Racial Profiling and the War on Drugs

War on Drugs“Rap’s Grateful Dead” Jay Z attended a rally with Al Sharpton protesting the George Zimmerman trial verdict on Saturday July 20. Later that week, he attacked the verdict as racist.

About the same time, conservative commentator Larry Elder was expressing his opinion on TV and in print that the case wasn’t about race, and he said of Sharpton, “I call Sharpton Rev. J. Edgar Sharpton, because you look at how the guy is still in power after all these years, and it’s through manipulation and intimidation.”

Judging by how many people Sharpton has been drawing to rallies in the days since Zimmerman was found not guilty, it appears he can also build a power base with his oratory. Or maybe he just picked the right issue. After all, 86 percent of blacks are dissatisfied with the verdict, according to a Pew Research Center survey, and a lot of them think Zimmerman profiled Martin.

It would appear that Elder and Jay-hova and other protest attendees probably don’t have much they can agree on, but, when it comes to the drug war and its affect on racial profiling, they might find some common ground.

In 2000, Elder appeared on BET Tonight with Tavis Smiley and said, “The problem of DWB–driving while black–is largely a function of the war on drugs. That’s the reason there are so many interactions between blacks and the cops. We should call off the war on drugs.”

Libertarian-minded and free-market conservatives have long been trying to end the war on drugs.

Free-market economist Milton Friedman was railing against the “War on Drugs” from the time President Nixon used the phrase in 1971. Among the seven arguments he made in the New York Times in 1998 was that it “filled the prisons”, caused the “destruction of inner cities”, and caused a “disproportionate imprisonment of blacks.”

William Buckley and Thomas Sowell have also advocated the legalization of drug use. In 1991, Buckley debated Rep. Charlie Rangel, one of the backers of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 that established mandatory minimum sentences, and Rangel said, “We should not allow people to be able to distribute this poison without the fear that maybe they might be arrested and put in jail.”

After that bill passed, the United States’ rate of incarcerations exploded, more than doubling from 1986 to 2006, with the largest increase among African-Americans. One of those people who might have been arrested and put in jail is Jay Z.

Jay Z sold crack before he made it big and survived multiple brushes with death and police action without getting caught.

In the song “99 Problems”, Jay Z raps about an incident he feels he was racially profiled while running drugs:

So I…pull over to the side of the road
I heard “Son do you know why I’m stopping you for?”
Cause I’m young and I’m black and my hats real low?
Do I look like a mind reader sir, I don’t know
Am I under arrest or should I guess some more?
“Well you was doing fifty-five in a fifty-four”
“License and registration and step out of the car”
“Are you carrying a weapon on you I know a lot of you are”
I ain’t stepping out of shit all my papers legit
“Well, do you mind if I look round the car a little bit?”
Well my glove compartment is locked so are the trunk in the back
And I know my rights so you gonna need a warrant for that

The drug war is a big factor in causing distrust between blacks and the police. A hugely disproportionate number of blacks are in jail for drug crimes. Dr. Boyce Watkins cites the figure that 62 percent of drug offenders in state prisons are African-American, and the NAACP puts that figure at 59 percent. According to the figures they cited, the ration of drug use by race is nowhere near the ratio of incarcerations.

When the numbers are skewed like this, it creates the perception that blacks are being profiled, and this does no good for police interacting with African-Americans or African-Americans who would be suspicious that a police officer might be engaging in profiling. The perceptions and misperceptions on both sides seep into other situations, such as the Trayvon Martin incident, and color our ideas about what happened.

The drug war heightens other problems such as violence caused by turf wars among dealers. For conservatives concerned about violence in Chicago, ending the drug war would probably decrease murders to some degree.

It goes without saying that drug use and addiction ruins many people’s lives. It probably wouldn’t be a good idea to have crack and cocaine on sale in convenience stores. But there is an argument that the drug war might actually encourage users to seek harder drugs.

Milton Friedman arguing for drug legalization said, “The effect of drug criminalization is to drive people from mild drugs to strong drugs. Marijuana is a relatively heavy substance, and therefore it is relatively easy to interdict. Warriors on drugs have been more successful interdicting marijuana than, say, cocaine. So marijuana prices have gone up, there’s been an incentive to grow more potent marijuana, and people are driven from marijuana to heroin or cocaine.”

Every policy should be evaluated on the basis of costs and benefits. After fighting the drug war for decades, what do we have to show for it? Do the costs in money spent, prisoners locked up and deteriorating race relations justify the benefits? Is it really that hard for someone who wants to find drugs to find drugs, and could drug addicts be served better–and at a lower cost–by education and rehab programs than by imprisonment? (One important thing to consider here is that imprisonment is very expensive, so such an argument should be viewed as saving money and achieving better results rather than “coddling criminals.”)

At the very least, it might be worthwhile to reevaluate how much resources we put towards the policing of drugs even if no laws change.

With recreational marijuana now legalized in Colorado and Washington, we might have the opportunity to see how decriminalization policy works in practice.

The questions of racial disparities in the justice system and of drug policy have no easy answers, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t consider alternative solutions.

Wendy Davis, Democrats Agree: Over-Regulation Kills Jobs

Wendy Davis AbortionWendy Davis’ filibuster against abortion was a heroic stand. For a dozen hours, she stood railing against yet another big government expansion, and, for a moment there, she brought liberals and conservatives together in agreement on a common point: Excessive regulations kill jobs and shut down institutions.

Yes, Davis and the Democrats appear to be finally succumbing to facts now that abortion is the topic of discussion. One of their main arguments against the Texas bill is that the unnecessary regulations will cause dozens of abortion clinics to shut down.
On CNN, Davis wrote, “It [the bill] would close down almost 90% of the women’s clinics in this state.” Liberals have been spreading a map that claims to show Texas will only have five abortion clinics if the bill passes. Abortion doctors have said that they can’t afford the $1 million or more it will cost them to keep their clinics open.

It’s refreshing that liberals are finally realizing what over-regulation does to industry, but I just wish they were more consistent on their position and would apply it to other industries besides the abortion industry.

Why is it that some of the same Democrats rallying behind Davis–Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi among them–were some of the ones most instrumental in passing Obamacare?

Obamacare has already created thousands upon thousands of pages of regulations. The bill mandates what must be covered and forces people to pay much more than they paid before Obamacare. Businesses are now moving workers to part time and slowing down hiring because of the burdensome costs posed by the bill.

The “Affordable Healthcare Act” is just one of many bills that have made it harder and harder to do business under the Obama administration’s term. In the first three years of Obama’s term, 129 major regulations were created, according to Bloomberg news, adding a cost of $46 billion to businesses, according to the Heritage Institute. That’s before Obama even gets around to eventually implementing Obamacare.

EPA regulations are shutting down coal plants across the country. Obama even wants to regulate coal plants’ carbon emissions.

From the federal government on down, regulations are doing to all kinds of businesses just what Davis said they would do to clinics. In Washington, DC, if you are a “large retailer,” you have to pay your workers 50 percent more than the minimum wage. As for smaller retailers? They can keep paying the regular minimum wage that DC lawmakers apparently think isn’t enough to get by on.

The result: Wal Mart has said they will not open a store, DC residents will not have access to a low-cost shopping option, people will not have the opportunity to find a job there, and potential workers will face tougher competition as they try to find a job earning minimum wage at a small retail store.

Davis is right; unnecessary big government policies are intruding into people’s lives on a massive scale. But abortion regulation is far from the most egregious examples. Fast food restaurants are having to display nutrition info on everything, because people are unaware that a Big Mac and a meat-lover’s pizza are unhealthy. Oil refineries have to put corn-based ethanol into fuel that taxpayers pay for, because U.S. farmers need to line their wallets while decreasing the world’s food supply, even though the production costs of ethanol outweigh the energy savings. Those same refiners are also being fined for not using a nonexistent biofuel in their gasoline.

Inane business licensing regulations are enforced so stringently that homeless shoeshiners in San Francisco have to pay all their earnings for business licenses, as do bloggers in Philadelphia who earn $5 a year engaging in constitutionally-protected free speech, and children who set up lemonade stands on streets across the country.

Even magicians who pull rabbits out of a hat have to write a “disaster plan” for the rabbit. Apparently making sure a rabbit is safe during a hurricane is more important than attempting to make sure a woman is safe during an abortion.

As the Washington Post article detailing the case of magician Marty Hahne notes, regulations continue to be written for years after laws are originally passed. In this case, the regulation in question was proposed 40 years after the law it is based on was passed. So even after businesses finally get done reading the first batch of as-yet unfinished Obamacare and Dodd-Frank rules, there will be new rules coming at them with each passing day.

No, I certainly can’t disagree with Davis on the problem of over-regulation. I hope she will continue to fight over-regulation when it impacts other aspects of our lives.

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