There are many good arguments for ending the war on drugs, including that drug laws constitute a grave violation of the principles of freedom, that the drug war is a manifest failure, and that the drug war has produced massive negative consequences, such as death, ruination of lives, official corruption, gang wars, kidnappings, muggings, thefts, and asset-forfeiture laws.
All that would disappear with the legalization of drugs.
But that’s not all that would disappear. So would the biggest excuse that cops have today to harass and abuse blacks and anyone else bigoted cops want to go after.
Let’s face it. There will always be racial bigots in every generation and in every society. We’ve got them in America society today.
The era of slavery, of course, was a heyday for bigots. They could insult, abuse, beat, and humiliate blacks to their hearts’ content. Slaves were their property. As a practical matter, slave owners couldn’t get into trouble for mistreating their slaves.
The era of segregation also provided an excellent opportunity for bigots to mistreat blacks. The law required blacks to use separate bathroom facilities, to sit in the back of public buses, and to attend different public schools than whites. Segregation provided bigots with the opportunity to constantly remind blacks of their subordinate position in American society.
Today, the best place for bigots to go is police departments. In large part, that’s because of the drug war. The war on drugs provides a legal license for a bigoted cop to stop blacks, ask them for identification, search their persons and cars, and, most important, receive an attitude of deference and respect from them.
Heaven help a detained black who doesn’t show the proper deference and respect to the policeman who stops him. He will be taken down and shown his place in American society.
That’s really what happened to Eric Garner. As you watch the video that recorded his killing, it is clear that the cops were getting increasingly agitated over the fact that Garner was yelling at them and demanding that they leave him alone.
That’s not how a black man is supposed to behave toward white cops. After he is detained for selling cigarettes without a license or whatever, he is supposed to keep his head down and let the cops pat him down, all the time constantly repeating, “Yes, sir. I’m sorry, sir.”
That’s why they took him down. That’s why they manhandled him. He hadn’t show the proper deference that blacks are supposed to show to white policemen.
As any black in any inner city in America will tell you, this type of goes on every day as part of the war on drugs. All that cops have to do is say that they’ve stopped a black because he looked suspicious. He had bulge in his rear pocket. He looked away when the cop stared at him. Or whatever. Any excuse will do because all the cop has to say is that he is enforcing the war on drugs.
Thus, even if a particular detention is clearly illegal and unconstitutional, it doesn’t matter one iota. That never stops a bigoted cop. He knows that as long as he cites the war on drugs, nothing is going to happen to him.
Recall what happened in Tulia, Texas, several years ago. A white cop arrested dozens of black citizens in town on drug charges. Although the blacks protested their innocence, they were convicted and sent away to the penitentiary for many years. It was a convenient way to get rid of blacks in the community.
That wasn’t a surprising result. How is the judge or jury going to believe in a drug case—the white cop or a poor black?
Those blacks in Tulia were lucky. Thanks to some good lawyering, after their convictions they were able to prove that they were the victims of a frame-up by that bigoted cop. They were released from jail.
Many others across America, however, are not so lucky. American penitentiaries are filled with black victims of the drug war, including people who are, for one reason or another, unfortunately addicted to drugs. Even then, why should that be the business of the state or its cops rather than the business of private rehab centers?
Obviously, the legalization of drugs would not remove all excuses for cops to harass and abuse blacks. Eric Garner was harassed for selling cigarettes without a license. But ending the war on drug would sure make a big dent into the problem.
Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.
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