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January 13, 2008 - Lima News (OH)

Editorial: Race Matters

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A new report tells us something most already knew: Blacks are far more likely than whites to be incarcerated for drug crimes. Following the shooting death of 26-year-old Lima resident Tarika Wilson during a police SWAT raid, the data show it's naive to think the anger is about her death alone, but rather people are upset about a system that they have good reason to think works against them.

In 193 of the country's largest 198 counties, blacks face disproportionately higher rates of incarceration that whites for drug offenses, based on a national report by the Justice Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that wants to reform sentencing policies.

Of the nine Ohio counties in the study -- Allen County is not among them -- blacks are imprisoned 10 times more often than whites in Lucas County. The scale goes to a high of 21 percent in Butler County.

Lima attorney Ken Rexford last year made a similar charge against the criminal justice system, saying blacks in Allen County face double the charges whites do, based on factors such as police waiting to make an arrest until more sales have taken place. Few people wanted to have the discussion last year. It is a conversation that must take place.

The solution to this de facto racism, of course, is simple: Stop imprisoning people for trading in drugs or using them.

Black leaders, as well as white leaders, should do everything possible to eradicate recreational drug use from their communities. But the government's war on drugs has done little, if anything, to curtail drug use among blacks or any other Americans.

A reduction in drug use involves the work of counselors, parents, teachers, preachers, doctors and friends. It takes a culture, not armed state agents charged with feeding a growth industry of incarceration.

Joel Dyer, author of "The Perpetual Prisoner Machine; How America Profits from Crime," told Freedom Communications that blacks are disproportionately arrested for drugs mostly because of their collective economic plight. "We still have a higher percentage of blacks than whites living in poverty," Dyer said.

"In policing, communities tend to have more enforcement in minority and low-income neighborhoods. That means if you're using drugs, and you live in one of those neighborhoods, you're more likely to get caught. You are likely to be defended by a busy public defender's office, rather than a private lawyer who can spend ample time and money on your case. Once you're in prison for drugs, you stand a good chance of becoming a violent criminal because it's tough to survive in prison."

Dyer, an expert on the public/private prison phenomenon, explains that for nonviolent drug convicts, survival in the joint often involves joining a race-based prison gang that mandates violent behavior.

"Stiff penalties for drug crimes can actually generate violent crime because drug convicts eventually get released, having become violent in prison," Dyer said.

Research by author and former law professor David Kopel, of the Colorado-based Independence Institute, has found incarceration of drug criminals diverts law enforcement resources from violent crime and results in shorter sentences for violent criminals.

That's partly because imprisonment of common drug offenders has created a cell shortage. Burgeoning inmate populations have left sheriffs and politicians throughout the country clamoring for new and bigger prisons for the past decade.

Official drug prohibition results in a dangerous and sometimes violent black market, as forbidden trade usually does. In this case, the underground market has spawned a judicial racket that places a price on human heads.

Based on our history, it's not surprising that the humans in our modern inmate trade are disproportionately black.

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