Not so long ago, former US Presidential candidate, Hillary Rodham Clinton proposed an ambitious initiative to commit $10 billion over 10 years to target opioid addiction. Her proposal seems ambitious at first but a closer look revealed a more duplicitous thinking that evolved only recently. For those that are unfamiliar with Hillary’s foray into social justice reform, a brief introduction should get you up to speed. In 1992 when her husband, Bill Clinton was then President of the United States, Hillary’s attitude about illegal drug use as the First Lady of the United States, differed significantly from her attitude during the 2016 Presidential campaign. During the 1990s under her husband’s presidency, the US had just weaned itself from the Reagan and Nixon’s so-called “War On Drugs” fiasco. The Hillary then, referred to black, urban youth as “super-predators” without a conscience that needed to be brought “to heel” (see the video in Ronda Lee’s Huffington Post article, “Why Hillary’s Super-Predator Comment Matters”). What came from this dispassionate stance was the infamous “1992 Crime Bill” supported by many misinformed blurred eyed democrats and signed into law by then President Bill Clinton. This bill not only lengthened prison sentences for some violent offenders with previous convictions, including for drug crimes, lengthy prison sentences for users (and not pushers), but increased community policing and perpetual long prison terms under the three strike “you’re out” rule for those convicted thrice of a felony. Of course, Hillary’s position then was a historical reflection of the political climate of the time and although she has since apologized for her position, she still has some work to do in terms of addressing the disproportionate consequences African-Americans suffered as a result of her stance and her husband’s direct policies. Let’s begin here.
The War On Drugs
According to the Human Rights Watch Organization, the US led “War On Drugs caused soaring arrest rates that disproportionately targeted African-Americans due to various factors.” In 1986 the U.S. Congress passed laws that created a 100 to 1 sentencing disparity for the trafficking or possession of crack when compared to penalties for trafficking of powder cocaine.” The US sentencing disparities culminated in a combination of disproportionate arrests for African-Americans and a disparity in sentencing and prosecution of their cases. Over the course of their lives, white people are more likely than Black people to use illicit drugs in general, as well as marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines, and prescription drugs (for non-medical purposes) specifically. Data on more recent drug use (for example, in the past year) shows that Black and white adults use illicit drugs other than marijuana at the same rates and that they use marijuana at similar rates. For more details see (https://www.hrw.org/report/2016/10/12/every-25-seconds/human-toll-criminalizing-drug-use-united-states).
Yet around the country, Black adults are more than two-and-a-half times as likely as white adults to be arrested for drug possession.
Recently, the Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, in his Budget Address talked in length about the opioid crisis and how he wants to appropriate money from a New Jersey insurance company to fund opioid treatment and preventative measures. While his altruism may be seen as noble to some, I ask, where were governors, Hillary and legislators during the crack epidemic in the 1980’s? Well they weren’t empathetic to the plight of drug addicts. If they weren’t being demonized, then inner city addicts became subject to mass incarceration due to harsh, draconian drug laws (see the Drug Policy Alliance’s fact sheet on the failure and waste caused by the Rockefeller drug laws, https://www.drugpolicy.org).
The elephant in the room is the clear fact that, when drug addiction affects middle-class whites, there is a resounding call to action. Legislators run to the public podium and pledge to help addicts and enact measures to prevent addiction. Yet when the same thing happens in the black community, the response is either harsh or indifferent. A parallel can be seen in missing person cases. When young, white and pretty Natalie Holloway disappeared in Aruba, it was a case that transfixed the nation for months. But when the young, pretty black woman Stacey English disappeared in Atlanta, no one blinked an eye. In fact unless you are from Georgia, I would guess that most readers have never even heard of Stacey English (for more information about this tragic inattention see Louse Boyle’s Daily Mail article “The Faces of the Forgotten: Heartbreaking plight of the 64,000 black women missing across America….as the Country turns a blind eye”).
Treatment Should Be Focused On The Addict-Not Skin Color
The mantra now is help, not arrest. When addiction is presented as a black problem, there was no benevolence. Instead we were warned of black pathological, super-predators. When addiction has a white face the response is compassion not punishment. Drug addiction is still an inner city plight with untold amounts of black suffering. Where are the congressional pledges of support? Where is the promise of treatment instead of incarceration? Sadly, there is none. Poor black neighborhoods are still zealously targeted by law enforcement and black addicts are jailed on a daily basis solely due to their addiction. Why the disparity? Why is a white heroin addict more deserving of care than a black crack addict. Addiction is addiction. If this country is going to support legislation to aid addiction, then it needs to turn a blind eye to the race of the addict. Opioid addicts are no more deserving of sympathy and support than any other addict. To eradicate addiction we need to focus on treatment of the addict as a whole. Parsing out one type of addict as more deserving than another is nothing more than de facto discrimination.