Will blacks also get treatment, not jail, for opioid addiction?

Earl Ofari Hutchinson | 12/28/2017, 6 a.m.

There was mild surprise when the news hit that the opioid death rate among blacks is fast approaching that of whites. Surprise because the opioid epidemic has been almost universally framed as a crisis that has slammed mostly whites in rural and suburban areas. The operative words from moment one has been “epidemic” and “crisis” when describing soaring opioid use, addiction, and deaths among whites. This phrasing drove home the notion that opioid dealing and use is not really a crime, but a health issue.

The racial coding was glaring and unmistakable when posed squarely against how drug use has been treated among blacks. There was no presidential conference at the White House called to deal with it. There was no frantic and loud call by GOP congresspersons to spend billions on counseling, treatment, education and prevention programs. There was no avalanche of heartrending, sympathetic editorials, op-eds, news reports and feature stories on the personal tragedy and devastation from opioid addiction and deaths. And there were certainly no calls by police and prosecutors to scrap arrests, jail and tough prosecution for opioid users and dealers.

It was a totally different story with crack cocaine and other drug use by blacks.

That ignited a frenzy bordering on mania to wage a ruthless, relentless and naked drug war on minorities, especially African-Americans. The racial war that was and still is blatantly evident in the drug war has even dipped down into who is arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced, say, for marijuana use and sale. In every state, blacks are still far more likely to be arrested than whites.

The gaping disparities in arrest numbers for blacks and whites came at a time when public attitudes had radically softened on both personal and medicinal marijuana use. Many states and local governments have decriminalized marijuana possession. Three states have legalized its use, and other states are poised to vote on legalization. Even worse, the huge race-tinged arrest numbers come at a time when the incidences of nearly every other type of crime has plummeted.

The racial targeting is so odious and evident that former President Barack Obama and former Attorney General Eric Holder spoke out repeatedly against the disparities in drug arrests and prosecutions. They tried to tweak things where they could to take the hard foot off the pedal on drug arrests and prosecutions by the Feds. After Trump took office, their efforts quickly were tossed out the window by Holder’s replacement, Jeff Sessions, who with much fanfare made it clear that the war on drugs was back in full force and there would be no pity given in that war.

The truth that Trump and Sessions would never admit is that heavy drug use by whites has never stirred any public outcry for mass arrests, prosecutions and tough prison sentences for them, many of whom deal drugs that are directly linked to serious crime and violence. Whites unlucky enough to get popped for drug possession are treated with compassion, prayer sessions, expensive psychiatric counseling, treatment and rehab programs and drug diversion programs. And they should be. Yet so should those blacks and other non-whites victimized by discriminatory drug laws.