“We have the same feeling today about drug abuse — If you never tried it in the first place you wouldn’t have these problems. We rejected that approach with HIV/AIDS and we need today to reject that approach on the treatment of drug abuse.”
Those were the words of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie this past Wednesday during a town hall meeting in his home state of New Jersey.
Are the words right? That can be discussed later.
But what we will take a look at first is the reasoning for those remarks Christie made.
THE YEAR 1982
1982 was just another year. Nothing really special to speak of. The Weather Channel and USA Today were first introduced, and Dwight Clark made “the catch” en route to the 49ers winning their first of five Super Bowls. But other than that, it was just “a year.”
But something else really important did happen on June 24 of the same year. Something purposeful and equally impactful.
President Ronald Reagan would state: “We must mobilize all our forces to stop the flow of drugs into this country.” He continued: “brand drugs such as marijuana exactly for what they are—dangerous.”
And shortly thereafter, the war on drugs began.
Now this isn’t an article knocking the war on drugs, or harping on its discriminatory, obscene and maybe even pointless nature. That’s nothing new.
The war on drugs is what it is.
This is more so about how focused the war on drugs is.
At this point, we should all have heard the statistics, and been made clear of the war’s motivation. Those who are found in possession of one gram of crack cocaine, receive the punishment equal to someone found with 18 grams of powder cocaine. And that’s an improvement – as the ratio used to be 100:1!
But again, none of this is new, just like it isn’t new to hear that crack is found more often in black communities and cocaine in white communities. Even though President Obama signed a law into place to decrease this alarming disparity, (a law he gets no credit for in the “he did nothing for black people” argument) race and economic standing were, and still are a factor in the drug sentencing laws.
Cue the outrage and “the government is racist” calls.
Again, we’ve been here before. There is however, a new form of coded discrimination going on in the “Government vs Drugs” phase. And it’s what makes Christie’s comments above so off-putting but yet typical.
SUBURBIA’S NEW HABIT
While America has been steadily fixating itself on how to punish crack offenders, a new issue has sprouted up.
The epidemic has hit many neighborhoods harshly and local governments don’t know how to stop people from using.
“Wait….stop them from using?” you ask. “I thought we were getting the bad guys off the street.”
Well check out this eye opening statistic: according to PubMed.gov, nearly 90% of the people who tried heroin for the first time over the past decade were white.
And now it becomes an issue.
I have never in my life seen so many ads, articles, campaigns, just general pleas about getting people to stop using one drug. When one community had the issue, it was due to “criminals” and “addicts” who were regardless thrown in jail for extended amounts of time.
I have never in my life seen or heard about so many people being charged with murder because another person overdosed on heroin. And it’s not even the fact that they shouldn’t be sentenced, it’s that since it involves heroin, someone has to be held accountable.
But most importantly, I have never in my life seen so many addiction victims described as “diseased.” Again, that’s not an incorrect opinion to me necessarily! Nevertheless, how the tide can completely change now that alternate communities are affected is beyond me.
It makes the discrimination in the laws more evident than the laws initially instituted to adversely affect blacks in the first place.
This takes us back to Christie’s comments. I hate to have to single out the governor specifically, because he definitely is not the only one displaying these tendencies.
There has been a ton of puff pieces being circulated around, about heroin and its effect on its poor, poor users.
Like for example, a piece CNN ran just yesterday morning about the impact a generation of heroin users had on orphans. Compare that to recent articles under the title of “crack cocaine.” Use, distribution, mugshot, next story. No sob story here. The simple differences in searches between crack cocaine epidemic and “heroin epidemic” are astounding.
I guess what I’m saying is, I would love to see more about how crack did and still does affect our communities, and what we need to do to save the children. Rather than controversy over whether the government poisoned our communities with the drug.
I think I’ll never be satisfied.
I just feel like if we’re supposed to live in a “progressive” society, these trends shouldn’t occur as often as they do. Discrimination is supposed to still exist, but it should not be this blatant.
This is exactly where the whole idea of Black Lives Matter comes into play. It is never meant to demean the lives of those addicted to heroin. There is a legitimate case that drug addiction is a disease.
The issue comes in because it is considered a disease when it effects white people. That’s the honest and open truth. I can’t dance around it anymore. When the drugs effect white people that’s when we have to introduce legislation to prevent people from using and protect the children. However, when crack was running rampant through our communities, jail was the solution.
Then came the need for more jails, to the point where we were building more jails than schools. Now: mass incarceration. Where black men make up less than 10% of the population in America, but over a third of the prison population. Moreover, most of those men are in jail for drug related offenses. From americanprogress.org: “According to the Human Rights Watch, people of color are no more likely to use or sell illegal drugs than whites, but they have higher rate of arrests. African Americans comprise 14 percent of regular drug users but are 37 percent of those arrested for drug offenses. From 1980 to 2007 about one in three of the 25.4 million adults arrested for drugs was African American.”
So to put this section in simple terms, black drug = black incarceration. White drug = sympathy, support, legislation.
The system has let us down before, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. However, when done in such a subliminal way, the system should be called out.
Addiction is addiction, and those in governing positions should do a better job upholding these standards.
Keith A. Boggs is a third year Media Communications major at the University of Toledo. He has aspirations of being a television anchor and part-time journalist, with the hopes of going into politics one day. A native of Detroit, Michigan and a big sports fan, his favorite teams of course are his hometown's professional teams and the Michigan Wolverines.