The New York Times recently published an article titled, “In Heroin Crisis, White Families Seek Gentler War on Drugs.”
In the piece, middle-class white families, mostly from suburbs and small towns, detail their traumatic experiences with heroin addiction, also known as “smack.” One white New Hampshire man interviewed for the piece talks about how he viewed people battling addiction as “junkies” until he recognized their faces in his own high-achieving, privileged daughter.
Here are some revealing numbers from the piece:
* Deaths from heroin rose to 8,260 in 2013, quadrupling since 2000 and aggravating what some were already calling the worst drug-overdose epidemic in United States history.
* Nearly 90 percent of those who tried heroin for the first time in the last decade were white.
No wonder “compassion” is the word of the day.
The article includes the personal and political positions of GOP presidential candidates Carly Fiorina, Jeb Bush and Chris Christie, all of whom have expressed that there is a need to decriminalize addiction. This is a glaring departure from the policies of the party of Ronald Reagan. It was through his backroom dealings with Nicaragua’s Contras that the war on drugs (pdf) intensified as crack cocaine and guns flooded inner cities, laying the groundwork for mass incarceration that has ravaged black communities. Yet here are his political descendants struggling to frame addiction as the health issue it has always been without making the GOP look like the party of hypocrites that it has always been.
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton also has had to step into the breach in an attempt to sanitize the insidious racism that shades her husband’s legacy at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Former President Bill Clinton was complicit in the passage of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which included the “Three Strikes Law,” thus expanding the war on drugs. He has since acknowledged and apologized for his role in the devastation that the bill caused for black families, but it’s much too little, much too late.
For over three decades, racist, drug-sentencing disparities have been stark. According to the NAACP Criminal Justice Fact Sheet and the Sentencing Project:
* About 14 million whites and 2.6 million African Americans report using an illicit drug.
* Five times as many whites are using drugs as African Americans, yet African Americans are sent to prison for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of whites.
* African Americans represent 12 percent of the total population of drug users, but 38 percent of those arrested for drug offenses, and 59 percent of those in state prison for a drug offense.
* African Americans serve virtually as much time in prison for a drug offense (58.7 months) as whites do for a violent offense (61.7 months), according to the Sentencing Project.
The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 may have reduced the disparity in sentencing between crack cocaine and powder from 100-to-1 to 18-to-1, but the stigma attached to crack has not been shed under this “gentler” approach to tackling addiction. It clings to the societal-inflicted stigmas of poverty and mental illness; it clings to the dehumanizing lens through which this nation views black Americans.
Case in point: According to the New York Times, “32 states have passed ‘good Samaritan’ laws that protect people from prosecution, at least for low-level offenses, if they call 911 to report an overdose.” This is thanks, in large part, to the tireless efforts of the Drug Policy Alliance.
Eric Adams, a white former undercover narcotics detective, now sees the humanity in those battling drug addiction. His job now is not to set up stings that entrap people of color; it is to seek people battling addiction and help them get into treatment.