A main reason for crumbling police-community relations is decades of enforcing what were ultimately racist drug laws designed in part to target minorities.
“The root is the war on drugs, I believe. Police knocking down doors, shooting first,” Johnson told reporters Friday in Washington, according to Politico. “If you are (black and) arrested in a drug-related crime, there is four times more likelihood of going to prison than if you are white. And shooting is part of the same phenomenon.”
Blacks are arrested for pot in America at several times the rate of whites, despite similar levels of use, the ACLU reports. Drug crime is the most common arrest in America and pot crime is the most common type of drug arrest. About 700,000 Americans will be arrested this year for pot. Four states and Washington DC have legalized cannabis, as well as Washington DC. The Black police chief there, Cathy Lanier, said in 2015 that “all those [pot] arrests do is make people hate us.”
“Marijuana smokers are not going to attack and kill a cop,” Lanier reportedly said. “They just want to get a bag of chips and relax. Alcohol is a much bigger problem.”
“We’re asking cops to do too much in this country,” said Dallas Police Chief David Brown Monday. “Every societal failure, we put it off on the cops to solve,” Brown said, including mental health, drug addiction.
Pot laws have helped drive America’s incarceration epidemic to historic levels, where one in ten black men in their 30s are in prison.
“Seventy percent of the African American community is being raised by single women, let’s give it to the cops to solve that as well” said Chief Brown. “Policing was never meant to solve all those problems.”
“I just ask for other parts of our democracy along with the free press to help us,” Brown said. “To help us and not put that burden all on law enforcement.”
The Libertarian Party supports cannabis legalization and ending lengthy prison sentences for non-violent drug possession and use. For example, you can get up to 30 years prison for your first pot distribution offense in Louisiana.
“The focus on drugs needs to be as a health issue, not a criminal justice issue. It can be illegal but does it need to be criminal? Do you need to go to jail for drugs?” Johnson said. “I do believe that the root of the militarization, knocking on doors, is a drug war phenomenon.”
President Richard Nixon launched the war on drugs to target blacks and the anti-war-left, Harper’s reported in April. Nixon aide John Ehrlichman reportedly told journalist Dan Baum:
““You want to know what this was really all about? … We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”