Targeting Black People: Drug Law Enforcement and Race in the United States

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Jamie Fellner, Patrick Vinck
Publication Date
May 1, 2008
Publication Type
Conflict, Public Health


Long before launching the global “war on terror,” the United States launched what it called the “war on drugs,” a law enforcement and crime control effort targeting its own people. Ostensibly color-blind, the US drug war has been and continues to be waged overwhelmingly against black Americans. Although white Americans constitute the large majority of drug offenders, African American communities continue as the principal “fronts” in this unjust effort. Defenders of the current anti-drug efforts claim they want to protect poor minority communities from addiction as well as the disorder, nuisance, and violence that can accompany drug dealing. But the choice of imprisonment as the primary anti-drug strategy, and the effect of this policy on neighborhoods, evokes the infamous phrase from the Vietnam War, “it became necessary to destroy the town in order to save it.” This report updates our prior report documenting racial disparities among drug offenders sent to prison. It reveals that drug law enforcement in the United States continues to produce extraordinarily high and disproportionate rates of black incarceration, particularly for Black men.