Individual is a 23-year-old African-American male. Although this individual is from a middle class background and was raised in a suburban area that included a majority white population, his story reveals the ways public policy can be discriminatorily applied. This individual is defined as at risk based on several factors including race, class, and gender. His race puts the individual at a systematic disadvantage vis-a-vis his white neighbors because of several factors. One is that law enforcement officials in his and surrounding communities are more likely to stop and interrogate him versus his white peers. As second issue is that the individual was treated differently from his white counterparts in school. A third is that his parents had experienced discrimination and their experiences have had an influence on the individual’s worldview and his belief in the possibility for change.
Policy: The War on Drugs
The War on Drugs has been described as “the most expensive and longest-running policy initiatives ever pursued by the American government,” (Williams, 2016). However, the war on drugs is not a singular piece of legislation but the War on Drugs does refer to a cohesive public policy that affects people like the 23-year-old black male. The primary target of the war on drugs is Black men, who are disproportionately represented in prison populations for drug offenses (Drug Policy Alliance, 2017). Likewise, Holloway (n.d.) reveals striking evidence that the original concept of the war on drugs “targeted Black people,” (Holloway, n.d., p. 1). The Drug Policy Alliance (2017, Williams (2016) and Holloway (n.d.) all show that the War on Drugs was purposely designed to retain hegemonic systems and to oppress people of color through the criminal justice system.
The Impact of the Policy on the Individual
From the perspective of this young African-American male, it is possible to show how public policies differentially affect people of color. As Williams (2016) points out, the War on Drugs has “destroyed lives, torn families apart, filled our jails and prisons and hijacked countless futures of black and brown youth,” (p. 1). The perspective of the African-American male on drug policy in particular reveals intersections of race, class, and gender.
A 23-year-old African-American male is more likely to get apprehended by the police. The police might stop the 23-year-old male because he was a black pedestrian in a primarily white neighborhood. Alternatively, his middle class status means that his parents could only afford to buy him a used and dilapidated automobile for his birthday so that when he drives around the city, he is more likely to get stopped because his car and a black driver appear suspicious to police who use racial profiling. If the 23-year-old black male is then caught with marijuana in his vehicle, he will be arrested. The arrest of a 23-year-old black male for a drug offense, even a minor one, is more likely to result in negative outcomes including conviction and incarceration instead of productive alternative sentencing. Because of the war on drugs, even a relatively small amount of a drug can be considered possession with the intent to distribute, depending on state laws. If the 23-year-old African-American male lives in a state with harsh drug laws, then he is at a critical disadvantage due to his geographic circumstances too.
For example, the Drug Policy Alliance (2017) points out that the community most at risk from the fallout of failed drug policy is the African-American community, noting that the War on Drugs has had a “devastating impact on the Black community,” (p. 1). African-Americans are more likely to be arrested, tried, and convicted of drug-related crimes. African-Americans are also more likely to serve harsh sentences for drug-related crimes as opposed to alternative sentences like probation, which could keep an individual like this 23-year-old male in the community with access to viable work and social capital.
When a 23-year-old African-American male is apprehended for a non-violent minor possession of cannabis, the state prosecutor’s office will press charges. The 23-year-old African-American male has no prior offenses but his bail money is set high because the judge perceives him to be a high risk. Now, the young African-American male must ask his parents for bail money. If they cannot afford the bail money because of their middle class status and the unfairly high bail amount, then the 23-year-old will sit in jail awaiting trial. Likewise, if he cannot afford an attorney, the state will appoint a defense attorney. A defense attorney is legally bound to represent the client’s best interests but the defense attorney lacks the funds to defend the client as well as a private defense attorney.
Therefore, unless the case is settled out of court, the 23-year-old black male will face a potentially hostile jury. The public defender does not work hard to select jurors who might be sympathetic to the defendant, resulting in a jury pool consisting of older whites with biased perceptions of 23-year-old African-American males. As the state accuses the defendant of attempting to traffic drugs, the jury buys into the war on drugs rhetoric that has been spawned by politicians and perpetuated by the media. The rhetoric of the public policy has been to “make America safer” or “more productive,” but the real reason for the policy was to “criminalize generations of youth of color and creating severe drug-sentencing laws ultimately to target and incarcerate communities of color,” (Williams, 2016). Therefore, the War on Drugs needs to be annihilated because it does nothing to create safer or more productive communities. Instead, the policy differentially affects a 23-year-old black male, who is disadvantaged by his race, class status, and his gender.
Drug Policy Alliance (2017). A brief history of the drug war. Retrieved online: http://www.drugpolicy.org/facts/new-solutions-drug-policy/brief-history-drug-war-0
Holloway, L. (n.d.). 5 policies that prove the war on drugs targeted black people. News One. Retrieved online: https://newsone.com/3391639/5-policies-that-prove-the-war-on-drugs-targeted-black-people/
Williams, M.K. (2016). The war on drugs is a war on people. CNN. 22 Sept, 2016. Retrieved online: http://www.cnn.com/2016/09/22/opinions/war-on-drugs-michael-k-williams/
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