Tag Archives: police violence

The War on Drugs Is a War on Women of Color

Andrea Ritchie | Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color | Beacon Press | August 2017 | 18 minutes (4,744 words) 

Below is an excerpt from Invisible No More, by Andrea Ritchie. This story is recommended by Longreads contributing editor Dana Snitzky

* * *

The war on drugs has become a largely unannounced war on women, particularly women of color.

Drug laws and their enforcement in the United States have always been a deeply racialized project. In 1875, San Francisco passed the country’s first drug law criminalizing “opium dens” associated with Chinese immigrants, though opium was otherwise widely available and was used by white Americans in a variety of forms. Cocaine regulation at the turn of the twentieth century was colored by racial insecurities manifesting in myths that cocaine made Black people shoot better, rendered them impervious to bullets, and increased the likelihood that Black men would attack white women. Increasing criminalization of marijuana use during the early twentieth century was similarly premised on racialized stereotypes targeting Mexican immigrants, fears of racial mixing, and suppression of political dissent.

The “war on drugs,” officially declared by President Richard Nixon in 1971, has come to refer to police practices that involve stopping and searching people who fit the “profile” of drug users or couriers on the nation’s highways, buses, trains, and planes; saturation of particular neighborhoods (almost entirely low-income communities of color) with law enforcement officers charged with finding drugs in any quantity through widespread “stop and frisk” activities; no-knock warrants, surveillance, undercover operations, and highly militarized drug raids conducted by SWAT teams. It also includes harsh mandatory minimum sentences for drug convictions, which contribute to mass incarceration, and a range of punitive measures aimed at individuals with drug convictions.

Feminist criminologists assert, “The war on drugs has become a largely unannounced war on women, particularly women of color.” According to the Drug Policy Alliance, “Drug use and drug selling occur at similar rates across racial and ethnic groups, yet black and Latina women are far more likely to be criminalized for drug law violations than white women.” Black, Latinx, and Indigenous women make up a grossly disproportionate share of women incarcerated for drug offenses, even though whites are nearly five times as likely as Blacks to use marijuana and three times as likely as Blacks to have used crack. According to sociologist Luana Ross, although Native Americans make up 6 percent of the total population of Montana, they are approximately 25 percent of the female prison population. These disparities are partially explained by incarceration for drug offenses. These statistics are not just products of targeting Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities; they are consequences of focusing on women of color in particular. From 2010 to 2014, women’s drug arrests increased by 9 percent while men’s decreased by 7.5 percent. These disparities were even starker at the height of the drug war. Between 1986 and 1995, arrests of adult women for drug abuse violations increased by 91.1 percent compared to 53.8 percent for men.

However, there continues to be very little information about the everyday police encounters that lead to drug arrests and produce racial disparities in women’s prisons. For instance, less well known in Sandra Bland’s case is the fact that before her fateful July 2015 traffic stop, she was twice arrested and charged for possession of small amounts of marijuana. After her first arrest a $500 fine was imposed. After the second, she served thirty days in Harris County jail, a facility criticized by the Department of Justice (DOJ) for its unconstitutional conditions of confinement. Read more…

In the 1970s, It Was The Police That Made Made Detroit’s Streets Deadly

A man named Carl Ingram told the council that police officers had forced his fiancée to strip during an illegal search on December 7. “There ain’t no man hiding in her clothes!” he said. “If I had had a gun, I sure enough would have used it.” John Reynolds, the chair of a city task force dedicated to improving police-community relations, testified that his son had been stopped and beaten by police on New Year’s Eve. Kenneth Cockrel called on Mayor Gribbs to remove Nichols from his post and shut down STRESS.

But as with more recent debates over initiatives like stop and frisk, police brass countered with reams of crime statistics. The purpose of STRESS was to reduce robberies, they insisted, and the unit had been a resounding success. During their first year on the job, STRESS officers made 2,496 arrests and seized 600 guns. Robberies were down for the first time in a decade—by nearly 30 percent in two years.

Officers, meanwhile, discovered that killing unarmed civilians was a badge of honor within the department. “I was still lauded for what I was doing, even after the community started to get heavy on STRESS,” Peterson recalled. “They were happy with me. Whenever I shot someone, I would have to go to headquarters to fill out a report and the guys would cheer me when I walked in. The brass… went out of its way to encourage me. I was a proud boy, you know? I was the fair-haired boy—as long as everything worked their way. Who doesn’t like to be the fair-haired boy? Who doesn’t like applause?”

In The New RepublicMark Binelli describes the years when Detroit’s black community had to not only deal with street crime, but also the police’s special street crime unit, which terrorized the innocent, murdered the unarmed, and undermined the very meaning of law and order.

Read the story

The Case for More Female Cops

Sarah Smarsh | Longreads | July 2016 | 20 minutes (4,886 words)

 

Betty was in the bathroom dyeing her platinum hair black while the kids played with her teenage sister down the hall. Betty had recently left Bob. He’d beaten her, which was officially a crime, but there wasn’t any use in calling the cops. A hometown boy and typesetter for the Limon Leader, Bob knew everybody in their small Colorado burg on the plains, from the police station to the butcher. Betty, my future grandma, was a 23-year-old outsider from Wichita—a social challenge likely not helped by her unapologetic wearing of miniskirts in 1968.

Two years prior, Betty had blown into Limon, 90 miles west of the Kansas border, with her four-year-old daughter, Jeannie, and a pair of go-go boots. Her mom, Dorothy, and little sisters, Polly and Pud (as in “puddin’”) were along, too. Betty and Dorothy both had just washed their hands of Kansas men. Back in Wichita, Dorothy’s third husband, Joe, had strangled her. Betty’s jealous first husband, my biological grandfather, routinely beat her up and, Betty suspected, had paid someone to throw gasoline on her male friend’s face and set it on fire. So Betty and Dorothy piled the kids in a jalopy and headed west, destination unknown, to start over.

“Why Limon?” I asked her once.

“It was where our car broke down,” Betty said with a shrug.

Betty and her daughter Jeannie at City Park in Denver in the mid-1960s, when she worked as a highway-diner waitress in Limon, Colorado. (Courtesy of Sarah Smarsh)

Betty and her daughter Jeannie at City Park in Denver in the mid-1960s, when she worked as a highway-diner waitress in Limon, Colorado. (Courtesy of Sarah Smarsh)

Betty and Dorothy took jobs working in diners along the highway that cut through town. Betty waited tables, her mom cooked specials. Before too long, Betty hooked up with a customer named Bob. Then she got pregnant. She drove past the chapel the first time and left him at the aisle, but on the second try they got married. She gave birth to a son, Bo. Then Bob hit her and snapped his belt at Jeannie one too many times. After just a couple years of marriage, she moved out and filed for divorce.

Now Betty had a 6-year-old daughter with a dangerous Kansas man, a 2-year-old son with a dangerous Colorado man, and a divorce decree pending at the courthouse. Custody of their child, Bob had assured her, would go to him. He’d make sure the judge knew what kind of woman she was.

She had the dye worked into her hair when the phone rang. A voice warned that Bob was on his way over, and he was mad. There wasn’t time for Betty to rinse her hair. She wrapped a towel around her head. Dark dye dripped down her neck as she and Pud put the kids in the car. They rolled through town until the road turned into a highway.

Then, sirens and flashing red lights. Read more…