When I was still practicing law, I had several friends who were criminal defense lawyers. I still remember a conversation with one of them about the clients he represented in the so-called “drug war.”
Since research confirms that similar percentages of whites and blacks abuse drugs, I wanted to know why virtually all of the defendants I saw in drug court were black. He told me that earlier in his career, he had represented fairly equal numbers of whites and blacks, but that the young white men disproportionately came from well-connected families–people who “knew people” and could make things uncomfortable for the police and prosecutors. Over the years, forays into comfortable suburban enclaves had diminished, and law enforcement concentrated its efforts in the more “urban” areas from which his then-current clients were drawn.
So I was not at all surprised, to read this recent statement by Former U.S. Marshal and DEA Agent Matthew Fogg.
“We were jumping on guys in the middle of the night, all of that. Swooping down on folks all across the country, using these sorts of attack tactics that we went out on, that you would use in Vietnam, or some kind of war-torn zone. All of the stuff that we were doing, just calling it the war on drugs. And there wasn’t very many black guys in my position.
So when I would go into the war room, where we were setting up all of our drug and gun and addiction task force determining what cities we were going to hit, I would notice that most of the time it always appeared to be urban areas.
That’s when I asked the question, well, don’t they sell drugs out in Potomac and Springfield, and places like that? Maybe you all think they don’t, but statistics show they use more drugs out in those areas than anywhere. The special agent in charge, he says ‘You know, if we go out there and start messing with those folks, they know judges, they know lawyers, they know politicians. You start locking their kids up; somebody’s going to jerk our chain.’ He said, ‘they’re going to call us on it, and before you know it, they’re going to shut us down, and there goes your overtime.’”
When people talk about “systemic” racism, this is the sort of thing they mean. I seriously doubt that these officers were personally racist; they were just responding to the reality that going after more privileged folks is a more complicated proposition.
Of course, when the media covers the “drug war,” and the video shows mostly black faces, it confirms viewers’ impression that drugs are an “urban” problem. It reinforces the stereotypes.
And the band plays on….