Watch Them Explode

Sunday, May 13th, 2012

Great reporting by the Miami New Times on the city’s hyper-aggressive Tactical Narcotics Team, which goes by the charmingly subtle moniker “TNT.”

Suddenly, flashing lights bathe the front lawn in red and blue. More than a dozen cops in light-gray polos, dark-gray cargo pants, and black vests flood out of the Chrysler and other unmarked cars, storming through the front gate with guns drawn. Dante drops his beer. Before he can react, a beefy cop tackles him, knocking down his 1-year-old, who screams in terror.

The police, all members of an elite Miami-Dade unit called the Tactical Narcotics Team — TNT for short — arrest Dante and his friends, and haul Khalid and Alexis off to jail as well.

The Levels were just three of the 112 people in Liberty City booked that weekend as part of a TNT operation cheekily dubbed “Santa’s Helper,” which the Miami Herald and local TV stations ate up as a feel-good story about cops keeping the inner city safe — an especially juicy tale when coupled with video of the widow of a slain officer handing out 500 toys to poor children. The Levels’ arrest led the 6 p.m. telecasts, with CBS 4 reporter Peter D’Oench hailing the MDPD for “getting kids in the neighborhood to see… the human side of the officers who love to interact with the children.” A Herald story, meanwhile, offered that the “streets of northwest Miami-Dade [will be] safe for when Santa comes to town.”

However, a two-month investigation by New Times has found that Santa’s Helper was a colossal waste of police resources. Of the 112 suspects arrested, 73 people were charged only with misdemeanor pot possession. The vast majority of the busted pot smokers were either released within 24 hours or avoided jail by promising to show up in court. Of the 73 alleged tokers, 68 of them — including Dante Level and his siblings — had no violent criminal record. If they were guilty of anything, it was smoking a joint on their own front porch.

Police say TNT, a 31-officer team that focuses on aggressive, low-level drug busts such as Santa’s Helper, is vital because their work prevents more serious drug and gang violence. Even as other units specializing in cargo and auto theft were disbanded last month to save money for the cash-strapped department, the brass left TNT and its $3 million budget untouched.

“This is a great way to capture a cross section of robbers, burglars, thieves, and dopers who shoot kids and cops and will openly spray a corner with bullets,” says Maj. Charles Nanney, head of the Miami-Dade Narcotics Bureau. “Cocaine, marijuana, and heroin availability at the street level poses the greatest threat.”

But neighborhood activists and some criminologists say letting an aggressive unit loose on small-time users does more to alienate black neighborhoods than it does to end violent crime. Santa’s Helper, they say, is a perfect illustration of how a unit with a history of corruption — and a mound of complaints about excessive force — has lost the War on Drugs. In recent years, three officers who worked with TNT, but not assigned to the unit full-time, were busted in public corruption probes. Meanwhile, 14 current squad members have combined for 40-plus internal affairs probes.

We’ve seen this over and over again. These tactics are typically justified on the argument that they’re only used on the nastiest, most dangerous drug distributors. Time and again, when local media looks into what these raids typically turn up, they find vanishingly few weapons, significant drug busts, or felony charges. In the case above, three people were charged for possessing the same joint.

The one difference with the TNT unit is that, as the story indicates, while it was initially set up to target criminals with violent histories, busting low-level offenders with the shock-and-awe bullshit is now stated policy.  So they’ve dispensed with the pretense. If a few toddlers and grandmas get in the way of scaring the vocabulary out of the city’s pot smokers, well, that’s a price these cops are willing to pay.

But I suppose there’s no questioning the results. As I understand it, Miami is now basically drug-free.

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38 Responses to “Watch Them Explode”

  1. #1 |  The Other Dan | 

    … well, that’s a price these cops are willing for us to pay.

    There I fixed it for you…

  2. #2 |  (B)oscoH, Yogurt Eater | 

    Radley ate his yogurt this morning. Blogging with swagger! I had to Google the phrase “scaring the vocabulary” and it’s an original. I plan to drop that one all month and make it a SoCal staple.

  3. #3 |  Krishan Bhattacharya | 

    You know, Radley, I generally agree with your assessment of the drug war and all of its attendant effects, from violent drug raids to excessive prosecution to inhuman sentencing to corruption. However, I find that sometimes your commentary, along with that of so many others who write about the drug war, sounds slightly naive.

    Here’s the New Times: >”a two-month investigation by New Times has found that Santa’s Helper was a colossal waste of police resources.”

    Colossal waste of resources? How so? The piece makes it sound as if the police were in the business of preventing drug use and trafficking. But since the worst of drugs – alcohol – is legal and widely available, it can’t be drugs and their effects that the police and the state are trying to block.

    And here’s you: >”If a few toddlers and grandmas get in the way of scaring the vocabulary out of the city’s pot smokers, well, that’s a price these cops are willing to pay.

    Here you have confused the means with the ends. The purpose of these raids is “scaring the vocabulary out of the city’s pot smokers”. The drugs themselves are merely a pretext for the use of force, which is aimed at social repression. The “pot smokers” in question are, of course poor, colored people. All of these awful phenomena that I mentioned above (cruel sentencing etc.) are *not* side effects or negative downstream consequences of national drug policy. Rather, national drug policy is the policy vehicle by which all of these oppression are instituted.

    The raids, the violent police tactics, the cruel sentencing, the awful ruination of the lives of so many, are the whole goal of the war. The drug war is a massive backlash against the Civil Rights movement. The movement came to a head in the mid-late 60’s, and about a decade later the conservative backlash came into power under Reagan. He immediately went about creating the drug war, building state apparatus at the national and local level to carry it out. Now police nationwide are paid with cash to target poor, colored communities with raids and oppressive street policing. Black and brown people are arrested in droves, often for imaginary crimes like possession of dried flowers (marijuana), and slapped with felony convictions. After that, their lives are basically ruined, cut off from all avenues of social advancement.

    ;tl,dr The drug war is really a massive system of racial social control, and eliminating drugs merely a pretext for opression.

  4. #4 |  (B)oscoH, Yogurt Eater | 

    @Krishan: I don’t buy that that was the design of the WoD. I will buy that the execution of the WoD looks as if it could have been designed as a way to oppress black and brown people. I will even buy that the execution is indistinguishable from an execution of a plan so designed.

    There is a different between calling out your foes for being a bunch of racists versus acting indistinguishably from a bunch of racists, in that the latter contains a moral case for redemption, an imperative for your opponents to redeem themselves. If the former is indeed true, then they can be perfectly happy noting that bears are Catholic and the Pope shits in the woods.

    It’s a lot like the puppycide theme. Balko has been pointing out for years that dogs get executed as a matter of course. Maybe that’s something that LE can address and solve. It certainly generates a lot of public outrage. Few believe that dog killers gravitate toward law enforcement. Just like few believe that racists gravitate toward careers in law enforcement, especially in the bureaucracy that massively funds the massive WoD.

  5. #5 |  Other Sean | 

    Krishnan #3,

    How exactly do you claim to know the hidden motives of the drug warriors? And how is their massive effort coordinated? Where do these nefarious plotters meet? What methods do they use to communicate? Did you happen upon a copy of their secret protocols? And how did they succeed so dramatically in duping a nation of millions for all these years?

    If you’re going to throw down a theory about the “real” motives of this policy or that, you really have to answer questions like this.

    Of course I agree that the drug war has taken on “an-end-in-itself” quality for most of the people who administer it, and I certainly don’t credit them with what I would consider to be honest or decent motives.

    But what you’re proposing is really a very childish conspiracy theory, and that bothers me…because it doesn’t advance our understanding of the drug war or help us get any closer to ending it.

    There’s no underground chamber full of evil racists pulling magic strings. The reality is so much worse than that, and so much harder to fight.

  6. #6 |  Radley Balko | 

    However, I find that sometimes your commentary, along with that of so many others who write about the drug war, sounds slightly naive.

    Oh, please. I’ve often written about the drug war’s disproportionate effects on the poor. Yes, that generally means people of color. But plenty of poor white people get caught up in the mess, too. The fact that I don’t add a paragraph to every drug war post explaining that people of color get the brunt end of these policies doesn’t mean I’m not aware of it, or ignoring it, or “naive” to it.

    But more broadly, I happen to think tactics are oppressive regardless of the population upon whom they’re used. The wrong door raid on Cheye Calvo wasn’t any less offensive, abusive, or outrageous because he happens to be white and upper middle class. Equality is important, and the criminal justice system’s concentrated abuses in minority communities is obviously troubling. But I sometimes get the impression that there are factions of progressivism that would be fine with the drug war and all the awfulness that comes with it so long as the government was oppressing everyone equally.

  7. #7 |  Other Sean | 

    Krishnan #3,

    If you don’t want to take my word for it, go to a community meeting in the black part of any major American city. Tell the crowd there you believe drugs should be legalized.

    If the shouting doesn’t deafen you, the next time you get a word in should be about 90 minutes later. If you use that word to say anything other than “Sorry, I didn’t mean it”, brace yourself for another 90 minutes.

    Then come back here and tell me the drug war is really just a racist project.

  8. #8 |  Krishan Bhattacharya | 

    Other Sean: “How exactly do you claim to know the hidden motives of the drug warriors? And how is their massive effort coordinated? Where do these nefarious plotters meet? What methods do they use to communicate? Did you happen upon a copy of their secret protocols? And how did they succeed so dramatically in duping a nation of millions for all these years?”

    I don’t think there is much conscious co-ordination of the kind you are asking about. A system of racial social control like this does not have to be consciously planned ahead of time from some central location. It can simply emerge from the landscape of biases that are already entrenched in American society.

  9. #9 |  Krishan Bhattacharya | 

    Radley: ” But I sometimes get the impression that there are factions of progressivism that would be fine with the drug war and all the awfulness that comes with it so long as the government was oppressing everyone equally.”

    Who are you replying to here? If my account of nature of the War on Drugs is true, it must stand on its own merits. Pointing out that the Center for American Progress gives heavyweight support for it is simply changing the subject. You are basically saying “Krishan, you think I’m wrong, but hey here’s some liberals that support the War on Drugs. next subject”

    If you don’t like the way I’ve phrased my comments above, I would like to ask you then, what you think of Michelle Alexander’s book “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness”? The picture of the drug war I outlined above is a brief summary of Alexander’s thesis. Do you think that she is correct?

    I say all these things because I’m always hearing, both from the Reason Magazine crowd (yourself, Jacob Sullum etc.), and from many voices on the left, that the drug war has failed, the drug war has failed, the drug war has failed. typical Sullum piece here:

    http://reason.com/blog/2010/05/14/ap-the-drug-war-is-a-disastrou

    But what if it has simply been a spectacular success? Michelle Alexander’s book, and also Robert Perkinson’s “Texas Tough” make the case that drug criminalization is can be seen primarily as a pretext for repression, and not really the central goal of the War on Drugs.

    Both you and Reason have been happy to link to Alexander’s, and similar articles, but I’ve never quite been clear as to whether or not you guys think that the War on Drugs is “The New Jim Crow”.
    What is your reply?

  10. #10 |  supercat | 

    #7 | Other Sean | “Then come back here and tell me the drug war is really just a racist project.”

    One of the major lessons in Tyranny for Dummies is that the best way to become a successful tyrant to make one’s intended subjects beg for it. This can best be accomplished by identifying some (possibly minor) problem for which one can offer a plausible-sounding “solution” whose side-effects will actually make the problem worse. The fact that many people are blind to the real nature of the “war on drugs” does not mean it’s not a tool of oppression. Indeed, it is precisely because so many people are blind to it that it is such effective tool.

  11. #11 |  Publius | 

    “The war on drugs is a war on black people” Barack H. Obama

  12. #12 |  Aresen | 

    The fact that the WoD oppresses minorities may or may not be something that the legislators, congressmen, governors and presidents understand or intend.

    However, I am willing to bet that the TNT squad members do not think in those terms – it is highly probably that a significant percentage of them are members of the minorities in question.

    For most of them, I am willing to bet that they truly believe that they are doing good, which is why it becomes almost impossible to convince them that they are doing harm. They believe that their intentions sanctify the means that they use. “How can we be wrong when our intentions are good?” is a mindset that can justify any horror or atrocity.

  13. #13 |  Other Sean | 

    Krishnan #8,

    You’re thesis is that the drug war is a success on its own terms, because it was really intended to oppress blacks, and it does that fiendishly well. You said “the raids, the violent police tactics, the cruel sentencing, the awful ruination of the lives of so many, are the whole goal of the war.”

    There is no such thing as “intent” that floats in the air, or a “goal” that simply exists in what you call the landscape. Goals and intentions do not exist except in the minds of human beings.

    So tell me, which particular human beings “intended” to use the drug war as a backlash against the civil rights movement? Was it just Reagan, or did he have accomplices? Is it just police captains, or does every patrolman share in this intent? Is it just whites? Or is this goal also shared by blacks who suffer from false consciousness?

    At some point you have to either claim that some actual person “intends” this intent, or you have to stop using that word.

    There is a name for things which, as you put it, do “not have to be consciously planned ahead of time”. Those things are called “unintentional”, or sometimes “unintended consequences”. They are not called “goals”.

    In structure, your argument reminds me of the old-line Marxist analysis of World War I. It was supposed to be a big conspiracy of international capitalists, but once the war got going that became all too obviously ridiculous. So they switched and started calling it a “conspiracy of capital”, as if steel factories and machine tools and bank reserves were capable of scheming independently of their human owners.

    They were desperate, you see, not to admit that nationalism might exert a genuinely powerful hold on the minds of capitalists and workers alike, so they had to attempt the absurd: construct an explanation for World War I that didn’t take nationalism into account.

    Just as you are now absurdly trying to escape from the conclusion that the drug war might actually be about the drug war.

  14. #14 |  Bob | 

    Ah yes! The old “The Drug War is a Power Elite/Masons/Illuminati master plan” conspiracy theory.

    You gotta admit, there is a confluence of apparently unrelated effort that all seems to be going in that direction, with the movers and shakers in Homeland Security doing a large part with their free grant giveaways.

    However, I think it’s a huge mistake to think the ultimate goal is racist in any way. I think the fact that it’s Blacks and Hispanics that are taking the brunt is largely irrelevant to the “Greater Goals” of whomever is ultimately engineering this. If it had worked out that “White Trash” was largely being targeted by the “Drug War”, that would have worked too. (Meth and Pseudofed control, anyone? It could have gone that way too.) Just so long as there is a sufficiently large group that can be marginalized and ostracized the goals are served.

    So long as “Us” (80% of the country) and “Them” (20% of the country) can be clearly defined and targeted by the mechanization of control, it really doesn’t matter who “them” is until it’s too late.

    Look at the state of Police Militarization now. Every time there is a major economic summit, there is an even greater Police Presence than ever before. This is the result of all the training. Police groups have learned, through the Drug War and it’s attendant grants and equipment giveaways to form effective “Multi Jurisdiction Taskforces” that multiply manpower when desired. And that multiplied manpower is a balaclava wearing, nearly immune to disciplinary action faceless horde. Where did all these guys come from? Constant wars! How convenient! How are they manipulated? Grant supplied overtime schemes to combat the “Drug War.” How are they enabled? Policies that protect the line soldier through immunity and misdirection.

    At some point, the policies started in the 70’s (Like Petrodollars and the removal of the gold standard) will crack the economics of the country wide open, and then it will be game on for Martial Law.

    I know what you’re thinking… “Shit, this guy isn’t just ON the Crazy Train, he’s the fucking Engineer!”

  15. #15 |  JSL | 

    Tenessee cops still at it with cash confiscations, this time a guy nabbed $22k in cash and actually gives an interview to the local news:

    http://www.newschannel5.com/story/18241221/man-loses-22000-in-new-policing-for-profit-case

    Hopefully the victim here now knows not to trust cops, to never ever let them search the car without a warrant and if a cop asks you if you’re carrying cash, you don’t answer.

  16. #16 |  Bob | 

    #15: JSL

    Tenessee cops still at it with cash confiscations, this time a guy nabbed $22k in cash and actually gives an interview to the local news:

    http://www.newschannel5.com/story/18241221/man-loses-22000-in-new-policing-for-profit-case

    Hopefully the victim here now knows not to trust cops, to never ever let them search the car without a warrant and if a cop asks you if you’re carrying cash, you don’t answer.

    Note that it’s a white guy from Jersey in this case, but that doesn’t matter… he’s in a minority (People that feel the need, for whatever reason, to carry large sums of cash.) so he’s fair game.

    All 3 of my previous mechanics are in play: Rules that make it perfectly legal to try to steal cash with impunity. Incentive (Overtime, perks derived from the confiscated cash, etc.) and a ready pool of cops willing to be team players to get in on the gravy train.

    And yeah… the correct answers to the questions are both “No.”

    “No, I don’t consent to any search”

    and “No” to “Are you carrying a large sum of cash.”

  17. #17 |  Krishan Bhattacharya | 

    Other Sean: During the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church, through a series of theological rulings, began to expand the property rights of women. They allowed women to own and inherit property in most of its domains in Europe. During this same period, they also issued rulings to the effect that if a woman were to die childless or unmarried, her property would then belong to the Church. These rulings became part of Canon Law.

    In retrospect, the motivation for these rulings is blindingly, smack-you-in-the-face obvious. With these rulings, Church policy guaranteed that A: it would be difficult to families to accumulate large amounts of wealth to challenge the power of the Church, and B: it would have a steady stream of income to uphold and expand its power.

    Yet, if we were held to the standards of evidence that you are asking for above, we would be left without explanation as to why the Church chose such a policy. Nowhere in its documents is the motivation laid out in plain words, certainly not in Canon Law, full of theological arcana and arguments about Scripture. (see the chapter ‘Christianity Undermines the Family’ in Francis Fukuyama’s “The Origins of Political Order” for more on this)

    The same, I think, is true for the War on Drugs. The Civil Rights movement came along and knocked down Jim Crow, and twenty years later we started throwing black men in prison at an unprecedented scale, to the point we have more people incarcerated than Russia or China. Once these unlucky people are branded as ‘felons’ (for imaginary crimes like marijuana possession), they can be legally discriminated against just like under Jim Crow, but for officially non-racial reasons.

    Need a job? a loan? college tuition? trade license? housing? just fill out the form below:

    [ ] Have you ever been convicted of a felony?

  18. #18 |  Other Sean | 

    Supercat #10,

    You wrote: “The fact that many people are blind to the real nature of the “war on drugs” does not mean it’s not a tool of oppression.”

    No, but you see…it’s worse than that. People aren’t blind to the oppression of the drug war, they support the oppression of the drug war, knowing exactly what it is: an attempts to control private morality by public force.

    Krishanan looks at the drug war and sees racial conflict by proxy. To see it that way, he has to ignore a very long history of human beings acting to deny each other arbitrarily proscribed sources of pleasure, through the use of state power.

    Usually it’s sex, or certain categories of sex. Sometimes it’s gambling, sometimes it’s booze, these days it’s starting to look bad for tobacco and fructose. And in America for about 40 years, it’s been drugs.

    How, for instance, does someone like Krishnan explain the existence of moral panics and banned substances in places like Japan or Finland?

    What…are they doing it preventatively, just in case any blacks show up there?

  19. #19 |  contrarian | 

    I don’t agree with Krishan on the details, but I think he’s hit onto a basic truth, which is that the ward on drugs isn’t really about drugs, it’s about oppression.

    Which makes me wonder if legalization will change anything, really. Will something else pop up to take the place of drugs as a conduit for oppression?

  20. #20 |  Other Sean | 

    Krishnan #17,

    I’m certainly not saying “there’s no such thing as ulterior motives”, nor would I claim that such motives have never found their way into public policy. But your particular hypothesis has screamingly huge problems. In no special order:

    1.) Tens of millions of people who are not racists support the drug war, including plenty of liberals.

    2.) In absolute terms, the drug war produces more white victims than black ones.

    3.) The drug war exists in countries where racial tensions are trivial or non existent.

    4.) Millions of drug warriors are black – usually about 35% of the cops in big city police departments, and a whole bunch of police chiefs, not to mention Barack Obama and Eric Holder.

    5.) If the drug war is just a continuation of Jim Crow by other means, why is it every bit as virulent in Northern cities than it is in Southern ones? Why can’t we observe a difference between Blue State drug policies and Red State drug policies? Why don’t cities with majority black populations, and black mayors, show less energy in prosecuting the drug war?

    6.) How do you explain Prohibition? Was that a racist conspiracy against Jews, Irishman, and Italians? And what happened, did American just decide to stop being racist against those groups one morning in 1933?

    (By the way, your canon law example fails to move me. The Catholic Church in the middle ages was an actual conspiracy – i.e., it was ruled from the top down by a tiny group totally insulated from public opinion, centered in a single town, acting in near perfect secrecy. So I am quite willing to believe that group could carry out a conscious and hidden agenda, and get away with it for years.)

  21. #21 |  Bob | 

    #19 :contrarian

    I don’t agree with Krishan on the details, but I think he’s hit onto a basic truth, which is that the ward on drugs isn’t really about drugs, it’s about oppression.

    Which makes me wonder if legalization will change anything, really. Will something else pop up to take the place of drugs as a conduit for oppression?

    There are two pathways leading in different directions. Legalization of drugs as a policy (The repercussion of the current Drug War.) and the ultimate failure of the US Dollar and it’s economic system.

    The evil brilliance of the policies tracking the ultimate failure of the US Dollar and it’s economic system is their inherent flexibility. If the “Drug War” fails due to the pressure to legalize drugs (Which is unlikely… look at the brilliant wording of New York City’s statutes. Marijuana is a “Civil Ticket”, yet hundreds of thousands have been jailed due to the rent seeking addition of “Public Display” in the statutes.) another mechanic will just take it’s place. There are literally tens of thousands of ways for Americans to become “Felons” under the current legal system.

    If “Drug Criminals” falls out of vogue as the “Oppression du jour” Something else will take it’s place.

    As such, in my opinion, there are two primary driving forces that will converge at some point in the future.

    Force one: The inevitable failure of our economic system.

    Force two: The “Power Elite Conspiracy” that is driving our Law Enforcement system towards Martial Law.

    At some point, these two forces will meet. Society will collapse to anarchy, devolve to a dictatorship, or reconstruct in some combo platter of the two. It all depends on how far Force two has advanced when Force one hits.

  22. #22 |  Anti Federalist | 

    Off topic, but I could use a little help here:

    Does anybody know the story of Nancy Genovese who was abused at the hands of Long Island cops and is suing for 70 million?

    I’m trying to get some background on this story and coming up dry.

    http://www.ronpaulforums.com/showthread.php?376425-An-infuriating-story-of-police-abuse

  23. #23 |  John | 

    On the “drug war as race war.”

    Michelle Alexander’s book basically reads “every step of the process drug offenders go through is rougher on minorities than white people, from who is looked at as a possible offender to sentencing to parole to post-prison life.” She draws much the same conclusion as Krishan, though with no offense intended, I’d say she made the point much better than Krishan (or me), though she did it in a book rather than a sentence.

    I agree with many of the posters here that it’s indistinguishable from a race war (or racial suppression policy, or New Jim Crow) in its effects, but is not one. I think it’s really about money and fear. Money in the unending spigot that are the drug war grants (as Alexander points out) and fear. A cop who fucks up and arrests a Senator’s son for pot is not welcome in upper management. Going after poor (in the United States “poor” is strongly associated with “black”) people is safer for departments. The Senator whose kid is busted might not be a fan of the drug war in the profoundly unlikely case that significant consequences came of it. There are also the stereotypes of criminality, a study is cited in the book saying that while black and white people use drugs at the same rate, upwards (perhaps well upwards) of 80% of people think of a black guy when hearing “drug criminal.” So there are psychological biases, financial incentives, political reasons, and convenience that make minorities a target of the war. I’m obviously not positive of my argument (not omniscient or psychic yet), but think it makes general sense. Also, while I disagree with some conclusions, Alexander’s book is a must read for people opposed to the drug war.

  24. #24 |  Other Sean | 

    John #23,

    I think you speak for just about everybody there, since no one can deny that the drug war has had a massively disparate impact on minorities, and on blacks more than any other minority. And most of us would readily grant you that the war wouldn’t have gone on this long, if a majority of its victims were middle class whites.

    It’s just the lazy, automatic inference from “disparate impact” to “discriminatory intent” that drives me crazy. Those are two different things, requiring different types of evidence, and neither Krishnan nor Michelle Alexander seem to understand that.

  25. #25 |  John | 

    @24 Other Sean

    I think we agree in how we analyze each argument, I just saw that the psychological biases and fear of arresting Senator’s kids wasn’t looked at. While I agree with you that Alexander and Krishnan are probably wrong, I don’t know that you can throw out their arguments as naive lacks of understanding. I’ll play devil’s advocate to show you the line of reasoning that makes me consider it plausible to call it an act of racial suppression.

    I agree that there is a lack of overarching discriminatory intent, but I think it could be argued that the laziness in fixing a known discriminatory system. One of the more horrifying stories in the book is actually of a guy who got off easily, a white redneck drug dealer with a gun who wasn’t charged with the ridiculous firearm charges because “he wasn’t some gun toting drug dealer, just a good ol boy” (paraphrase, not a quote). As with all drug war arguments, honest statistical data is very hard to come by, but there are enough of these kinds of stories that you could make the argument that at the very least people are negligent in equal enforcement, and that this is systemic racial discrimination. I emphatically don’t buy a nationwide COORDINATED conspiracy, but is it ridiculous to call the lack of change in a set of laws that are known to be unequally enforced among races an act of racial suppression? Even if the primary motivation for the lack of change is greed? I think that’s a judgement call, while I would call it a miserable clusterfuck I wouldn’t call it racist, but I can’t say that Alexander or Krishnan are wrong to do so.

    tl;dr: Is it racist to let your greed and apathy (intellectual and emotional) allow you to not fight the inertia with which the drug war cranks on?

  26. #26 |  Other Sean | 

    John #25,

    Perhaps we need a new version of Hanlon’s razor: “Never attribute to racism what can adequately be explained complacency.”

    Take the famous crack vs powder sentencing disparity. That law was signed amidst a moral panic triggered, in no small part, by sorrow over the death of a black athlete named Len Bias. Back then people would have told you it was racist NOT to join the panic. “How can you refuse to support tougher crack laws, don’t you know this stuff is killing black people?” The law then remained on the books for 25 years. Must be pure racism, right?

    Not so fast, because guess what…every moral panic law stays on the books long after its founding hysteria has been deflated. What makes that possible is the same thing that has allowed farm price supports to keep going since 1932: most people have a tiny stake in the matter, and the few people who actually like the status quo are very well organized.

    Hell, if crack sentencing had NOT had a disparate racial impact, it would probably NEVER have been overturned. The only reason sufficient resources were brought to bear against it was because an established interest group saw fit to mobilize itself.

    Even the allegedly simple examples are complicated like that.

  27. #27 |  Krishan Bhattacharya | 

    1.) Tens of millions of people who are not racists support the drug war, including plenty of liberals.

    Also true of Jim Crow era segregation. Also, overt racism is not necessary for the maintenance of such a system. Sheer indifference to racial injustice can provide the moral intertia that allowed a racial caste system to re-emerge.

    2.) In absolute terms, the drug war produces more white victims than black ones.

    This is simply false. More blacks are imprisoned, both in absolute terms and in relative numbers, for drug offenses:

    http://www.hrw.org/legacy/campaigns/drugs/war/key-facts.htm

    3.) The drug war exists in countries where racial tensions are trivial or non existent.

    In some countries, the drug war is partly the result of US foreign policy (Central America etc.) We can’t know whether or not they would still be fighting it if massive US weight weren’t being thrown behind it. In others, like Brazil, which have huge prison populations, I think that something similar is true there as in the US.

    Also, what country can I visit where “racial tensions are trivial or non existent”? Iceland?

    4.) Millions of drug warriors are black – usually about 35% of the cops in big city police departments, and a whole bunch of police chiefs, not to mention Barack Obama and Eric Holder.

    Also true of slavery and Jim Crow. Blacks were responsible for capturing slaves in the African kingdoms that were selling the slaves in the first place. Many slave owners were black. Among slaves, many were assigned to duties (like overseeing) that required them to inflict punishment upon their fellow blacks.

    There were many blacks who were pro-segregation, particularly in the earlier part of the twentieth century. Many (most famously Booker T. Washington) were opposed to movements pushing for civil rights, because they were afraid of the backlash against it.

    5.) If the drug war is just a continuation of Jim Crow by other means, why is it every bit as virulent in Northern cities than it is in Southern ones?

    The answer is that the system of racial social control has spread northward since the time of the Civil Rights act. There is no reason why it should be explicitly confined to the South. However, it appears to be generally worse in the South.

    Why can’t we observe a difference between Blue State drug policies and Red State drug policies?

    Because you haven’t bothered to look? Sentencing alone is markedly different between the conservative deep south and the liberal northeast.

    Why don’t cities with majority black populations, and black mayors, show less energy in prosecuting the drug war?

    On this question Michelle Alexander has this to say:

    In a nation still stuck in an old Jim Crow mind-set—which equates racism with white bigotry and views racial diversity as proof the problem has been solved—a racially diverse police department invites questions like: “How can you say the Oakland Police Department’s drug raids are racist? There’s a black police chief, and most of the officers involved in the drug raids are black.” If the caste dimensions of mass incarceration were better understood and the limitations of cosmetic diversity were better appreciated, the existence of black police chiefs and black officers would be no more encouraging today than the presence of black slave drivers and black plantation owners hundreds of years ago.

    When meaningful change fails to materialize following the achievement of superficial diversity, those who remain locked out can become extremely discouraged and demoralized, resulting in cynicism and resignation. Perhaps more concerning, though, is the fact that inclusion of people of color in power structures, particularly at the top, can paralyze reform efforts. People of color are often reluctant to challenge institutions led by people who look like them, as they feel a personal stake in the individual’s success. After centuries of being denied access to leadership positions in key social institutions, people of color quite understandably are hesitant to create circumstances that could trigger the downfall of “one of their own.” An incident of police brutality that would be understood as undeniably racist if the officers involved were white may be given a more charitable spin if the officers are black. Similarly, black community residents who might have been inspired to challenge aggressive stop-and-frisk policies of a largely white police department may worry about “hurting” a black police chief. People of color, because of the history of racial subjugation and exclusion, often experience success and failure vicariously through the few who achieve positions of power, fame, and fortune. As a result, cosmetic diversity, which focuses on providing opportunities to individual members of under-represented groups, both diminishes the possibility that unfair rules will be challenged and legitimates the entire system.

    6.) How do you explain Prohibition? Was that a racist conspiracy against Jews, Irishman, and Italians? And what happened, did American just decide to stop being racist against those groups one morning in 1933?

    Alcohol was indeed tainted with strong racial bias, but it did not amount to a racial caste system because it didn’t need to, since a full-blown racial caste system was already legally in place. The War on Drugs only became central to state sponsored racial discrimination after open, legal discrimination was outlawed by the legislation and court rulings of the 60’s. Drug prohibition comes in as a proxy conduit for such discrimination, since more blatant discrimination is outlawed.

  28. #28 |  Krishan Bhattacharya | 

    TYPO 6) Alcohol PROHIBITION

  29. #29 |  Other Sean | 

    Krishnan #27,

    You’re obviously a serious and thoughtful person, but man…you have bought into a narrative that is totally impervious to nuance and new information.

    Remember: if a theory appears to explain everything, and works equally well with ANY set of facts, that is a weakness of the theory, not a strength. Usually it means the theory derives its power from word equivocation. (For example, In your response to point 4 above, you casually compared Eric Holder to a slave “overseer” without any apparent sense of irony. Don’t you see that destroys the meaning of the word?)

    I must concede one point of fact: I was wrong about how the prison population is divided. I thought whites were still a slight majority in the system overall, when in fact they’ve fallen to 35%. Shame on me for that. Although still, you would need to explain why whites are willing to tolerate a “Jim Crow system” that also puts 500,000 of their own in the slammer for drug offenses.

    I hope you’ll stick around to continue this conversation, because passions aside it really is very interesting. I’ll write a more thorough post tonight, after I get back from work.

  30. #30 |  marie | 

    Interesting discussion. Alexander’s book is excellent, though my reaction to suggestions of conspiracy is an automatic “No.”

    Poor neighborhoods tend to be more densely populated, making it easier to police. Drive through a suburban area and then through a poor area and it seems obvious–you will see more people outdoors in the poor area. More pedestrians, more people getting away from crowded homes. Maybe that is simplistic thinking but cops need more bang for their buck, so to speak. Poor people are unable to hire attorneys so they are more likely to be convicted. Conviction rates are the important data point for law enforcement. Poor people are a great target.

    Which makes me wonder if legalization will change anything, really. Will something else pop up to take the place of drugs as a conduit for oppression?

    Child porn is the new easy target. The number of convictions of child porn receipt/possession have climbed dramatically–drastically, tragically–in the last decade. In child porn, law enforcement (led by DOJ) may have found the perfect “indefensible crime.” Everyone loves to hate a pervert so public outcry is practically an impossibility. Who would defend CP? I do not defend sexual abuse of children, but I DO defend those charged with the crime of looking at pictures, the crime of maybe thinking bad things.

  31. #31 |  Krishan Bhattacharya | 

    Other Sean: your precise line was: “35% of the cops in big city police departments, and a whole bunch of police chiefs, not to mention Barack Obama and Eric Holder.”

    The slave owners and overseers in my comparison would be with the police and police chiefs (add in prison guards here, if you like) from your post.

    As for Holder and Obama, what would you be saying if Obama had lost the election? This system of racial social control, as I see it, was in place before Obama came on the scene, and thus does not depend the color of the person holding the highest office.

    Michelle Alexander doesn’t think that Obama’s election has changed much:

    http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175520/best_of_tomdispatch%3A_michelle_alexander,_the_age_of_obama_as_a_racial_nightmare/

  32. #32 |  John | 

    The key line is here in Krishnan’s post

    “Also, overt racism is not necessary for the maintenance of such a system. Sheer indifference to racial injustice can provide the moral intertia that allowed a racial caste system to re-emerge.”

    If it is racist not to care enough, I’d disagree with Other Sean that it isn’t a racial suppression system. These problems of disparate impact are obscenely well documented. If it isn’t, well, I put most of the impact down to “sheer indifference” (or more precisely, the strength of empathy not being enough to outweigh the ignorance bought by money, fear, and laziness), so I’d say it’s an unintentional Jim Crow. And having written those last 3 words, I’m going to go vomit.

  33. #33 |  Will | 

    Depressing factoid: This outfit actually appeared in Michael Bay’s “Bad Boys II.” I just assumed a hyper-aggressive paramilitary unit with an acronym that ridiculous was a product of Bay’s imagination, but it turns out TNT actually exists.

  34. #34 |  Charlie O | 

    “This is a great way to capture a cross section of robbers, burglars, thieves, and dopers who shoot kids and cops and will openly spray a corner with bullets,” says Maj. Charles Nanney, head of the Miami-Dade Narcotics Bureau. “Cocaine, marijuana, and heroin availability at the street level poses the greatest threat.”

    What a colossal load of unmitigated crap!

  35. #35 |  Quiet Desperation | 

    Er… I just get a “lorem ipsum” page when clicking the link.

    Maybe TNT visited the Miami New Times?

  36. #36 |  Other Sean | 

    Krishnan,

    Earlier I accused you having bought into a narrative that is blinding you to some important features of the drug war. What I should have said was: “People like Michelle Alexander and Tim Wise and my younger sister and it seems about 75% of everyone who graduated from a humanities program after 1994 have bought into a narrative that sees race as the great one and only in American life – please don’t be like them.”

    While droning along at work today, I had much occasion to think about what that narrative is, and what I don’t like about. Here’s how it sounds to me:

    “The history of all hitherto existing American society is the history of racial oppression. Racism is the most evil thing that has ever existed, and it is the only thing that still deserves to be called evil in a post-modern world.

    Every idea I don’t like is most likely an encoded manifestation of racism. Everyone I disagree with on political issues is most likely a racist. Everyone who is not an anti-racist activist, is a racist. Everyone who is not a racist, is a closeted racist. Being against racism is roughly the same as being a good person. When I tell you how much I am against racism, you should take that as evidence that I am a good person.

    Racism admits no scale; all racial incidents are equally important. Racism never goes away, even when it does. The progress made on race relations since 1960 is not enough, and is mostly an illusion, and by the way, there has been no progress on race relations since 1960. Racism is the leading problem of blacks and hispanics, and in fact the only problem anyone should be allowed to talk about, where those two groups are concerned.

    Racism explains everything, and when it doesn’t, the definition of racism can be changed until it does. Racism is whatever I need it to be, and whatever I say it is. Racial tensions are not tragic or complicated; they are simple and clear, and they involve a straightforward clash between good people like me and bad people who are not like me.

    Most important of all, when I start talking about racism, you start agreeing with me. That’s how this works.”
    ——————————————————————-

    Of course it’s not fair because you didn’t say all of these things, but…I thought I saw the tip of this iceberg, in what you did say.

  37. #37 |  Tam | 

    I’m not an illicit drug user but I AM 100% against the cops and this fake “war of drugs” bullshit. It’s a 110% failed policy and the ony people it benefits are the people building and running the jail system, the lawyers and judges, and the steroid and adrenaline hyped jackboot thug cowboys that jerk off to fantasies of terrorizing families and children. How P-A-T-H-E-T-I-C. Pigs are losers.

    It’s time for those who wish to protect themselves from this thuggish tyranny to put up 6′ steel fences around their property with excellent locks, harden all doors with solid steel industrial doors with steel jambs, and harden all windows with bars that only open from the inside to keep these feckin criminals OUT and off your property. I did and I don’t even do anything wrong, but the way things are going (and a long standing history of them lying under oath, AND changes in the laws that virtually NULL our 4th amendment rights) they can make up anything they want and just come in and start taking things and making things up as they go along.

  38. #38 |  The Johnny Appleseed of Crack | 

    Other Sean,
    Well put. I think it applies equally to sexism as well.

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