For the past several years, America has seen a spike in drug use, particularly of heroin. According to the US News, as of 2013, two out of every 1,000 people in the United States are suffering from heroin dependence, and nearly three in every 100,000 people die from a heroin overdose. These numbers are larger than they have ever been in recent years, and they only seem to only be growing. However, for America’s African-American communities, these drug epidemic rates are not new.
In the 1980’s, crack cocaine found new popularity in the United States. Although the substance had been used as an intoxicant since the early 1900’s, only in the 1980’s did it find large scale use. The year 1986 saw nearly a 110 percent increase in the drug’s use from the year before, but little was being done to stop it. This epidemic hit the African-American community hard, and led to skyrocketing homicide rates for young, black males. Furthermore, the years 1984 through 1989 saw doubled homicide rates for black males between the ages of 14 and 17, with similar rates for black males aged 18 to 24. Additionally, the black community saw nearly a 100 percent increase in fetal death rate and weapon arrests, and by 1996 over 60 percent of black inmates were arrested on drug charges. In fact, crime statistics show that in 1999 in the United States blacks were far more likely to be targeted by law enforcement for drug crimes, and received much stiffer penalties and sentences than whites.
The US News reported that in the year 2000, there were more heroin deaths in black communities than any other ethnic group, nearly doubling the number of heroin-induced white deaths in the same year. But despite the plight of the black community as a result of drug abuse, the country’s leaders refused to render aid. Instead they adopted former Mayor of New York Ed Koch’s ideology that, “Those people belong in jail. Those people who are users, I have no sympathy for them. None at all. Maybe in the past we did. It has gone on too long.” Consequently, drug laws became stiffer and a plethora of black males were incarcerated.
But now that drug dependency has permeated affluent white communities and it is apparent that it isn’t just a “black” and “city” problem, whites have started treating drug abuse as a serious public health issue. The language around addiction has been altered tremendously. Even more surprisingly, the country’s leaders have suddenly garnered “sympathy” for drug abusers, seeking methods to cease the drug epidemic, and help those suffering from its effects.
The government’s behavior regarding these drug epidemics shows the country’s absolute disregard for the nation’s black communities. For years, they’ve taken no responsibility for the destruction of black families as a result of such drug epidemics. Instead, America has only proclaimed black drug users as being criminals, instead of humans who were suffering from the “disease” of addiction. For years, the perception that black people are prone to drug usage and criminality has plagued society, and only recently has the truth been exposed. “According to the National Institutes on Drug Abuse, the Centers for Disease Control, and the Department of Health and Human Services, whites are equally or more likely to use drugs than their African American counterparts.”
Consequently and for the first time in history, we’ve witnessed the country’s willingness to render help to white communities to eliminate drug problems. President Obama has discussed his $133 million proposal to expand access for drug treatment and prevention programs. The Justice Department is also preparing to release roughly 6,000 inmates from federal prisons as part of an effort to roll back the severe penalties issued to nonviolent drug dealers in decades past. The 2016 presidential Republican and Democratic candidates are now talking about the drug epidemic, with Hillary Clinton [and Bernie Sanders] hosting forums on the issue. Also, before dropping out of the presidential race, Jeb Bush and Carly Fiorina [told] their own stories of loss while calling for more care and empathy.
The government’s sudden change of heart and perception of drug abuse is a slap to the face to black people–to say the least. Although it is imperative for the country to genuinely tackle its drug problems, the shift confirms that there are racial disparities in the war on drugs and is a major disservice to the many black and brown families that have been broken as a result of drugs. Unfortunately, this only adds to the sting suffered by black people knowing that their lives simply doesn’t matter as much as whites.
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