Why is the War on Drugs racist?

The drugs’ debate crosses important social intersections. We are going to briefly cover one of them – the racial, or to be more conceptual accurate, the ethnic aspect.
The most popular headlines that pop up on our minds when we face this racial aspect of the war on drugs are certainly police violence, doubtful arrest and prosecutions against people of color and, on a wider view, the dichotomy between the United States’ lead on the war on drugs, especially now during Trump’s administration.
Furthermore, this article will focus first on the own US’s contradictions and statistics on their ethnic approach of the drug issue; later, a quick overview of the situation in Latin America and the problematic on the Rafael Braga’s case in Brazil; finally, a read on the prospects for this subject during the Trump’s administration.
Besides the rough path taken overseas, the United States of America faces problems of its own over the drug issue. Having said so, some government agencies were able to compare by social statistics, the number of assailants and incarcerations over drugs possession and consumption, which those we are able to check in the table below:

Chart (1)(Source: https://news.vice.com/story/the-war-on-drugs-remains-as-racist-as-ever-statistics-show)

The table above shows severe contradictions and, mostly, if we consider that “American population that is 77% white, 13% black, and 17% Hispanic” (VICE NEWS, 2017). Finding explanations for such phenomena is not an easy task to social scientist, since the number of ethnic offenders has been increasing since the War On Drugs was declared, in 1971. In this article we will consider those numbers as a social response to massive attacks – not that they were previously planned or orchestrated, instead they are coming from the whole process that Latin American natives have been engaging through migrations, also from the difficulties that they found in bonding with new culture, society and law-processes in the US.
Moreover, moved by a homogeneous overview of politics, the Trump administration is planning to reinforce the police work in drug trafficking areas – most of them also home of Latin American communities – but the administration is failing to propose public policies to treat the addiction, to educate the community and to develop the social environment in which they are located. Internally, the US’s Government drug policies are a very mirror of the plans for War on Drugs overseas.

“Higher arrest and incarceration rates for African Americans and Latinos are not reflective of increased prevalence of drug use or sales in these communities, but rather of a law enforcement focus on urban areas, on lower-income communities and on communities of color as well as inequitable treatment by the criminal justice system,” according to the Drug Policy Alliance, a New York City-based nonprofit that seeks to end the war on drugs. 

In Latin America, the racial prisma of War on Drugs is not doing any better than in the US. The bureaucratic colonial heritage left a “disgraceful gift” (QUIJANO, 1997), a trend of behavior while dealing with people of color. Considering the “Racial Democracy” a myth, the stratification of our societies is still a matter of academic discussion, social militancy and huge disagreements in the law sphere. In order to illustrate such issue, we are going to cover the Rafael Braga’s case – a 28 years-old man, living in a homeless condition and working as a ‘trash picker’.
Firstly convicted in 2014, for threats of violence during a protest, the case gained notoriety when, during his partial release in 2016, Mr. Braga was charged for trafficking and accused of possessing around 9kg of cocaine. So, why is this case linked with police violence and ethnic reasons? Rafael Braga is a young black man, living in one of the most dangerous areas of Rio de Janeiro. Other similar cases, such as the Breno Solo Borges, were not only treated faster by the public system but the outcome was also more positive for the accused.
Actually,  various militancy groups and Human Rights NGO’s are trying to give more media visibility to the case, through the hashtag #LibertemRafaelBraga (#FreedomToRafaelBraga, in Portuguese).


“Campaign for Rafael Braga’s freedom” (Source: https://libertemrafaelbraga.wordpress.com/about/)

This type of case is unfortunately common in Brazil and other occurrences were spotted all over Latin America.
Finally, Trump’s administration is currently reviewing the War on Drugs principle, by “bringing it back”, accordingly to the Attorney General Jeff Sessions. But, firstly, where did it go? Following The Guardian’s statement, “despite a few modest reforms, somebody would have to be high to think the war on drugs has really gone away”. The obvious linkage of renewing the War on Drugs is the deportation argument besides of it – once Latinos and black people are the largest amount of ethnic groups prosecuted on drugs trafficking and possession grounds, the entire idea of “making America great again” is succeeding in very diverse fronts. Other possible intersection is the relationship with Mexico. Ever since the begging of Trump’s statement over the wall, scholars drew a plausible connection between the amount of drug cartels in Mexico (nowadays the largest amount of known cartels are Mexican) and the urge – from the US’s – to avoid the border’s trespassing.

UNODC 2017 tips: there is a website were you can read positive and negative comments, made by US’s citizens, on whether they consider War on Drugs racist or not. Link: http://www.debate.org/opinions/is-the-war-on-drugs-racist.

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