Pubdate: Sat, 12 May 2001
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2001 The Washington Post Company
Authors: Jamie Fellner, Sara Rose and Henry Kopel
Note: 2 PUB LTEs, 1 LTE


Contrary to what William Bennett suggests ["A Superb Choice for Drug Czar," 
op-ed, May 7], racial disparities in the nation's war on drugs do not 
reflect racial differences in drug offending. Government data indicate 
there are five times as many white drug users as black (which is not 
surprising given the similar rates of drug use between whites and blacks 
and the vastly greater number of whites in the population). Moreover, more 
than twice as many whites as blacks have used crack cocaine and almost nine 
times as many have used powder cocaine. All available data also suggest 
that drug selling is not concentrated in one race: Indeed, studies suggest 
most retail drug transactions are intra-racial, i.e., people tend to buy 
drugs from someone of the same race.

Why then do blacks constitute 62.7 percent of all drug offenders admitted 
to state prisons? And why are black men sent to state prison on drug 
charges at 13.4 times the rate of white men? The racially disproportionate 
nature of the war on drugs is not just devastating to black Americans. It 
contradicts faith in the principles of justice and equal protection of the 
laws that should be the bedrock of any constitutional democracy -- and it 
undermines faith among all races in the fairness and efficacy of the 
criminal justice system.

Jamie Fellner

The writer is an associate counsel at Human Rights Watch.


Joseph Califano wonders why the United States is not celebrating a 50 
percent drop in drug use since 1980, saying, "If teen pregnancy, the 
incidence of new AIDS cases, domestic violence or breast cancer had 
plummeted 50 percent, corks would be popping across the nation in 
celebration" ["Learning From Robert Downey Jr.," op-ed, May 8].

I, for one, do not think people would be celebrating a 50 percent drop in 
teen pregnancies or AIDS cases if we achieved that number by criminalizing 
teenage pregnancy or AIDS and throwing such offenders in jail. Not only 
would this constitute an assault on our basic human rights, it would make 
the problems we are trying to remedy that much harder. What teenage girl is 
going to get prenatal care if she knows her condition is criminal? How many 
people will get tested for AIDS if a positive result means jail time?

Califano's argument reflects the drug war hawks' belief that the only thing 
that matters is the numbers. So what if the war on drugs has cost us 
billions of dollars, weakened our constitutional rights, created more 
hard-core addicts, made drugs cheaper, purer and more available and locked 
millions of nonviolent offenders behind bars? The number of casual users is 
down 50 percent in 20 years! Pass the champagne.

Sara Rose


In "The Delusional Drug War" [op-ed, May 4], William Raspberry endorsed the 
drug legalization efforts of Ethan Nadelman and the Lindesmith Center. 
Apparently, Raspberry and Nadelman would have us legalize, regulate and tax 
the purchase and use of drugs such as cocaine, heroin and PCP, while 
relying on public education efforts to persuade drug addicts to voluntarily 
enter treatment programs.

As someone who has spent several years in the District prosecuting drug 
crimes and a variety of other crimes that are often blamed on drugs -- from 
brutal violence to all kinds of frauds and property crimes -- I have some 
questions for Raspberry and Nadelman.

First: What do they think gets most people into drug treatment? Of the 
thousands of street-corner drug cases prosecuted each year in D.C. Superior 
Court, few defendants had ever sought drug treatment outside the context of 
a criminal sentence. An arrest, and the authority of a criminal court 
judge, are what get most people into treatment.

Second: Does Raspberry really believe that "much of the harm we attribute 
to drugs . . . results not from the drugs themselves, but from our efforts 
to prohibit drugs"? The muggings, robberies and home invasions by addicts 
who need money for their next high and whose drug use renders them 
unemployable? The sexual assaults by users whose conscience and 
self-restraint disappear when they are high? The abuse and neglect of 
children by drugged-out parents? Does Raspberry believe these harms would 
go away in a legal, regulated market for cocaine, heroin and PCP?

Third: What makes Raspberry so confident that a government-regulated market 
for such drugs as cocaine and heroin would eliminate competition from 
violent, illegal drug crews? After all, the illegal crews would have the 
huge cost advantages of not paying any business taxes or employee Social 
Security taxes, and of not having to follow any labor, safety or quality 
control laws.

Finally: Why would drug use and addiction -- and all their attendant harms 
- -- not become more common when the stigma of illegality has been lifted and 
the fear of being arrested is eliminated? Are parents and teachers likely 
to find it easier to persuade teenagers not to try cocaine or heroin after 
they are made legal?

Legalization would only make a tragic situation worse: an increase in the 
number of drug users; a decrease in the number of addicts getting 
treatment; a corresponding increase in violence and property crimes by drug 
users; and the persistence of drug crews' turf wars. As former Supreme 
Court justice Arthur Goldberg once warned in another context, "while the 
Constitution protects against invasions of individual rights, it is not a 
suicide pact." That should be equally true of our efforts to fashion fair 
and effective drug policies.

Henry Kopel
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