The Drug War: The Primary Reason There Are ‘1.5 Million Missing Black Men’

Apr 23, 2015 by


Drug use doesn’t discriminate, but the war on drug users does.

On Monday, the New York Times published a deeply upsetting piece titled, “1.5 Million Missing Black Men.”

According to the Times, “Black women who are 25 to 54 and not in jail outnumber black men in that category by 1.5 million. …For every 100 black women in this age group living outside of jail, there are only 83 black men. Among whites, the equivalent number is 99.”

The primary reasons 1.5 million men are missing from their communities is because they are behind bars or because of early death, the story noted. The numbers are shocking and offensive. The Times states, “One out of six black men who today should be between 25 and 54 years have disappeared from daily life.”

While the article makes clear that incarceration is a major reason so many African Americans are removed from their communities, it doesn’t identify the role of the war on drugs in mass incarceration. Roughly 500,000 of the 2.4 million people behind bars are there for a drug offense. America is the number one jailer in the world, with under five percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.

It may not surprise you to learn that there are gross racial disparities when it comes to who ends up behind bars for drugs. According to Human Rights Watch, African Americans go to jail or prison 10 times the rate of whites, despite similar drug use.

There is some sick hypocrisy in our country.

Despite a $40 billion a year “war on drugs” and political speeches about a “drug-free society,” our society is swimming in drugs. Every day millions use cigarettes, sugar, alcohol, marijuana, Prozac, Ritalin, Viagra, steroids, cocaine and caffeine to get themselves through the day. There are drugs on every Ivy League campus in this country and drugs are flowing on Wall Street. The vast majority of Americans use drugs on a regular basis.

While it is clear that drug use doesn’t discriminate, the reality is that the war on drug users does discriminate. The ACLU found racial disparities in every single state in the country, with blacks being arrested for marijuana from three to 10 times the rates of whites.

From New York to Ferguson, and all across the country we see law enforcement target people of color. Thanks to stop-and-frisk and racial profiling, blacks are ticketed and arrested at outrageous rates for doing the exact same things whites do.

“1.5 Million Missing Black Men” needs to be a wakeup call. We cannot allow one out of six black men to go missing. And ending the war on drugs is an important, concrete step to addressing this.

This piece first appeared on the Drug Policy Alliance Blog.

Tony Newman is communications director for the Drug Policy Alliance.

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