimately a dysfunctional black family home. Dealing with a formerly incarcerated family member can be incredibly frustrating. The burden of keeping things together falls on the black woman. The black woman tries to balance being two different attributes to their family. In addition to that, the family may break up and become another statistic of a single-family home. Due to mass incarceration, black families are put even more at a disadvantage than they already are. Families in these situations have to deal with the disadvantages of already being black and in poverty. The mass incarceration of these men allows the cycle to continue with their children. Black young men who continuously see black people linked with crime, and having their parents be one, impact them negatively. As I mentioned before the role of a father is vital, especially in a young man’s life. Being raised by a working single mother leaves less time for the mother to stay on top of their children’s personal and academic lives. According to Dorothy E. Roberts, Author of the social and Moral Costs of Mass Incarceration in African American Communities She states that’ separation from imprisoned parents has serious mental consequences for their children, including depression, anxiety, feelings of rejection, shame, anger, and guilt and problems in school.’ The absence of fathers, cause some black children to do poorly academically. Which results in them dropping out. Dropping out of school only leaves these men with a few options. They either join the working class which they already feel disadvantaging effects, or they could engage in illegal activities in which people think they are already partaking. The incarceration of their parents allows room for them to think negatively about their own lives and what they will be able to accomplish.

The self-esteem of black young men is already low due to their parent’s imprisonment. Further, seeing the way blacks are being tarnished in the media, as well as already living a disadvantaged life, these young boys think that all they are capable of is a life of crime, and being In and out of jail. Internalizing negative associations with their racial group is very dangerous for the black man. Most of the time if young black boys don’t have the necessary social support such as a father, they may start to believe all of the stigmas that are in relation to the color of their skin. All of what I stated, is how Mass Incarceration manages to get back into play with a younger generation. Mass incarceration Is seen to be normalized now. The normalization of mass incarceration infers that young black people are attracted to the idea of being a criminal. Groups of young men who have absent fathers are trying to make it look cool to engage in a life of criminal activity whether violent or nonviolent.

Moreover, the transition from inmate to citizen can be a treacherous one for minorities. Mass incarceration has stripped away the necessary tools and resources for blacks to sustain a decent living in America. In addition to that, the social effects mass incarceration leaves behind to disadvantage further blacks goes beyond the issue of imprisonment. Black people on a daily basis will face discrimination while searching for a job, especially those with little skill. Black people who have a criminal history are always exempt from the working-class community. The stigma on people of color with a record hinders them from contributing positively to society. Secondly, white people who have criminal records experience privileges, far from what their black counterparts can deem relatable. According to Authors, Bobo and Thompson, they retrieved a study that only 5 percent of blacks with criminal history received a callback. The study went on to explain that those numbers are rather depressing when comparing the already low chances of blacks getting a call back who had no criminal record at 14%. The study is comparative to whites without a criminal history who was called back 34% of the time. The results show that even whites with a criminal record had a better chance of getting a call back with a percentage of 17%. It is no secret that there are whites also in jail, but the problem arises when there is a noticeable difference in their lives post-incarceration. Most white people don’t have to worry about incarceration affecting how their community looks as a whole. White people who don’t commit crimes don’t have to worry about being misrepresented due to the color of their skin, and the negative character traits pushed on them. The study to me says that white people have more of an opportunity to pick their life up after jail if they even are convicted. In addition to that, black men are forced to be lower-class citizens. Mass incarceration brought back the disenfranchisement of blacks. In most states inmates are not allowed to participate in elections.

Moreover, because black men make up most of the prison population, they are affected by this disproportionally. Government officials take advantage of them not being able to express political wants. Less black voters mean fewer black votes, which indicates less concern for getting the black vote. Not being concerned about retrieving, the black vote means that there is no intent for implementing policies that could help advance the black communities. Convicted black men don’t have the opportunity to vote for local offices like mayor, governor, or even District Attorney. These people play a very small role in creating laws and making decisions that affect their everyday lives. Failing to participate in things of this nature actively helps lead to their downfall.

To the Majority, America has progressed when it comes to racial inequality. Most white people think that blacks have no justification to complain. The truth is that over time, America has come up with ways to mask its racial intent. To be seen as progressive, they have come up with ideas that keep marginalized groups suppressed without looking discriminatory. Mass Incarceration has outlined the characteristics and capabilities of all black people. In addition, it has taken a mental toll on minorities all over America. The mass incarceration of minorities dramatically minimizes the participation of African American Communities, in different elements of traditional American life, mostly because they cannot. We do not have a criminal justice system free of racial bias. Time and time again through different policies we are reminded as black people, that we aren’t valued. To be free in this country is to be of anything other than a minority. Most people think that Mass incarceration only affects the person institutionalized. People with that mindset fail to realize that it is a problem for everybody black whether they have a criminal history or not. There is a need for reform in the criminal justice system. Without proper change, the elevation of black people in this country is in jeopardy

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War on Drugs and Mass Incarceration: Essay. (2023, March 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 24, 2023, from
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