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Notes on Race and the Drug War 


[1] There's No Justice in the War on Drugs 

By Milton Friedman, Nobel Prize, Economics 

Disproportionate imprisonment of blacks. 

Sher Horosko, at the time Connecticut's director of addiction services, stressed this effect of drug prohibition in a talk given in June 1995: 

Today in this country, we incarcerate 3,109 black men for every 100,000 of them in the population. Just to give you an idea of the drama in this number, our closest competitor for incarcerating black men is South Africa. South Africa -- and this is pre-Nelson Mandela and under an overt public policy of apartheid -- incarcerated 729 black men for every 100,000. Figure this out: In the land of the Bill of Rights, we jail over four times as many black men as the only country in the world that advertised a political policy of apartheid. 

Destruction of inner cities. 

Drug prohibition is one of the most important factors that have combined to reduce our inner cities to their present state. 

Compared with the returns from a traditional career of study and hard work, returns from dealing drugs are tempting to young and old alike. And many, especially the young, are not dissuaded by the bullets that fly so freely in disputes between competing drug dealers -- bullets that fly only because dealing drugs is illegal. Al Capone epitomizes our earlier attempt at Prohibition; the Crips and Bloods epitomize this one. 

- Extracts from The New York Times, 1-11-98 [2] 

"African American high school seniors consistently have lower rates of licit and illicit substance use compared with whites. This finding also is true among African American youth in lower grades, ... " 

- from "Drug Use Among Racial and Ethnic Minorities" by NIDA (6/29/01) 

"The Public Health Service reports, based on anonymous surveys, that blacks, at 13 percent of the population, account for 15 percent of illegal drug users. Hispanics are 11 percent of the population and 8 percent of illegal drug users, and whites are more than 70 percent in both categories. A National Institute of Justice study found that most users report getting their drugs from dealers of their own racial or ethnic background; so dealing rates are likely to track user rates. These figures suggest that race and ethnicity are simply not useful criteria for suspicion." 

- from "The Fallacy of Racial Profiling" 

May 13, 2001 by Professor David Cole of Georgetown University Law Center, author of "No Equal Justice: Race and Class in the American Criminal Justice System'' and John Lamberth, an associate professor of psychology at Temple University. 

"The Seattle report builds on years of research showing rampant racial discrimination at every level of the war on drugs. African-Americans comprise nearly two-thirds of all drug offenders admitted to state prison nationally, for example, though they constitute only 13% of drug users in the U.S. 

In 2000, Human Rights Watch reported that although whites and blacks use drugs at a similar rate, black men are admitted to state prison on drug charges at a rate that is 13.4 times greater than that of white men - with rates up to 57 times greater in some states. 

- from DRUG POLICY ALLIANCE, 12-2-03 

See: www.drugpolicy.org 

[3a] New Report Finds Stark Racial Disparities in Arrests of Drug Sellers in Seattle. 

More Whites Sell Drugs, But By Far More Blacks Are Arrested 

A groundbreaking study of the racial disparities in arrest rates for individuals who sell drugs in Seattle was released this week. The study, commissioned by Seattle public defenders and authored by University of Washington sociologist Katherine Beckett, shows that African-Americans who sell drugs in Seattle are much more likely to be arrested than Caucasian offenders. 

According to the study, although whites comprise a much higher proportion of individuals who are actually selling drugs, between 1999 and 2001 blacks were 2 to 4 times more likely than white offenders to be arrested for selling cocaine; 22.6 times more likely to be arrested for selling heroin; and 31.6 times more likely to be arrested for selling methamphetamines. 

- from DRUG POLICY ALLIANCE, 12-2-03 See: www.drugpolicy.org 

 [3b] "Inga L. Parsons of NYU Law School points out, nationally, 'In 1999, nearly three quarters of all defendants charged with drug offenses were minorities: 46% of the defendants charged with a drug offense in federal court were identified as Hispanic; 28% were identified as black and only 25% were identified as white.' 

" New York City's Legal Aid Society finds that the majority of people who use and sell drugs in the state of New York are white. However, African-Americans and Hispanics make up over 94% of the drug offenders in New York state prisons. " 

- CriminalDefense Weekly, July 29 - Aug. 14, 2002; Jordan Elgrably, editor 


More Blacks, Hispanics Pulled Over In Overwhelmingly White Counties More than one-third of those stopped in 11 counties heavily patrolled by an OHP drug interdiction unit were black or Hispanic, despite the fact that populations in those areas are overwhelmingly white, records show. 

- from Tulsa World, 5 - 20 - 01 

[5] "If blacks are carrying drugs more often than whites, police should find drugs on the blacks they stop more often than on the whites they stop. But they don't. 

"In Maryland, for example, 73 percent of those stopped and searched on a section of Interstate 95 were black, yet state police reported that equal percentages of the whites and blacks who were searched, statewide, had drugs or other contraband. In New Jersey, where police have admitted to racial profiling, searches in 2000 conducted with the subjects' consent yielded contraband, mostly drugs, on 25 percent of whites, 13 percent of blacks and only 5 percent of Latinos. 

"A study of stop-and-frisk practices in New York City in 1998 and 1999 found that while police disproportionately stopped young black men, the hit rates were actually marginally higher for whites than for blacks or Latinos. And while 43 percent of those searched at airports by the Customs Service in 1998 were black or Latino, illegal materials were found on 6.7 percent of whites, 6.3 percent of blacks and 2.8 percent of Latinos." 

- from "The Fallacy of Racial Profiling," 5-13-01, by Cole and Lamberth 

" The Dallas Morning News compiled data from DPS last year that showed black and Hispanic motorists stopped by troopers were more than twice as likely to be searched than white drivers. 

" The searches resulted in the arrests of 25 percent of the white drivers for nontraffic-related offenses and in 15 percent of the minority motorists. " 

- from Dallas Morning News, May 10, 2001 by Christy Hoppe


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