Saturday, August 9, 2014

Wilton D. Alston: How can one say the drug war is racist?

Wilton D. Alston, a black libertarian and writer, provides the answer.

Let us start with some pretty basic numbers: Black people – men, women, and children – compose approximately 12.6% of the population of the United States. Black people – primarily black men – compose approximately 35.4% of the prison population. Anyone not living under a large stone or just arriving to Earth from another galaxy already knows America has a very healthy prison population, as evidenced by this handy chart. (For those not wishing to follow the link, the bottom line is this. The U.S. incarceration rate is over 700 people per 100,000 of population. The next highest rate is either in New Zealand at approximately 168 per 100,000 or Spain at approximately 164 per 100,000, dependent upon who is counting and which chart one examines.)

So putting folks in jail is a hobby for the American State. Putting black folks in prison, well, that’s just a bonus! "Amerika" has more people in prison than any other nation on Earth, and the percentage of those people who are black and male is roughly three times the percentage of black people in the general population. Why? Again, Stossel’s guest opined that this is because black people commit more drug crimes, and, therefore, get arrested more, convicted more, and incarcerated more. Each of these statements is so ignorant as to be comical, but more importantly, each of them is so cataclysmically incorrect as to be criminal, pardon the pun.

First of all, with the possible exception of crack cocaine, black people do not abuse drugs at a higher level than white people; that is, the absolute number of drug users who are black is lower. Ergo, the assertion is incorrect on its face, as evidenced by this illustrative chart from a study by The Stanford Law and Policy Review.

Here’s the thing, though. It is possible (nay, even likely) that black men do get arrested more, convicted more, and incarcerated more. That does not mean that they, in fact, commit more drug-related crime. The available data illustrates rather starkly that for illicit drug use, black people are not leading the parade. (Let us, for the time being, put aside the issue of whether or not any person putting a substance into his own body can ever truly be criminal for the moment, since the overwhelming majority of Americans, and maybe even a few LRC readers may actually believe that the Stateestablishes what is criminal versus discovers it.