Monday, May 5, 2008

US: ‘Drug War’ Unjust to African Americans

Most drug offenders are white, but most of the drug offenders sent to prison are black.

Jamie Fellner, senior counsel, US Program at Human Rights Watch

Two National Reports Detail Racial Disparity in Arrests and Imprisonment

(Washington, DC, May 5, 2008) – Ostensibly color-blind, the US “war on drugs” disproportionately targets urban minority neighborhoods, Human Rights Watch and The Sentencing Project said in two reports released today. Although whites commit more drug offenses, African Americans are arrested and imprisoned on drug charges at much higher rates, the reports find.

In the 67-page report, “Targeting Blacks: Drug Law Enforcement and Race in the United States,”

“Most drug offenders are white, but most of the drug offenders sent to prison are black,” said Jamie Fellner, senior counsel in the US program at Human Rights Watch and author of “Targeting Blacks.” “The solution is not to imprison more whites but to radically rethink how to deal with drug abuse and low-level drug offenders.”

Key findings in the Human Rights Watch report include:
Human Rights Watch documents with detailed new statistics persistent racial disparities among drug offenders sent to prison in 34 states. All of these states send black drug offenders to prison at much higher rates than whites.

Across the 34 states, a black man is 11.8 times more likely than a white man to be sent to prison on drug charges, and a black woman is 4.8 times more likely than a white woman.

In 16 states, African Americans are sent to prison for drug offenses at rates between 10 and 42 times greater than the rate for whites. The 10 states with the greatest racial disparities in prison admissions for drug offenders are: Wisconsin, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, West Virginia, Colorado, New York, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Michigan.

The Sentencing Project’s 45-page study, “Disparity by Geography: The War on Drugs in America’s Cities,” is the first city-level analysis of drug arrests, examining data from 43 of the nation’s largest cities between 1980 and 2003. The study found that, since 1980, the rate of drug arrests in American cities for African Americans increased by 225 percent, compared to 70 percent among whites. Black arrest rates grew by more than 500 percent in 11 cities during this period; and, in nearly half of the cities, the odds of arrest for a drug offense among African Americans relative to whites more than doubled.

“The alarming increase in drug arrests since 1980, concentrated among African Americans, raises fundamental questions about fairness and justice,” said Ryan S. King, policy analyst for The Sentencing Project and author of “Disparity by Geography.” “But even more troubling is the fact that these trends come not as the result of higher rates of drug use among African Americans, but, instead, the decisions by local officials about where to pursue drug enforcement.”

Among The Sentencing Project report’s key findings:

African-American drug arrests increased at 3.4 times the rate of whites despite similar rates of drug use.

Extreme city variations in drug arrests point to local enforcement decisions as a prime contributor to racial disparity.

Six cities experienced more than a 500-percent rise in overall drug arrests between 1980 and 2003: Tucson (887 percent), Buffalo (809 percent), Kansas City (736 percent), ToledoNewark (663 percent), and Sacramento (597 percent). (701 percent),

The Sentencing Project and Human Rights Watch urge public officials to restore fairness, racial justice, and credibility to drug-control efforts. They recommend public officials take a number of concrete steps, including:

Eliminating mandatory minimum sentences and restoring judicial discretion to sentencing of drug offenders;

Increasing public funding of substance abuse treatment and prevention outreach to make these readily available in communities of color in particular;

Enhancing public health-based strategies to reduce harms associated with drug abuse and reallocating public resources accordingly.

Today’s reports follow in the wake of the March 2008 recommendations of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The committee urged that US criminal justice policies and practices address the unwarranted racial disparities that have been documented at all levels of the system.

Report: U.S. Not as 'Free' as Touted

By Betsy Pisik

04/05/08 "
Washington Post" -- - NEW YORK — The U.S. political system is, at best, "a work in progress" according to an evaluation from the pro-democracy group Freedom House, which finds significant flaws in the U.S. criminal justice system, counterterrorism strategies and the treatment of minorities and immigrants.

In a 300-page report, titled "Today's American: How Free?", to be released tomorrow, the group subjects the United States to the scrutiny it more often applies to the Belaruses and Tajikistans of the world.

Despite concerns, today's America is "quite free," according to group, which constantly places the United States in the top tier with two dozen other nations based on civil liberties and political rights in its annual reports on freedoms around the world.

In the United States, "challenges to those freedoms by government officials or other actors encounter vigorous and often successful resistance from civil society and the press, the political opposition, and a judiciary that is mindful of its role as a restraint on executive and legislative excess," the authors say.

"Indeed, the dynamic, self-correcting nature of American democracy — the resilience of its core institutions and habits even in a time of military conflict — is the most significant finding."

The study, however, expresses "grave concern" about the Bush administration's attempt to extend the White House's power without congressional or judicial review.

"Generally speaking, the controversies over counterterrorism policies can be traced to the Bush administration's assertion of a degree of executive authority that is extraordinary even in wartime," says the report, which finds that broad electronic surveillance affects millions, and law enforcement has "overreached" in terrorism cases.

Deputy Executive Director Thomas Melia said this is the perfect time for Freedom House — founded by Eleanor Roosevelt — to turn its sights on the United States. Not only is it an election year, but also the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

"The U.S. is the most important country in the world, and if we do reports on every country, we think from time to time it might be useful to look at our own country," Mr. Melia told The Washington Times yesterday.

"In recent years the freedom agenda of the Bush administration has made the most conspicuous ... effort to promote democracy across the world, and it's prompted a lot of people around the world to look at us."

In detailed examination, the authors evaluated 20 aspects of U.S. civil society, from America's robust press and religious freedoms to the increasingly corrosive role of money in political spheres.

The United States gets mixed reviews, for example, when looking at the situation of African-Americans and minorities in general.

The report notes that over the decades the government has undertaken steps to expunge racism from the law, public institutions, economic life and popular culture. It has mandated affirmative action and adopted policies to encourage political and educational participation.

"These measures have changed America in fundamental ways. But they have not contributed significantly to an improvement in the state of the inner-city poor," the report concludes.

Freedom House finds that U.S. incarceration rates are "jarring," rising by more than 300 percent since 1980.

Mr. Melia said many of the authors originally focused on the post-Sept. 11 limitations on civil liberties in the country. However, it became clear in the editing process that the prison camp holding terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and monitoring of individuals under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, don't impact as many Americans as the political process, the criminal justice system and religious freedoms.

"We famously know there are flaws in our ability to keep a voter role and count the votes properly," he said. "But there have been historical improvements."