The Bay Area, drugs and blacks

The San Francisco Chron has a long article about the fact that, in the Bay Area, blacks are locked up disproportionately for drug crimes, as compared to whites:

San Francisco imprisons African Americans for drug offenses at a much higher rate than whites, according to a report to be released today by a nonprofit research institute.

In a study of nearly 200 counties nationwide, the Justice Policy Institute found that 97 percent of large-population counties have racial disparities between the number of black people and white people sent to prison on drug convictions.

The institute, which is based in Washington, D.C., and researches public policy and promotes alternatives to incarceration, says whites and African Americans use illicit drugs at similar rates. But black people account for more than 50 percent of sentenced drug offenders, though they make up only 13 percent of the nation’s population.

San Francisco locks up a higher percentage of members of the African American community in drug cases than any other county in the study. In the county, 123 people out of every 100,000 are sent to state prison each year for drug offenses. Of those, whites are incarcerated at a rate of 35 per 100,000 white people, while blacks are incarcerated at a rate of 1,013 per 100,000 black people.

“It is not that San Francisco is sending a lot of people to prison for drug offenses, it is that the people they are sending are black,” said Jason Ziedenberg, executive director of the institute. “An average citizen who uses drugs in San Francisco has a pretty low chance of going to prison, but if you are African American, the chances are fairly high.”

***

San Francisco has a small population of African Americans – 6.7 percent of the total, according to the Census Bureau’s 2006 American Community Survey – but Ziedenberg said the numbers have a concentrated impact within that community. African Americans are going to prison for drug offenses at a rate that is 28 times higher than the rate for whites.

“If you go to any courtroom in the Hall of Justice, you will see that the majority arrested are African American,” said San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi. “At every stage of the criminal process – arrest, conviction and those who are sent to prison – there is a disproportionate impact on blacks.

“It is a tradition in San Francisco to focus sting operations in communities where there are larger populations of African Americans, and there are state and federal grants that support those stings.”

Alameda and San Mateo counties also have disproportionately high rates of incarcerating African Americans for drug offenses, according to the report. In Alameda County, 159 per 100,000 people are admitted to prison each year for drug offenses. Of those, whites are imprisoned at a rate of 23 per 100,000 white people, while blacks are incarcerated at a rate of 797 per 100,000 black people.

In San Mateo County, 76 out of every 100,000 people are admitted to prison each year for drug offenses. Of those, whites are imprisoned at a rate of 26 per 100,000 white people, while blacks are incarcerated at a rate of 946 per 100,000 black people.

In addition to the racial disparities, the report found that counties that spend more on policing and the judicial system imprison people for drug offenses at higher rates, even if the crime rate isn’t higher. It also found that counties with higher poverty and unemployment rates send people to prison more.

I have no quarrel with the numbers.  It is absolutely true that more blacks go to prison than whites for drug crimes, even though there are fewer blacks in the overall population.  What I wondered about, and what the article does not address, is the types of drugs at issue.

Are the blacks and whites using the same drugs, or are the whites using softer drugs?  I ask this because, when I was a young lawyer in San Francisco, everyone I knew smoked pot, the drug that makes you boring.  (Incidentally, I didn’t.  I tried it once and found the effects of inhaling so distressing, both physically and mentally, that I never wanted to touch it again.)  Pot is illegal.  It is also ubiquitous amongst young whites (and, I guess, among young people of all other races) and is the kind of thing that police officers definitely do not seem to target — probably because stoned people are inert and harmless.

Getting away from pot, there wasn’t much else going on drug-wise among the white young people I knew (and this includes high school and college, too.)  While there was a brief boom of cocaine amongst some of the Yuppies with whom I worked (and one of them distinguished himself by driving off the roof of a two story parking garage while high), I was unaware of any other, harder drugs:  heroin, meth, crack, etc.  And my sense has always been that it is those drugs, which destroy communities and increase the overall crime rate, that attract the attention of law enforcement.

So, based on my wild hypothesizing, I’m not going to assume that law enforcement in the Bay Area is racist until I have more information, not just about arrest numbers, but about the types of drugs that drive those arrests.

Previous posts:  Are San Francisco Cops racist?

Be Sociable, Share!
  • theblacksentinel

    Drugs are drugs, it does not matter what they type, if they are illegal they should be looked at the same. Now with that said, I think that marijuana is the drug of choice in the black community of course there is the crack. Yet meth and heroine are big in the white community as of late also cocaine.

    They have also done this study to show that blacks with crack get sentenced and to longer terms than their white counterparts who were doing cocaine. Now both drugs are cocaine crack using smaller portions of cocaine in order to make it cheaper and bigger quantities. So what is the difference, they both get the person high, are addictive and lead to crime.

    I think that the difference is definitely race related and this is the hypocrisy that needs to be stopped. Not only the Bay area but most areas and the justice system in general is racist. As studies show that a states lynching rate directly matches there death penalty rate. There are many more studies to show that race plays a large role in how the law is applied and to whom.

  • http://bookwormroom.wordpress.com/ Bookworm

    Black Sentinel, I agree with you that illegal drugs are illegal drugs and should be treated the same. If we think pot should be less illegal, we should change the laws, not the policing. But the fact is that police are clearly more laid back about pot, which is ubiquitous.

    And if you’re correct about the similarity of drug use between black and white, but the difference in policing, than there is definitely an issue that needs to be addressed.

    I just didn’t like the article which attempted to draw conclusions from raw numbers, with no further data.

  • expat

    Is it true that crack is more addictive than coke? I recall hearing a few years ago that that was the problem, along with its affordabiltiy in relation to coke. This made it a greater immediate danger to kids. In the real world, changing the law is slow and police have to act in the present. I agree with BW: the numbers don’t give enough information. Ultimately, the discussion should be about preventing harm to the community and the best way to handle or treat drug users.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com/ ymarsakar

    Don’t worry Book. The San Fran Left will have all of the blacks under lock stock and barrel once they eliminate all military presence in SA. Then blacks will have nothing to look forward to except Leftist promises of advancement and getting back at the “white man”.

    This will ensure a cycle of economic destitution, which is favored by many parties and factions.

  • freetime

    It would seem that, to make sense of these numbers, you would need to know what percentage of the total and of each of the black and white populations are users of the types of drugs that lead to incarceration. That is, it is conceivable that the black population is a heavier proportion of the user group and may well lead to a higher percentage of those caught and incarcerated.

    Alternatively, the study could indicate the percentage incarcerated vs. the percentage appearing in court for the offense(s) for each group which would show more conclusively whether it is a systemic bias.

    I suspect that there are other, more statistically meaningful ways of setting the study up as well.

    Whatever, the numbers given are not good proxies for the accusations leveled. As with most of these private group commissioned studies, the purpose isn’t to illuminate but to proselytize.

  • http://ruminationsroom.wordpress.com/ Don Quixote

    Most arrests aren’t really for use (though that may be the ultimate negotiated plea bargain, so you can’t tell by looking at the ultimate sentence) but for dealing. The police typically don’t care nearly as much about users as they do about dealers. Are there any stats on the percentage of dealers who are black?

    Also, has anyone studied the effect of the place of useage? I’d bet that whites use more commonly in the privacy of their own homes where they are very unlikely to be arrested and that the population in crack houses, which are easy targets for police raids, contains a much larger precentage of blacks.

  • eliXelx

    What’s this whole article mean? SF Cops are Racist? Isn’t this Pelosi/Feinstein/Harman/Boxer land?
    If a black and a white are both puffing on joints the cop arrests the black? Do blacks prefer to do their drugs in public? What is the % of black women arrested? Comparable? Do the same blacks get busted more often than the same whites?
    Naah! Let’s just blame the pigs and their racist behaviour! That should solve the problem!

  • Denis Eugene Sullivan

    Greetings:

    Interesting bit of agit-prop, but as an antidote let’s try this bit of social science.

    A couple of years ago, on one of my internet safaris, I came across the crime statistics published on the US Department of Justice website. Looking at the murder numbers, I saw that a white person had three to four times the chance of being done in by a black person than a black person had of being done in by a white person. These were straight murder to murder numbers, not in any way adjusted for the differences in size of populations. To date, I have seen this interesting, in my opinion, information in the mainstream media exactly once, in a Michael Barone column in the US News & World Report.

    But, hey, getting black druggies out of jail is much more important.