Mon, Sep 4, 2003 - The Chronicle (Duke University, NC)

Is the Drug War on Crack?

by Christopher Scoville

The only reason I read the crime briefs section of The Chronicle is to learn even more synonyms for the word 'stolen.' This summer while I was perusing The Chronicle Online, one section of the crime briefs stood out from the pilfered laptops and lifted wallets. A student on West Campus was apparently duped into handing over all of his money ($3000) and drugs by local men impersonating police officers. The three men returned later and demanded "more money, drugs or names of other drug dealers."

The crime briefs also noted that all of them were African-American and in their twenties. The student was probably about the same age. He no doubt attended a decent high school, achieved excellent grades and SAT scores and landed at Duke University. The student was also allegedly a drug dealer. The three men were presumably drug dealers, as well. The former attends a top-10 private university with its own police force and rampant drug and alcohol violations. The latter probably live somewhere in Durham in a 'no-go zone' for Duke students.

No doubt, the students involved in last semester's "shake-down" on West Campus were petrified by the intrusion. No doubt, Duke Police became involved to stop local men from intimidating Duke students. No doubt, the University was worried about violence against Duke student drug dealers. And no doubt, Duke drug dealers got a taste of the workings of drug circles outside of the Ivory Tower.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, if the student-cum-drug dealer was white, he was four times more likely than his African-American classmates to be a regular cocaine user in high school. The National Household Survey on Drug Abuse of 1998 found that "most current illicit drug users are white. There were an estimated 9.9 million whites (72 percent of all users), 2.0 million blacks (15 percent), and 1.4 million Hispanics (10 percent) who were current illicit drug users in 1998."

Yet, the Bureau of Justice Statistics of the Department of Justice paints a different picture. Blacks constitute over 35 percent of those arrested for drug violations -- more than twice the percentage of black drug users of the total population. This "double representation" is also true of Hispanics. It does not require much research to find dozens of shocking surveys and statistics that further corroborate these findings. Racial minorities are the prime targets of the drug war in this country.

While the statistics on-face indicate race, the primary reason for the plight of these individuals is socioeconomic status. Minorities constitute a disproportionate percentage of our nation's poorest people. They face police discrimination and violence, while often lacking knowledge of their civil liberties. The reason for drug involvement is irrelevant, whether it be desperation, self-medication or economic prosperity. What really matters is that minorities do not have the protections that people in the higher stations of our society take for granted.

Corporate executives deal cocaine under conference tables; college students smoke marijuana in secured dorm rooms; doctors prescribe one another pain killers; suburban moms and dads get high after their kids go to bed. The table, the dorm room, the prescription, and suburbia represent institutions and infrastructures that isolate these activities outside the reign of the law. Police officers cannot simply barge into board meetings to confiscate speed; but they can break down the doors of suspected crack dealers in 'drug neighborhoods.'

Likewise, Durham police do not infiltrate dorm rooms to arrest the frat boy cokehead or hippie pothead ( or whoever for that matter ) when they can drive a few miles and prey upon poor communities that lack the protection that is a major, private university. These poor communities in Durham are a hop, skip and a jump away from the "nice" neighborhoods where some Duke professors enjoy their weekly joints. The student dealing drugs on-campus last semester was undoubtedly shocked when three local men walked onto campus and upset this balance of power and privilege.

The wall surrounding Duke momentarily crumbled, and at least one unsuspecting student was smothered by the rubble. Everyone else at Duke can probably continue to hide behind that wall now and in the future. The racial inequities in police targeting and prosecutions are just the tip of the iceberg. The drug war in America is a failed machine. It's time to demolish the machinery and create a more just and effective system to address drug use in this country.

Christopher Scoville is a Trinity junior. His column appears every other Thursday.

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