Erik Eckholm, New York Times
Tuesday, May 6, 2008
More than two decades after President Ronald Reagan escalated the war on drugs, arrests for drug sales or, more often, drug possession are still rising. And despite public debate and limited efforts to reduce them, large disparities persist in the rate at which blacks and whites are arrested and imprisoned for drug offenses, even though the two races use illegal drugs at roughly equal rates.
Two reports, issued Monday by the Sentencing Project in Washington and by Human Rights Watch in New York, both say the racial disparities reflect, in large part, an overwhelming focus of law enforcement on inner-city drug use, with arrests and incarceration the main weapons.
But they note that the murderous crack-related urban violence of the 1980s, which spawned the drug war, has largely subsided, reducing the rationale for a strategy that has sowed mistrust in the justice system among many blacks.
In 2006, according to federal data, drug-related arrests climbed to 1.89 million, up from 1.85 million in 2005 and 581,000 in 1980.
More than 4 in 5 of the arrests were for possession of banned substances, rather than for their sale or manufacture. Four in 10 of all drug arrests were for marijuana possession,
according to the latest FBI data.
Apart from crowding prisons, one result is a devastating impact on the lives of black men, who are nearly 12 times as likely to be imprisoned for drug convictions as white men
, according to the Human Rights Watch report.
Others are arrested for possession of small quantities of drugs and later released, but with a permanent blot on their records.http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2008/05/06/MN7410H320.DTL