Between 1985 and 2000, U.S. drug laws proliferated and, along with them, mandatory sentencing for minor possession charges. Unsurprisingly, arrests for drug possession skyrocketed, accounting for a half-million imprisoned in 2010. Incarceration for nonviolent offences.
It is also true that white people with the same charges of drug possession for their own use routinely get lower sentences or are not charged at all, compared to Black people. The War on Drugs, which began in 1982 when drug use was declining, has given us mass incarceration of Black and brown men whose only crime is minor drug possession. This war, like all wars, has decimated communities and ruined lives.
Fast-forward to 1991 when people — white people — began to die of opioid overdosing. This was labeled the Opioid Crisis, and resulted not in locking up the victims, but in a public health response. To date, legal action on opioid addiction has focused on treating the victims, and bringing to account the drug companies and pharmacies that have been complicit in the overdosing crisis.
In case you missed my point, here’s the difference: The War on Drugs punishes the victims. The Opioid Crisis punishes the profiteers. The first is a law enforcement response, the second a public health response.
We need to scrutinize and repair a legal system that routinely treats Black and brown persons — men and women — as criminals.