4:16pm June 4, 2013

Nothing New: Blacks Busted 4x More Than Whites for Same Drug Crimes, Equal Use


Is this really news?  Why is everyone breathlessly reporting that there is a difference in prosecution and sentencing based on race in the U.S. as if that’s news?  I’m glad the ACLU and other groups are focused on this.  But at some point we actually need to stop going over statistics and do something about the obvious racial disparities in sentencing and prosecution in the criminal justice system.  

“Black Americans were nearly four times as likely as whites to be arrested on charges of marijuana possession in 2010, even though the two groups used the drug at similar rates, according to new federal data,” reported the New York Times yesterday.  So what else is new? Will they report today that water is wet. 

On February 14, the Wall Street Journal reported that, prison sentences of black men were nearly 20% longer than those of white men for similar crimes in recent years, an analysis by the U.S. Sentencing Commission found.”

||| RELATED:  1:18 Crack Cocaine Disparity Bill Set to PASS House TODAY |||

That’s been going on years and years and years.  When Attorney General Eric Holder brought up that blacks receive longer sentences than whites (during a speech at the National Action Network convention in April) for same crimes he acted as if he was announcing new information? Why?

We knew that law enforcement focuses on blacks and Latinos more from the stop and first statistics. The New York City Police 
Department is embarked on one of the largest racial profiling police state campaigns ever conducted. The only probable cause? Skin color.  From 2002 to 2011, blacks and Hispanics made up 90% of those stopped.  Further 88% of stops – 3.8 million people – were innocent.  Targeting minority communities more than others is nothing knew in the criminal justice system.

Black people are 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people despite comparable usage rates, according to a report released today by the American Civil Liberties Union. The report also found that marijuana possession arrests now make up nearly half of all drug arrests, with police making over 7 million marijuana possession arrests between 2001 and 2010. “The War on Marijuana in Black and White: Billions of Dollars Wasted on Racially Biased Arrests” is the first-ever report to examine nationwide state and county marijuana arrest data by race,” wrote the ACLU this morning.

Sure it may be the first study of its kind but it’s certainly not the first time we’ve seen a racial disparity in the criminal justice system.  That consistent disparity has always been the standard.

Just as in the case of the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine which CONTINUES and is now at 18:1, there has always been a sentencing disparity in black and white in the U.S.  Sure the disparity went from 1:100 to 1:18 but shouldn’t it be 1:1.

“The war on marijuana has disproportionately been a war on people of color,” said Ezekiel Edwards, of the ACLU. “State and local governments have aggressively enforced marijuana laws selectively against Black people and communities, needlessly ensnaring hundreds of thousands of people in the criminal justice system at tremendous human and financial cost.”

Now hopefully we’ll see a strategy that changes these numbers rather than going over them again and again year after year.


About the Author

Lauren Victoria Burke
Lauren Victoria Burke
Lauren Victoria Burke is an independent journalist who analyses politics and justice reform. She created Crewof42.com, a blog that covers the work of African American members of Congress, in 2009. Ms. Burke has also been a staffer for the Senate Democratic Policy Committee and Director of Communications for Rep. Andre Carson (D-IN). She has had a very diverse career in politics and media and appears weekly on NewsOneNow with Roland Martin. She has also appeared on Hardball with Chris Matthews, Politics Nation with Al Sharpton and Up with Steve Kornacki on MSNBC. She is also a contributing writer for NBCNews.com and TheRoot.com Ms. Burke has also authored three books of photography including two on President Obama's 2008 campaign for the presidency and one with Marvel Comics creator Stan Lee. Ms. Burke was born in the Bronx, New York and grew up on Long Island. She holds a B.A. in History from The American University. E-mail: LBurke007@gmail.com. Twitter: @LVBurke. Instagram: LVB325.



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  1. john4carter

    If the statistics don’t look good for us… there has to be racism somewhere? NO! Unfortunately, black people choose their life choices and suffer the consequences. Sooner or later, the black community has to stop blaming racism and do some internal house cleaning.

    • Al

      Totally agree. Perhaps there is a reason why minorities are arrested more often than caucasians. Yes, caucasians… not “whites”. Although you may disagree Mrs. Burke, it is not acceptable to classify people by the color of the skin.

      For example, minorities tend to live in the poor sections of inner cities, which have higher violent crime rates and larger police forces. Thus, there is a higher likelihood of being caught and less tolerance for the crime due to how widespread it is within the city. OR, we can skip investigating the possible causes and simply jump to the conclusion that it’s because they are “black or latino”.

      • BIG JOE

        Al what if I told you that the same crimes are happening in the suburbs and in more “affluent” parts of any given city but that there is no motivation for police forces to enforce the law to the same extent in these neighborhoods as there is for them to enforce the law in poor Black and Latino neighborhoods. The truth of the matter Al is that in those neighborhoods (and perhaps rightly so) there would be MASS political upheaval if little Al and little Johnny and Becky were to find themselves incarcerated in anything CLOSE to the numbers that young Jamal, Solomon, and Isiah are. I challenge to learn the facts and read Mass Incarceration In the Age of Colorblindness: The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. It will open your eyes.

    • BIG JOE

      john you are woefully ignorant of the facts in this matter. it is certainly not simply a matter of choices. The indisputable fact of the matter is that Black and Latinio men compose a ludicrous percentage of the folks that are incarcerated in the country in relation to the percentage of the population that they represent. The truth of the matter is that the criminal justice system is currently set up to incarcerate poor people of color in disproportionate numbers. If in fact you would like to learn the truth I challenge you to read a book called Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander Esq. this book contains the facts to support my claims and the above information. I hope you are curious enough to learn the truth and not sit idly by in ignorance.

    • Christopher

      Like white people so perfect! Blacks have been screwed since we got to this country. White america’s views on blacks is just a continuation of the original view of blacks, that they are worthless. Its just not spoken as loud anymore. Now the racists wear 3 piece suits and Italian loafers.

  2. shabaaz shaliq al-hussein


  3. BIG JOE

    Thank you for spreading this information. We need for this to become a loud and large part of the political and sociological dialogue in this country. Everyone that cares about the future of this country should read Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander.


  4. Me Too

    Prohibition all started b/c of racism. It’s time to legalize now and end this madness.

  5. [...] Laws Target BlacksHuffington PostKalamazoo Gazette – MLive.com -Baltimore Sun -Politic365all 39 news [...]

  6. Mike

    There is definitely a difference between how blacks are treated in the legal system from first contact to prosecution. It’s difficult for whites to understand, but here’s what happend to me JUST LAST MONTH in Alexandria, VA. I’m black, well spoken, I make multiple six figures, no baggy clothes, and I’m a former military test pilot. This is what I get…

    While driving with my wife and daughter in OUR affluent neighborhood a police car stopped at a cross street watches as I stop and turn. The officer and I make eye contact. I follow proper stopping procedure as we cross and turn onto the main thoroughfare. The officer makes a U-turn from a dead stop and ROARS to within 3 feet of my rear bumper and follows for 2 blocks. No lights. He’s so close that the nose of his car has disappeared beneath my vehicle to where I can only see the top 1/3rd of his head in my rear view! He then drops back and speeds around me.

    My family and I drop off our things at home and 30 minutes later we head off to visit family across town. About a half mile away the SAME OFFICER is at another intersection. I stop we make eye contact again and I think nothing of it and drive on… and the lights come on.

    As he approaches the car he pauses and stares at me through the side mirror and observes the car as I patiently wait. At first I think WTF?… Then my confusion turns to dread. It’s a feeling I really wish people didn’t have to experience when dealing with LEOs. It’s when you know you’ve just been picked. It’s a feeling I hadn’t felt since a traffic stop I had in the deep south while in the service. After a moment he finally approaches and proceeds to ask several questions about where I was coming from, where I was going, he visually inspected my daughter’s car seat, peeked through the back window behind my seat, peered down the side of my driver’s seat, looked through the hatch of our SUV, and completed his song and dance with a request for my wife’s ID. Moments later his “back up” arrives. Three other cars with their lights on. He then says that I had been stopped because I changed lanes too close to the intersection… BS! You had your “search team” at the ready for an illegal lane change that didn’t happen? Really!? And, as a result we have to sit through your 20 minute side show, while you stare at my daughter and little Irish wife like we may have just robbed the neighbors?

    I wonder how different our interaction would have been if something… ANYTHING had struck him as out of sorts even if it really wasn’t. I don’t know what or who he though I was, but he was looking, no, BEGGING for a reason to hook me.

    I wish this exact experience and interaction upon anyone who doesn’t understand.

  7. [...] Laws Target BlacksHuffington PostKalamazoo Gazette – MLive.com -Baltimore Sun -Politic365all 39 news [...]

  8. [...] ACLU reportsDesMoinesRegister.comACLU Report: Racist Marijuana Laws Target BlacksHuffington PostPolitic365 -BurlingtonFreePress.com -The Courier-Journalall 39 news [...]

  9. [...] that there is a difference in prosecution and sentencing based on race in the U.S. as if that's.politic365.com/…/nothing-new-blacks-busted-4x-more-than-w… (Click title to read [...]

  10. [...] The Black unemployment rate, called “shamefully high” in a recent article in The Atlantic, hit a 28 year high in 2011 of 16.7% and now is stuck at 13% — the same number it was at in 2009.  As for drug policy and incarceration, the U.S. has the highest rate of incarceration in the world with 2.3 million people behind bars.  Last week, yet another study revealed that African Americans are arrested 4x more than whites for drug possession even though usage rates are t… [...]

  11. […] also laws that whites break at about the same rate, without white communities receiving the same focus or treatment from law enforcement as black […]

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