Thursday, July 06, 2006

Drug Prohibition is the new Jim Crow

If you want to contemplate what this means, consider the state of Florida in the 2000 presidential election, where 200,000 black Floridians were barred from voting because of prior felonies in an election in which the presidency was determined by 537 disputed votes. If even one-third of these people had actually voted--say, 70,000--and if they voted in the usual proportions that blacks vote for the Democratic candidate--say, 80 percent, probably a low estimate--those 70,000 voters would have produced a 42,000 net gain for Al Gore.

This is a dramatic example, but hardly unique. A 2002 study in the American Sociological Review concluded that John Tower would never have been elected to the US Senate from Texas in 1978 but for racially disproportionate felony disenfranchisement; that John Warner for the same reason wouldn't have been elected in 1978 from Virginia; and that despite the apparent rise in conservative Republican voting, the Senate would have remained under Democratic control every year between 1984 and 2003 if former felons had been allowed to vote. Indeed, if the same degree of racially disparate felony disenfranchisement that exists now had existed in 1960, Richard Nixon might well have defeated John F. Kennedy.

The kicker for all this is that all these black citizens who were disproportionately targeted for arrest and incarceration and then barred from voting are nonetheless counted as citizens for the purpose of determining how many Congressional seats and how many electoral votes states have. During slavery, three-fifths of the number of slaves were similarly counted by the slave states, even though slaves were not in any way members of the civil polity. This is worse. In the states of the Deep South, 30 percent of all black men are barred from voting because of felony convictions, but all of them are counted to determine Congressional representation and Electoral College votes. If one wants to wonder why the South is so solidly white, Republican and arch-conservative, one need look no further.

The fact is, just as Jim Crow laws were a successor system to slavery, so drug prohibition has been a successor to Jim Crow laws in targeting blacks, removing them from civil society and then denying them the right to vote while using their bodies to enhance white political power. Drug prohibition is now the last significant instance of legalized racial discrimination in America.



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