The War on Drugs

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Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 374

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.

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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.

Relevant Court Cases

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Last Updated on June 14, 2017, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1477

Alexander v. Sandoval

This case was decided by the Supreme Court in 2001. Plaintiffs in the case argued that it was illegal under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for the Alabama Department of Public Safety to offer driver's license examinations only in English, because it discriminates against non-English speaking drivers. The Supreme Court decided that the plaintiff lacked standing to bring the case to trial in the first place, because Title VI provides no "private right of action" for individual or civil rights groups to sue under the law.

Armstrong v. United States

Christopher Lee Armstrong and his friends were arrested during a drug raid. His lawyers noticed an alarming trend in drug cases involving crack: that none (zero) of the cases in federal court had white defendants. Most were African American, and a small handful were Latino. In order to prove bias in prosecuting, Armstrong's lawyers needed a complete list of all the cases handled by the prosecutor's office; but prosecutors refused to release the list in discovery. The Supreme Court later decided that the defendant's lawyers were not entitled to the prosecutorial records without more evidence of prosecutorial discrimination—the very evidence they were fighting to obtain.

Atwater v. City of Logo Vista

In this case, the Supreme Court decided that police "may...

(The entire section contains 1851 words.)

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