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date: 15 February 2019

Abstract and Keywords

Blacks are arrested on drug charges at more than three times the rate of whites and are sent to prison for drug convictions at ten times the white rate. These disparities cannot be explained by racial patterns of drug crime. They reflect law enforcement decisions to concentrate resources in low income minority neighborhoods. They also reflect deep-rooted racialized concerns, beliefs, and attitudes that shape the nation’s understanding of the “drug problem” and skew the policies chosen to respond to it. Even absent conscious racism in anti-drug policies and practices, “race matters.” The persistence of a war on drugs that disproportionately burdens black Americans testifies to the persistence of structural racism; drug policies are inextricably connected to white efforts to maintain their dominant position in the country’s social hierarchy. Without proof of racist intent, however, US courts can do little. International human rights law, in contrast, call for the elimination of all racial discrimination, even if unaccompanied by racist intent.

Keywords: race, drugs, discrimination, arrests, incarceration, structural racism

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