There are millions of American children whom grow up in neighborhoods embedded in crime, police brutality, and drug addiction. Neighborhoods with public schools that are underfunded and continuously fail to meet basic academic standards. Coupled with the systematic oppression of mass incarceration, institutionalized racism, and poverty; How can all of these children have an equal chance in pursuing the American dream? The truth is they can’t. Hence, the few that do succeed ascend from an extreme disadvantage compared to their peers of any other ethnicity in this country. Often their parents, joint or single, are over worked and under-paid at jobs yielding minimal income, mostly due to lack of education and training. All the while, these millions of innocent American children are surrounded by disparity and ignorance from the time of their infancy, and are only exposed to the American Dream of prosperity through television and fantasy. When educators and community leaders have abandoned them, whom and what will motivate these children to make the right decisions in life? Federal statistics indicate more than half of these kids will become involved in the drug trade by the age of thirteen and will be murdered or in prison by their twenty-first birthday. This is the problem with drug policy in America, it approaches a culture enslaved by poverty, oppression, and ignorance, with authority, enforcement, and punishment. The only way to succeed in “The War on Drugs” is to be realistic about what social conditions cause the American drug trade to thrive and then develop effective measures to eliminate such conditions without further oppression of the already oppressed.
Policy makers have been debating for decades about the effects of poverty on Americans and how the strain of essential resources can lead to crime. Elliott Currie highlighted in his book “Reckoning: Drugs, the Cities, and the American Future,” that drug policy in America relies too much on punishment which creates, “…an unprecedented incarceration binge that has made us far and away the world’s leader in imprisonment rates. (Currie 660)” Currie emphasizes that American drug policies are ineffective in curbing the drug trade, and ultimately produces mass imprisonment without any clear goal for rehabilitation. He also notes that although millions of drug offenders are incarcerated each year it, “…would do nothing to prevent new ones from emerging in otherwise unchanged communities… (Currie 660)” further implicating that imprisonment does not eliminate the social conditions in which the drug trade is an option for America’s youth.
Confronted with the issue of drugs in America, most citizens would not disagree with the policies that are set in place. Unfortunately, most Americans are not aware that drug researchers over a half century ago discovered correlations between drugs, crime, and dire social situations (Currie 666). However, policy makers are aware of these various studies, but choose not to use them as sufficient evidence towards reform. William J. Bennett former “drug czar,” during the Reagan administration stated in a speech he delivered at Harvard in 1989:
There we see whole cadres of social scientists, abetted by whole armies of social workers, who seem to take it as catechism that the problem facing us isn’t drugs at all, its poverty, or racism, or some other equally large and intractable social phenomenon. If we want to eliminate the drug problem, these people say, we must first eliminate the “root causes” of drugs, a hopelessly daunting task at which, however, they also happen to make their living. (Bennett 634)”
Bennett expressed that attempting to eliminate poverty and racism from American society is a, “hopelessly daunting task. (Bennett 660)” Many would agree that curing the disease of racism and poverty may be “daunting,” for community leaders. However, the categorization of these social ills as “hopelessly daunting,” implies that the cure is without hope and isn’t realistic to pursue. Bennett’s drug policies nearly doubled the size of the criminal justice system, but hardly put a dent in drug activity in the United States. Today, it seems obvious that Bennett’s policies failed to solve the drug crisis in America, apparently there was some merit to the conclusions Bennett ignored from social workers and scientists.
Hopefully one day, our policy makers will agree that poor social conditions are conducive to breeding crime and the drug trade, and will then propose corrective actions. Restructuring social welfare programs with an agenda to train and educate poverty stricken adults for career placement and reforming failing educational institutions would be a great start. At the end of the day, there are millions of Americans who live in communities that are starved of the most basic rights we have as citizens. Now there are no excuses for immoral behavior, but remember that morality is a matter of perspective. Hence, your perspective of the world is shaped by your experience, and if all your experiences are corroded with injustice and disparity, how would that affect your judgment?
Nachisha N. Lightsey
Bennett, William J. “Drugs: Should Their Sale and Use Be Legalized?” Barnet, Sylvan and Hugo Bedau. Current Issues and Enduring Questions, A Guide to Critical Thinking and Argument with Readings. Boston: Bedford/ St. Martin’s, 2011. 633-639.
Currie, Elliott. “Toward a Policy on Drugs.” Barnet, Sylvan and Hugo Bedau. Current Issues and Enduring Questions, A Guide to Critical Thinking and Argument with Readings. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2011. 657-667.