Amidst all the hubbub regarding racism and the cops arising out of the arrest of Harvard University scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr., we should at least mention the biggest outlet for cops who happen to be racists: the war on drugs. As any black living in the poorer part of any community in America will attest, the drug war has long provided racist cops with the perfect excuse for harassing and abusing blacks. And if anyone accuses them of racist conduct in subjecting blacks to harassment, such as with abusive searches and seizures, racist cops have the perfect comeback: I’m just protecting the community with the war on drugs.
One of the best examples of how the drug war provides an outlet for racist cops occurred a few years ago in Tulia, Texas. Law-enforcement personnel busted 46 local residents for drug offenses, 40 of whom were black and the rest were Hispanics or whites who were dating blacks. The bust was based on the uncorroborated testimony of a highly decorated white law-enforcement officer.
Some of the defendants were sentenced to prison terms, one for 99 years. (Hey, who are you going to believe in a drug case — some poor blacks or a highly decorated white police officer?) Others pled guilty and received jail terms. Others got probation.
What better way to remove blacks from a community or at least deprive them of the right to vote than that?
Gradually, however, doubts about the undercover cop’s credibility began to surface. Some of the defendants were ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing. Others have been freed on bond. It is unlikely that any of them will ever go to jail, especially since the state has stipulated in open court that the undercover cop is not a credible witness after all.
What happened in Tulia, however, is just one part of a very big problem — the racism that has long been an inherent part of the war on drugs, a war that should have been ended long ago.
For more information on the racist aspects of the war on drugs, see these excellent perspectives on the website of the Drug Policy Alliance: