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the war on drugs is bullshit

January 3, 2012

The Utica Phoenix recently obtained a video allegedly showing two white police officers in Utica, NY, planting evidence in a black couple’s SUV (you can see one of them pulling out a bag from his back pocket at 1:02):

While the video itself isn’t 100% conclusive, I think it’s safe to say that racism still exists in our society, with blacks being disproportionately discriminated against, especially within the criminal justice system (as Katheryn Russell-Brown persuasively documents in her book, The Color of Crime), and with studies suggesting that many Americans, particularly white males, still have unconscious biases against blacks and the poor (e.g., Discrimination Against Blacks Linked To Dehumanization, Unconscious Race and Social Bias Among Medical Students, etc.).

And surprise, surprise, the majority of people arrested and sent to prison for nonviolent drug offenses are disproportionately black and poor, who often have little-to-no access to treatment options or even a competent defense. Looking at the statistics, my immediate suspicion is that the ‘war on drugs’ is little more than a war on minorities and the poor used mainly to funnel massive amounts of people and money into an increasingly privatized, for-profit prison system, as well as into federal and state run institutions that siphon off taxpayer dollars. It’s a big business, and many communities are actually building their economy around local prisons.

In my opinion, drug use should be treated as a health issue rather than a criminal one. For one, prohibition exacerbates the problem by creating a black market that generates obscene profits for those involved in the production, transportation, and sale of these ‘illegal’ substances. We’ve seen it with alcohol in the 1920s; and drugs are no different. In addition, decriminalization policies elsewhere have shown positive results. In Portugal, for example, their decriminalization policy has lead to a dramatic drop in street drug related deaths from overdoses, as well as in the rate of new HIV infections from sharing dirty needles. Instead of going to jail, these people “are going to treatment centers and they’re learning how to control their drug usage or getting off drugs entirely.”

The evidence is clear: the ‘war on drugs’ is bullshit. As a recent report from the Global Commission on Drug Policy concludes:

Political leaders and public figures should have the courage to articulate publicly what many of them acknowledge privately: that the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that repressive strategies will not solve the drug problem, and that the war on drugs has not, and cannot, be won. Governments do have the power to pursue a mix of policies that are appropriate to their own situation, and manage the problems caused by drug markets and drug use in a way that has a much more positive impact on the level of related crime, as well as social and health harms.

Update (5:20pm, 1/3/12): A local news report from WKTV in Utica has some additional footage showing an officer taking drugs out of one of the suspects’ pockets just before the bit in the video above:

Video of Utica Police traffic stop goes viral alleging drug planting; UPD says ‘watch the full video’

Seeing that extra bit does make me think the drugs we see him pulling out of his pocket when he goes into the car is possibly what he’s already taken from one of the suspects, assuming it’s the same officer. Still seems a little odd to me, but maybe he was simply combining the evidence instead of planting it. I may very well have it all wrong; and if that’s the case, I sincerely apologize to the UPD and to the two officers involved.

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