The War on Drugs
In 1971, President Richard Nixon set forth what would become the guiding principles of the United States' decades-long "War on Drugs": eradication, interdiction, and incarceration. Note that education, recovery, reform, and welfare programs are not part of the plan. The so-called War on Drugs has focused on disrupting the flow of narcotics from Latin America (a largely futile endeavor) and incarcerating drug offenders at extreme and disproportionate rates. Many scholars, Michelle Alexander included, have noted that the harsh sentencing policies enacted by the federal government have actually increased drug-related crime.
Curiously enough, when the War on Drugs was first declared, drug-related crime was actually quite low—much lower than it is today. Why then was the War on Drugs declared? Alexander argues that it was backlash against the Civil Rights Movement, which brought an end to the original Jim Crow laws in the South. This can be seen in the clearly selective and biased application of all laws associated with the War on Drugs. Take, for example, traffic stops. In theory, traffic stops are supposed to have some reasonable justification. In practice, however, police officers have the discretion to stop whomsoever they chose. This results in a disproportionate number of stops targeting minorities, in particular African Americans. We call this "racial profiling."
Once someone has been arrested, prosecutors often pile up charges against the offenders to intimidate them into taking plea deals. In most of these cases, prosecutors would not be able to make the trumped-up charges stick in court, but fear of a lengthy prison sentence leads offenders to accept unfair plea deals. If a defendant decides to go to trial, they will often be judged by a white jury. This is no accident. Before every trial, prosecutors, along with defense attorneys, select the jury through a process called voir dire. Prosecutors are free to reject a potential jury member so long as they can come up with a non-race related reason to reject them—even if the juror’s race is obviously the real reason for the dismissal. These race-neutral justifications don’t have to actually be plausible, and the Supreme Court has allowed prosecutors to rule out black jurors for fairly absurd things such as having long hair or inherently "suspicious" beards.