More than two decades after President Ronald Reagan escalated the war on drugs, arrests for drug sales or, more often, drug possession are still rising, reports the New York Times. And despite public debate and limited efforts to reduce them, large disparities persist in the rate at which blacks and whites are arrested and imprisoned for drug offenses, even though the two races use illegal drugs at roughly equal rates.
Two new reports, issued Monday by the Sentencing Project in Washington and by Human Rights Watch in New York, both say the racial disparities reflect, in large part, an overwhelming focus of law enforcement on drug use in low-income urban areas, with arrests and incarceration the main weapon. But they note that the murderous crack-related urban violence of the 1980s, which spawned the war on drugs, has largely subsided, reducing the rationale for a strategy that has sowed mistrust in the justice system among many blacks. One result is a devastating impact on the lives of black men: they are nearly 12 times as likely to be imprisoned for drug convictions as adult white men, according to the Human Rights Watch report.