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Eric Holder says the obvious - the drug war is a war on minorities

Eric Ofari Hutchinson | 8/21/2013, 10:45 a.m.

The scuttlebutt is that Attorney General Eric Holder is poised to say what has long been obvious to anyone who has the faintest notion about how the wildly failed, flawed war on drugs has been waged for three decades.

The obvious is that the war on drugs has been a ruthless, relentless and naked war on minorities, especially African Americans. In the coming weeks, Holder may explain exactly how he’ll wind that war down. It shouldn’t surprise if he does.

President Obama and Holder have been hinting for a while that it’s time to rethink how the war is being fought and who its prime casualties have been. Their successful push a few years back to get Congress to finally wipe out a good deal of the blatantly racially skewed harsh drug sentencing for crack versus powder cocaine possession was the first hint.

Another is the mixed signals that both have sent about federal marijuana prosecutions — sometimes tough, sometimes lax.

But if, and more likely when, Holder acts on much-needed and long-overdue drug law reforms, he’ll do it standing on solid ground. Past surveys by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the sex and drug habits of Americans and a legion of other similar surveys have tossed the ugly glare on the naked race-tainted war on drugs. They found that whites and blacks use drugs in about the same rate.

Yet more than 70 percent of those prosecuted in federal courts for drug possession and sale (mostly small amounts of crack cocaine) and given stiff mandatory sentences are blacks. Federal prosecutors and lawmakers in the past and some at present still justify the disparity with the retort that crack cocaine is dangerous and threatening, and leads to waves of gang shoot-outs, turf battles and thousands of terrorized residents in poor black communities. In some instances, that’s true, and police and prosecutors are right to hit back hard at the violence.

The majority, however, of those who deal and use crack cocaine aren’t violence-prone gang members, but poor, and increasingly female, young blacks. They clearly need treatment, not long prison stretches.

It’s also a myth that powder cocaine is benign and has no criminal and violent taint to it. In a comprehensive survey in 2002, the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the White House’s low-profile task force to combat drug use, attributed shoplifting, burglary, theft, larceny, money laundering and even the transport of undocumented workers in some cities to powdered cocaine use.

It also found that powder cocaine users were more likely to commit domestic violence crimes. The report also fingered powder cocaine users as prime dealers of other drugs that included heroin, meth and crack cocaine.

The big difference is that the top-heavy drug use by young whites — and the crime and violence that go with it — has never stirred any public outcry for mass arrests, prosecutions and tough prison sentences for white drug dealers, many of whom deal drugs that are directly linked to serious crime and violence.