The New Jim Crow: Obama’s Drug Policies

In 2008, Barack Obama did something no black man had ever done—get elected president of the United States. Now black men ask Obama to do something no president has ever done—reform our country’s drug laws. President Obama, however, has abandoned his roots.His recent raids on medical marijuana facilities in California shows his complete contempt for the plight of millions of American blacks who suffer from the federal government’s needless war on drugs.

The disconnect between the Obama’s words and actions grows daily.Like his much publicized reversal on presidential war powers, the president has completely abandoned his former positions on drug policy.In 2004, he advocated marijuana decriminalization. During his campaign, he stated he would respect state medical marijuana laws.In his bestselling book, he admitted to cocaine and marijuana use, even joking about inhaling on national television.Well, Mr. President, the millions of blacks targeted by your hypocritical war aren’t laughing now.

They also aren’t voting, or rather they can’t vote, which might explain Obama’s cavalier disregard.Ohio State law professor Michelle Alexander dubs the drug war, “The New Jim Crow,” the title of her 2010 bestseller describing the mass disenfranchisement of American blacks.In one particularly pointed passage, she writes, “Jarvious Cotton’s great-great-grandfather could not vote as a slave. His great-grandfather was beaten to death by the Ku Klux Klan for attempting to vote. His grandfather was prevented from voting by Klan intimidation. His father was barred from voting by poll taxes and literacy tests. Today, Jarvious Cotton cannot vote because he, like many black men in the United States, has been labeled a felon and is currently on parole.”

While many are unable to vote, blacks in America support legalization. The NAACP and the National Black Police Association both backed Prop 19 in California. Nearly seventy percent of black voters supported the measure as well, indicating that the total support may be far higher.They realize that these drug laws are implemented terribly unfairly.Blacks compose just fourteen percent of drug users, but an incredible sixty-three percent of imprisoned drug offenders are black.In L.A. County alone, blacks are four times as likely to be arrested for marijuana offenses as whites.Los Angeles is “the city of angels” in name only.

Drug laws’ disproportionate implementation has resulted in disproportionate effects.Blacks are far more likely than whites to experience drug-related violence.The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that “blacks are overrepresented in homicides involving drugs.” They find that even though blacks represent just thirteen percent of the population, they account for more than sixty percent of homicide victims involving drugs. An end to the drug war ends all of this unnecessary violence.“Quite simply,” writes Columbia University lecturer John McWhorter, “people who don’t sell drugs for a living don’t much need to kill each other over turf.”

While slavery of the traditional sort may have ended, millions of blacks still aren’t free. As Alexander has noted, “More African American men are in prison or jail, on probation or parole than were enslaved in 1850, before the Civil War began.” Prisoners make license plates, pick up litter and possibly even make the Governor’s desk on which he unironically signs the prison budget. California plans to use this slave labor to meet its budget by expanding the program to include an increasing number of tasks.They even proudly display the New York Times’ article about their program on their website. Apparently, slavery is now something we brag about.

On his way to the top, President Obama has left black America at the bottom.Blacks are imprisoned, enslaved, and released without the voting rights necessary to rectify their situation, and yet Obama continues this unjust policy. As McWhorter writes, “The massive number of black men in prison stands as an ongoing and graphically resonant rebuke to all calls to ‘get past racism,’ exhibit initiative, or stress optimism… The time to end the War on Drugs, therefore, is yesterday.”But when yesterday’s headlines instead describe how the first black president has turned his back on his past, his stated beliefs, and his policy promises, who can be optimistic?

Daniel Bier

Daniel Bier is the founder and editor-at-large of The Skeptical Libertarian. He writes on issues relating to science, skepticism, and economic freedom, focusing on the role of evolution in social and economic development.