FourthAmendment.com put up a link yesterday to this New York Times story. Its title, “Blacks Are Singled Out for Marijuana Arrests, Data Suggests,” is news to exactly no one. Any perceptive human being who has set foot inside a criminal courthouse could also tell you the racial bias doesn’t end with the arrest.
There are some other awful trends that quickly became apparent to me practicing criminal law in Arizona. I saw white defendants caught with marijuana for the first time get misdemeanor citations to appear in city or justice courts. Black defendants in the same position got felony charges in superior court. After charges, white defendants went through diversion, avoiding a conviction. Black defendants ended up pleading to misdemeanors. The second time around, black defendants had a strike against them. I saw them pleading to felony charges, becoming newly-minted felons. Only then did white defendants in the same position finally get their first strike, the misdemeanor conviction black defendants got right off the bat. Hang around the courts for a bit and you’ll see it too.
It’s hard to say how common the discrepancy is, but it’s something every criminal defense lawyer I know has picked up on sooner or later. It’s horrifying, as black defendants end up a step behind. They’re not only singled out more by law enforcement in the first place, but they’re also hammered harder by the system. What’s offered as a matter of course for white clients may take a battle to make happen for black clients.
In the article, the ACLU describes one of its findings on the subject:
“We found that in virtually every county in the country, police have wasted taxpayer money enforcing marijuana laws in a racially biased manner.”
I’d take out the words “in a racially biased manner,” and not because they aren’t true. I’d take them out because enforcing marijuana laws would be a waste of taxpayer money no matter how race-blind enforcement happened to be. It also just so happens that the laws actually have to be applied in a biased manner for the farce to continue.
Marijuana usage is so prevalent that we would effectively destroy our country if every user was arrested and charged for each time he or she lit up. Most people realize that, I imagine, but they can’t seem to trouble themselves with doing anything about it. In large part, it’s the racially biased enforcement that allows the absurdity to persevere. If they started arresting every white person who gave weed a try, the country would be up at arms. Everyone wants people to pay for breaking the law. Except people they know. Except people like them, more importantly. Selective enforcement based on race ensures that the majority remains unaffected while arrests continue and the laws don’t just sit there unused.
Attempts to fix the disparity with more laws only make matters worse. I’ve heard more times than I can recall that mandatory sentences were supposedly intended to avoid those problems. The system’s response to such measures? Racially biased arrests. Overcharged black guys, undercharged white guys. White guys pleading to lesser offenses, black guys pleading to the charge. We have created laws that we cannot afford to enforce against everyone but that we must enforce against someone. As long as they exist, there can never be equality.
The only solution is freedom. Freedom from laws we know could never be enforced across the board. Freedom from nannies trying to control common human behavior by telling everyone not to do something we all damn well know most people aren’t going to quit doing.
The war on drugs is a racially biased war. We can’t win it. In reality, we don’t want to. The best we can hope for is the worst we can do. It’s also what we’re doing right now. Until we all wake up and snap out of it, the New York Times will continue to point out the obvious and expect us to be alarmed. If you aren’t on the receiving end, though, you probably aren’t going to care. Don’t you think they know that?
Filed under: Government Rants · Tags: arrests, black, conviction, diversion, drug war, enforcement, felony, Marijuana, misdemeanor, New York Times, plead, POM, race, racially biased, racist, TASC, white