While the focus of this week on Capitol Hill for Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) has been his “Audit the Fed” bill, the Texas Republican spent a little time discussing something other than monetary policy: the government and its impact on race relations.
“The Civil Rights Act is basically very good,” Paul said. “But it also undermined a very important principle in a free society and that has to do with property rights.”
“The real problem when we had the civil rights crisis was the fact that Jim Crow laws and they should have all been abolished. Because it’s always government that gives us problems in our race relations. I mean, just look at how the drug laws now are enforced. They’re very, very biased against minorities. And I’m against this drug war,” he continued.
On Tuesday, Paul appeared on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal to discuss the Federal Reserve Transparency Act, the legislation he sponsored that passed in a 327-98 vote in the House of Representatives Wednesday. But when prompted by caller inquiries, the discussion quickly morphed into a defense of ending the drug war.
Paul went on to say that the number of minorities that are arrested and put in prison are “way out of proportion” with those who actually use the drugs. And that those who are against ending the so-called war on drugs are the drug dealers involved, people who are misled into believing in drug prohibition for moral reasons, and people who sell alcohol.
“If you take the drug marijuana, the one group of people who really don’t want it legalized are the people who sell alcohol,” Paul said.
“And what if people were able to use that and not buy as much alcohol. So they have a special interest. Also the drug companies, they’re selling these pain medications and all kinds of medications for all kinds of things. If marijuana were legalized, maybe you would have a lot less.”
Experts told Politic365.com that Paul’s claim that minorities are disproportionally affected by the “war on drugs” is basically correct.
Until two years ago, explained ACLU senior legislative counsel Jesselyn McCurdy, the disparity between the way crack and powdered cocaine offenses are treated was 100 to 1 since 1986, when the Anti-drug Abuse Act of 1986 was signed into law.
When the Fair Sentencing Act finally became law in August 2010 after a 17 year effort, the ratio between crack and powdered cocaine offenses was lowered to 18 to 1 from 100-1. The legislation was pushed through the House and Senate by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), then Chairman of the House subcommittee on Crime and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), the Senate Majority Whip, after almost twenty years of similar legislation went unsigned and unsupported. President Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act on August 3, 2010. But there is still work to be done.
“There’s still a disparity nonetheless,” said McCurdy. “A disparity still exists in the way crack cocaine offenders are treated versus powdered cocaine offenders are treated.”
“But the most important thing that we also know is that African Americans are not the majority of users of crack cocaine,” McCurdy said. “Although they are the majority of people who are sentenced under these unfair crack cocaine laws…White and Hispanics are the majority of users of crack cocaine.”
Additionally, McCurdy explained that in the federal system 51 percent of the people that are in federal prison today are in federal prison for drug charges and 40 percent of those are people of color.
“And often what happens is, African Americans are assumed to be drug dealers and whites are assumed to be drug users, and therefore whites often get drug treatment where Africans Americans get incarceration,” she said.
Statistics compiled by Law Enforcement Against Prohibition from the Department of Health and Human Services, the FBI, and U.S. Census Bureau show in 2010, African-Americans comprised 14.3 percent of drug users in the United States, but were 31.8 percent of those arrested for drug law violations.
“Another way to state the data is that black drug users are more than twice as likely to be arrested as white drug users,” said LEAP media director Tom Angell in an email.
The Executive Director of LEAP Neill Franklin told Politic365.com that “the business of drug prohibition is huge” with numerous spin-off industries.
“We have prisoners making furniture. We have drug-testing companies that have just blossomed out of nowhere. We have asset forfeiture processes and policies for law enforcement. We have federal grants at just about every turn for law enforcement” Franklin explained.
He also said that he thinks the drug laws are the foundation for today’s racial profiling and that U.S. drug policies have been about “social control ever since the early 1900s.”
“The very first law in this country prohibiting an individual from possessing opium was actually against the Chinese,” he said. “It actually read that it was illegal for a Chinaman to possess opium,” he said before explaining that many Chinese-Americans had “opium dens” that were often frequented by white women.
“So they figured, whites figured there was a way to control this, and to deal with by making opium illegal for Chinese. Not for whites,” he said.
Paul’s position towards the war on drugs is one that is in step with the NAACP. In 2011, the NAACP passed a resolution at its 102nd annual convention calling for an end to the war on drugs.
“But when you look at the problems, the government is basically the problem, even with the racial problems,” Paul said on the Washington Journal.
“First it endorsed and legalized slavery. And then it comes along and it was the Jim Crow laws that provided the integration. Who was the biggest segregationist? It was our military up until after World War II.”
The claim that the U.S. Armed Services was the “biggest segregationist” was one that was generally correct, an expert told Politic365.com.
“Ron Paul is correct. There was a policy of segregation in the U.S. Armed Forces during the Second World War,” said William Bundy, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College. “However, that is only part of the story.”
“I would say to you that the matter of race in the military is kind of a long story that is not told very easily. And it really stretches back to the Revolutionary War to where we are today.”
Bundy, himself being the third African-American naval officer to command a submarine, said that military can be seeing as a reflection of society.
“Life for Blacks in the service has generally reflected the treatment of Blacks in the population of these United States,” he wrote in an e-mail.
While several ships were segregated in the Navy during World War II there were also Navy groups that started to integrate, he explained.
Bundy pointed to an article written by Morris J. MacGregor, Jr. for the U.S. Army Center of Military History which explained that Army policy during World War II was also a policy of segregation, and at times defended it in the name of “military efficiency.”
However, the Army was also the biggest employer of minorities during the Second World War.
Additionally, Bundy explained that black military achievement and advancement has existed throughout U.S. Armed Services history, pointing to The Red Tails, otherwise known as the Tuskegee Airmen serving in World War II, and the U.S.S. Mason, a naval warship with a predominantly African-American crew.
“However, it was Eleanor Roosevelt, President Harry Truman and others who lead change during and after the war over the objections of leaders who were wed to their times that embraced the separation of the races,” Bundy said, noting that Truman signed Executive Order 9981 which called for the desegregation of the military.