…in order to fix the disparity between white arrests and black arrests, and white incarceration and black incarceration.
From the Des Moines Register:
Black adults and white adults use illegal drugs at roughly the same rates. But being black in this country means being 2.5 times more likely to be arrested for drug possession. In Iowa the statistics are especially appalling.
A black person in this state is seven times more likely to be arrested for possessing drugs, according to a new ACLU/Human Rights Watch report. Only one state, Montana, has a wider racial disparity.
The report, based on FBI and other government data, documents the devastation of enforcing drug laws that result in the arrest of more than one million Americans each year. Thousands of people cycle through jail, lose jobs, owe crippling fines and are haunted by criminal records. A felony conviction in Iowa means automatically losing your right to vote. Republicans and Democrats alike agree there is a need for comprehensive justice reform, which includes reducing sentences, eliminating mandatory minimums and investing in alternatives to jail and prison…In Iowa, 3 percent of residents are African-American, while 23 percent of state prison inmates are black…
They should begin by doing what several other states have done: pass legislation to ban racial profiling by law enforcement.
While a nice gesture, we (Iowans) need to be a little more radical in our solutions if we want to make a difference. The Editorial offers, as a solution, a law that would ban racial profiling. Well, racial profiling is already illegal. That is, no police officer can arrest someone and base probable cause on the individual’s race (nor can they use race to support “reasonable suspicion” for a Terry-style stop). No officer admits to racial profiling anyway. An officer who is profiling is going to give a race-neutral reason for the stop (traffic violation, etc.), and attorneys already have the ability to challenge those stops as pretextual in nature.
To make a real difference, we should be talking about decriminalizing marijuana completely, and decriminalizing the use and possession of other drugs, in general. Adults have every right to use drugs should they choose to do so (just like they can eat or drink whatever they choose, or engage in any type of consensual relationship with another adult, should they choose to) as long as they are not doing the drugs in a way that endangers others (driving while intoxicated, using around or while in charge of children, etc.). Not only is decriminalizing drug use a liberty issue for the individual, but it actually achieves the results the War on Drugs was supposed to achieve (as Portugal has shown).
Even if people want a distinction between using drugs and selling drugs, selling drugs should never land someone in prison for 25 or even 10 years. Selling drugs should not make you a felon. There will always be a market for drugs (illegal or otherwise), and ruining people’s lives for selling them serves no purpose (since it has no effect on eliminating the drug market). The felony convictions, while doing nothing to stem the flow of drugs, contribute to and perpetuate poverty and unemployment – especially in minority communities. (As an aside, in my personal experience, it is not about minorities being singled out so much as it is those in the lower socio-economic sphere of society – and it just so happens that minorities are disproportionately poor (a legacy of our embarrassing history)).
In Iowa, consider that sexual abuse, robbery, home invasion, assaults with injury, etc., can get you 5-10 years in prison (more or less, as well, depending on the facts), while having a bag of crack cocaine can get you the same or worse – up to 25 years in some cases. The worst drug possession is better than the “best” sexual assault, yet sexual predators regularly get less time than drug dealers (accompanying violence aside, of course).
We need serious reform, and a ban on racial profiling isn’t it.