August 20, 2014 – The dramatic uprising in Ferguson, MO following the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, at the hands of a white police officer has become an international news story. As in the case of Trayvon Martin’s murder in Florida by a paranoid neighborhood watch volunteer in 2012, racism has been at the forefront of the discussion and so too inevitably has been the drug war.
The images of a militarized police force in Ferguson are shocking and disturbing but, as John Oliver brilliantly points out on his comedy/news show, many police forces around the country have gotten beefed up into veritable local armies with expensive battle equipment supplied in the name of the drug war. The show includes an excerpt with The Washington Post’s Radley Balko, who has long documented police excess under drug war militarization.
Aggressively punitive and extreme drug policies are steeped in racism. Inherent in the response to drug law enforcement is a biased approach and stark double standards in the perceived threat of drug use by marginalized people. Unfair targeting and racial profiling have had a profound impact on how young black men in the U.S. are viewed and their lives valued.
From clothing to intoxicants, what is normal and innocuous in another context becomes sinister when associated with black people. Marijuana use has become increasingly normalized, so much so that the majority of Americans think the plant should be made legal and Washington and Colorado have become the first states to put this into practice.