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Crack v. Opioids and Violence v. Racism

Summary:
Here’s is a PBS commentary by law professor Ekow Yankah: That Kroger, the Midwestern grocery chain, has decided to make the heroin overdose drug naloxone available without a prescription is a sign of how ominous the current epidemic has grown. Faced with a rising wave of addiction, misery, crime and death, our nation has linked arms to save souls. Senators and CEOs, Midwestern pharmacies and even tough-on-crime Republican presidential candidates now speak with moving compassion about the real people crippled by addiction. It wasn’t always this way. Thirty years ago, America was facing a similar wave of addiction, death and crime, and the response could not have been more different. Television brought us endless images of thin, black, ravaged bodies, always

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Here’s is a PBS commentary by law professor Ekow Yankah:

That Kroger, the Midwestern grocery chain, has decided to make the heroin overdose drug naloxone available without a prescription is a sign of how ominous the current epidemic has grown.
Faced with a rising wave of addiction, misery, crime and death, our nation has linked arms to save souls. Senators and CEOs, Midwestern pharmacies and even tough-on-crime Republican presidential candidates now speak with moving compassion about the real people crippled by addiction.

It wasn’t always this way. Thirty years ago, America was facing a similar wave of addiction, death and crime, and the response could not have been more different. Television brought us endless images of thin, black, ravaged bodies, always with desperate, dried lips. We learned the words crack baby.

Back then, when addiction was a black problem, there was no wave of national compassion. Instead, we were warned of super predators, young, faceless black men wearing bandannas and sagging jeans.

Yankah goes on:

Today, police chiefs facing heroin addiction are responding not by invoking war, but by trying to save lives and get people into rehab. Suddenly, crime is understood as a sign of underlying addiction, rather than a scourge to be eradicated.

One former narcotics officers said: “These are people. They have a purpose in life, and we can’t look at it any other way.”

But he couldn’t quite put his finger on just what had changed. His words reflect our collective self-denial. It is hard to describe how bittersweet many African-Americans feel witnessing this. Glad to be rid of a failed war on drugs? Yes, but also weary and embittered. When the faces of addiction had dark skin, the police didn’t see sons and daughters, sister and brothers. They saw brothas, young thugs to be locked up, not people with a purpose in life.

No one laments the violence the crack bomb set off more than African-Americans. But how we respond to the crimes accompanying addiction depends on how much we care about those affected. White heroin addicts get overdose treatment, rehabilitation and reincorporation. Black drug users got jail cells and just say no.

This view that differences in how the crack and opioid epidemics are treated is due to racism is popular. It is also wrong. Here’s an article in aptly named Vice:

Past epidemics were also often presaged or accompanied by a major rise in arrestees testing positive for the drug of the moment. But that hasn’t been true this go around either, according to Eric Wish, director of the Center for Substance Abuse Research at the University of Maryland, who has run the longest study monitoring this data in Washington, DC. In America’s peak crack years, as many as two thirds of people who got arrested in DC—regardless of the charge—tested positive for that drug. These days, only six percent are positive for opioids, Wish told me.

So nobody is complaining about a new wave of opioid superpredators because…  there is no wave of opioid superpredators.  How very racist.

Here’s a graph from a report prepared by the DoJ looking at drug related crime in Michigan High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) region:

(Click to embiggenize.)

Here’s some verbage to make that pie chart clear:

Crack cocaine is the drug that contributes to most crime in the HIDTA region. According to the NDTS 2010, 29 of the 51 state and local law enforcement respondents in the Michigan HIDTA region identify crack as the drug most associated with violent crime; 26 respondents report the same for property crime. (See Figures 4 and 5.) The distribution and abuse of cocaine, heroin, and other drugs are also associated with a large amount of the crime in the Michigan HIDTA region. Violent crime, much of which is drug-related, is a serious problem in the HIDTA region, especially in Detroit and Flint. Approximately 75 percent of property crime that occurs in the HIDTA region is drug-related.

In other words, crack users are responsible for a heck of a lot more violent crime than opioid users. To summarize everything in a form that even Professor Yankah might understand: ask a guy to help to help an inoffensive addict dying in squalor and he might kick in a few bucks. Ask him to help the addict who broke into his house and pistol-whipped his wife… that ain’t happening. Calling the guy a racist for being pissed off at the predator isn’t smart. But it is par for the course for someone missing either the ability or the intellectual curiosity to fire up a search engine before spouting off.

As an aside, I wrote about Professor Yankah’s inane opinions on race and violence in my last post. Since he is a prominent law school professor who seems to be afforded a big soapbox by prestigious elements of the press, I was wondering what other bad opinions he might hold. I went looking, and the result was this post.

Mike Kimel
An economist for a large corporation and author of Presimetrics blog and the book Presimetrics: How Democratic and Republican Administrations Measure Up on the Issues We Care About published August, 2010.

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