It is hard to describe the bittersweet sting that many African-Americans feel witnessing this national embrace of addicts. It is heartening to see the eclipse of the generations-long failed war on drugs. But black Americans are also knowingly weary and embittered by the absence of such enlightened thinking when those in our own families were similarly wounded. When the face of addiction had dark skin, this nation’s police did not see sons and daughters, sister and brothers. They saw “brothas,” young thugs to be locked up, rather than “people with a purpose in life.”
To be clear, no one laments the violence that the “crack bomb” set off in inner cities more than African-Americans. But while shootings, beatings and robberies cannot be tolerated anywhere, the heroin epidemic shows that how we respond to the crimes accompanying addiction depends on how much we care about the victims of crime and those in the grip of addiction. White heroin addicts get overdose treatment, rehabilitation and reincorporation, a system that will be there for them again and again and again. Black drug users got jail cells and “Just Say No.”
It would be cruel and perverse to seek equal abandonment of those now struggling with addiction as payback for the failures of the ’80s. Nor do I write in mere hopes of inducing cheap racial guilt. The hope, however vain, is that we learn from our meanest moments.
Even today, as black communities face pressing problems of addiction and chronic unemployment and the discrimination in hiring that helps to perpetuate it, many are dedicated to ignoring racial prejudice. Faced with searing examples of unconscionable police violence against unarmed black men, of concocted justifications laid bare by video, too many still speak of isolated cases and overblown racial hysteria. With condescending finger-wagging, others recite the deplorable statistics of violence within poor minority neighborhoods as though racist policing were an antidote or excuse. Both responses ignore that each spectacular moment of unjustified police violence represents countless instances of institutionalized racial control across generations.
No sane community faced with addiction and crime would invite or acquiesce to brutal policing as their fate, and no moral community would impose it as a primary response. We do not have to wait until a problem has a white face to answer with humanity.
A thousand times this. The 90's got us three strikes laws, warnings about black "super-predators" and mass incarceration because SOMETHING HAD TO BE DONE ABOUT THE BLACKS.
25 years later, it's Indianapolis and Des Moines and Omaha with the heroin epidemic. And suddenly, America is all about second chances and criminal justice reform.
Funny how that worked out, huh.