The Color of Injustice: The Consequences of America's Drug War

In Colorado, Washington, and Oregon, voters this November will have the opportunity to pass laws that decriminalize marijuana. This would be a good change—but much, much more will need to be done to end the hideous consequences of the war on drugs.

It is largely agreed that America’s war on drugs has failed. Like any prohibitionist measure, criminalizing drugs has only pushed the trade underground and swelled the nation’s prison system to a size larger than any other country on earth. Currently, there are approximately half a million people in prison for drug offenses.

Four out of five drug arrests are for simple possession, 80 per cent for marijuana and most people in state prison for drug offenses have no history of violence. Many of these non-violent drug offenders, thanks to the popular “three strikes laws,” face mandatory minimum sentences of 25 years to life in prison—with no chance of parole until they have served every day of those 25 years. With costs varying between $25,000 and $75,000 a year per inmate, mass imprisonment has eliminated funds for drug treatment and counseling services both in and out of prison, despite evidence that these programs are widely effective.

Why do we imprison drug-users and drug-addicts? Is drug use and abuse so morally abhorrent? More egregious than war profiteering, or Ponzi schemes and insider trading? Why is drug abuse not a public health concern instead of a criminal matter? Perhaps the answer to these questions lies between the lines of some sobering statistics.

Although whites are just as likely as African Americans to use illegal drugs, one out of every 14 black men are in prison on drug-related charges compared to one in 106 white men. Black people in the US serve almost as much time in federal prison for a drug offense (58.7 months) as whites serve for violent crime (61.7 months). African-Americans comprise 14% of regular drug users yet are 37% of those arrested and 56% of those subsequently imprisoned. There are now more African-Americans under the watch of correctional control today than there were enslaved in 1850—ten years prior to the Civil War.

Richard Nixon initiated the war on drugs in 1972 as a reaction to the alarming number of addicted Vietnam veterans. He declared that the country was in the “throes of a national emergency." Behind the scenes however, he showed his true colors to his Chief of Staff H.R Haldeman when he stated, “The whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.” And that’s exactly what eventually happened.

By the time Reagan came along, drug crimes in the US were actually declining--but then crack cocaine appeared. Thus began a huge campaign publicizing inner-city crack babies, "crack whores," crack mothers, and all sorts of crack-related crime, violence and mayhem. Soon every television network was picking up and sensationalizing the crack epidemic and soon after that billions of dollars toward the drug war and concurring "tough-on-crime" sentencing laws were enacted by Congress. For example, in 1986, Reagan approved the crack versus powder cocaine sentencing disparities that led to dramatically longer prison sentences for Blacks who were summarily incarcerated at rates 6 times that of whites. Though that law was finally changed in 2010, it was not made retroactive, thus doing nothing to correct the current mass incarceration of Black people.

People of all colors use and sell drugs at remarkably similar rates. White youth, for example, are significantly more likely to engage in illegal drug dealing than black youth; yet, despite this fact, communities of color are being regularly strafed by militarily trained SWAT teams, decked out with assault rifles, bazookas, grenade launchers, helicopters and tanks, sweeping often entire neighborhoods with no-knock search warrants and terrorizing homes at all hours in an “attack first, ask questions later” approach. This mass arrest and subsequent incarceration of African-American men is destroying families. A Black child born today is less likely to be raised by both parents than a Black child born during slavery.

“Felon” is a distinction that most felons carry for the rest of their lives. The majority of states do not allow felons to serve on a jury, access public housing, receive social security benefits, or food stamps. Employers and private landlords may deny felons access at will. Most states do not allow those with felonies on their records to vote. In states that do allow it, felons must navigate an extremely complicated tangle of bureaucracy in order to recover their voting rights. And even where felons may regain voting rights, there is no effort to inform felons or to assist them in the process.


See the report, "State-Level Estimates of Felon Disenfranchisement in the United States (2010)" by the Sentencing Project.

The level of disenfranchisement is astounding--in 2004, more Black people were disenfranchised due to felonies than were disenfranchised in 1870, the year that the 15th amendment was ratified. Regardless of your opinion on the efficacy of voting, denying that right to so many black Americans is systematic, racist disenfranchisement and it’s criminal.

This country is in the throes of a national emergency. Under the guise of a moral imperative to curb drugs and addiction, the US has created a new enslavement--a new Jim Crow era. By not treating addiction as a public health crisis, America has created a new racial under-caste and is warehousing people at alarming rates.

The intergenerational racism and trauma of prison-induced abandonment and isolation keep the cycle continuing as systematically as small-pox infected blankets in Indian communities. Every year 650,000 people are released from prison and are practically driven back to illegal activity due to the elimination of any resources, employment options, or shelter.

In my work daily I see all levels of this continuum: the 21 year old raised in a meth house, whose mom and or dad are dead or in prison. I see aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, incarcerated or on parole, and families who have lost custody of their children. I see angry children in foster care who grow up to be angry adults. This injustice is endemic, it is racist and it is devastating communities of color daily. The "War on Drugs" has failed, but people are still dying--and with them the soul of a nation.

Iven Hale works with high-risk felons on parole or probation in Portland, Oregon.

On two separate occasions in

On two separate occasions in September of 2014 Iven Hale agreed to respect the following physical and sexual boundaries of their then girlfriend.
1) To stop play punching her
2) To generally be more gentle with her body ( to stop digging Iven's fingers into her ribs when she tried to hug Iven and grabbing her intensely & unexpectedly)
3) To not be sexual with her out of context or without warning
4) To not grope her physically or sexually without warning or context
5) For Iven to respect her physical and sexual autonomy

Iven respected these boundaries for about 2 months. On the last weekend in November Iven crossed all of these physical and sexual boundaries when Iven used their hands to push their then girlfriend’s head into Iven’s crotch as if she were giving Iven oral sex. Iven made a moaning sound, and said “Oh Yeah.” Iven did this without warning, context or consent. Iven did this after consent had specifically been removed.

They did briefly talk about it and Iven stated “I have no idea why I just did that.” The following weekend Iven, once over the phone and once in person, told Iven’s now ex-girlfriend that Iven had been experiencing intense sexual arousal at work that felt inappropriate and it was starting to “scare” & “terrify” Iven. The following Wednesday December 10th Iven sent Iven’s now ex-girlfriend, a hyper sexual video via a private FB message on facebook. Iven did not include any text in this message to provide context for the video. Iven previously agreed to include context when sending her messages, articles etc… Iven did not follow through on that agreement.

Once the survivor had some clarity on what it was like for her to have Iven, again, cross her physical and sexual boundaries and use force to do it she attempted to talk to Iven about it on Friday December 19th. Iven yelled at her that “It was just a joke, that she has “too many boundaries” that her “boundaries are too much” and that Iven was “done, fucking done”
On Monday December 22nd they spoke in person. The survivor told Iven “Iven, you took my consent away from me” Iven told her “You’re such a drama queen.” She told Iven “Don’t call me names” Iven responded “well you are a fucking drama queen.” Iven told her that because” it happened 3 weeks earlier it was your issue to deal with, not mine.” Iven told her that Iven was “starting to feel like they couldn’t do anything with her body.” The survivor explained that like the boundaries in September she just needs “context, and warning, and for Iven not to act entitled to doing whatever and whenever.
In other follow up conversations Iven stated that the survivors “boundaries are just her trying to control the way they interact.” That she has “too many boundaries” and “there will always be something you have to have a boundary around.” In all of these conversations Iven has told the survivor things like “you just need to trust me more” and “you’re acting like I’m some violator or assaulter.” In response the survivor would tell Iven “No I don’t think you’re bad I just want you to listen to me, listen to what it was like for me.’ Iven has never given her this space to be heard about what it was like to have Iven again cross her physical and sexual boundaries without interrupting her to talk about Iven’s feelings, without arguing with her about her feelings, and without saying some sort of victim blaming and gas lighting statement like “these are your trust issues you just need to trust me more.” And “there needs to be room for people to fuck up in relationships.” Which yes! Is true, and there also needs to be room to be heard about how those fuck ups feel.
The survivor has been diagnosed with PTSD and has been experiencing severe symptoms since December. The only accountability the survivor ever wanted was for Iven to listen and hear what it was like for her to have her partner keep crossing her physical and sexual boundaries and to sincerely and empathetically apologize. Iven has refused to do this. The survivor no longer wants this or any other form of accountability from Iven. The survivor would, however, like for all potential sexual and romantic partners of Iven’s to know that Iven has the potential to cause this type of harm. The survivor never would have dated or had sex with Iven had she known that Iven was unable to respect physical and sexual boundaries, operated with poor impulse control and with such a refusal to acknowledge the impact of Iven’s actions and behavior. The survivor really did expect more from Iven because of Iven’s lived experience and Iven’s Masters of Social Work credentials. The survivor would like for future partners to be able to fully understand and consent to Iven’s physical and sexual impulses before Iven acts upon them.

Iven’s claim that it was “just a joke” is disturbing. Iven may have intended it to be a joke however Iven did not intend to respect their girlfriend’s physical or sexual boundaries that Iven previously agreed to. Iven did not intend to respect her physical and sexual autonomy. Iven did not intend to provide her with sexual pleasure when Iven “joked” with her in this way. We find the lack of these intentions disturbing.
Because the survivor was not given the opportunity to understand Iven’s behavior and impulses before and consent to these before Iven acted upon them we sincerely hope that Iven finds a lover who will consent to letting Iven do whatever Iven feels like. Otherwise Iven poses a danger to anyone who has sexual boundaries, preferences and comfort levels that differ from Iven’s.
During the last date Iven and the survivor had on Sunday December 28th they revisited another existing issue in their relationship. The survivor asked Iven, twice in October, to try to come to some sort of empathetic understanding about what it was like while Iven was romantically involved with her and cultivating a flirtatious friendship with another woman who thought that Iven and her were trying to figure out if they were going to be lovers or not. Iven did not tell either of these women about the nature of Iven’s relationship with the other. The survivor has attempted over and over to make it clear to Iven that she understands and believes that Iven did not want anything more than a platonic friendship with the other woman. And that she still wanted some empathetic understanding about what it was like when Iven would say “I have plans with a friend” or “I was with my friend the other night” and that it was always this woman. And empathy for what it was like to have Iven agree to be girlfriends and still never tell either of the women the truth about the other. And empathy for what it was like when during their commitment conversation that Iven said “Yes” (a lie) to being asked if Iven “was forthcoming with the other woman about Iven and the survivor dating.” Iven never followed through with the empathetic response that Iven agreed to do. So in the last in person date when the survivor asked Iven again for this empathy Iven became visibly angry, yelled, stood up, hit the survivor's headboard while she was on the bed and stormed off. The survivor followed Iven to try to bring some calm to the situation and told Iven “its okay. A few days later Iven told the survivor over the phone that Iven has no idea why they acted like that and that it wasn’t ok and that Iven couldn’t believe that the survivor told Iven it was ok. Iven never apologized for displaying that kind of violence and only told the survivor that it wasn’t ok that she responded by saying it was ok. It is disturbing that a request for empathy elicits violence and victim blaming from Iven.
Because a bid for empathy elicited violence and the type of accountability the survivor wanted was that of empathy she no longer believes that it would be safe to share these vulnerabilities with Iven. However, the survivor and her supporters will not remain silent.

Iven Hale

On two separate occasions in September of 2014 Iven Hale agreed to respect the following physical and sexual boundaries of their then girlfriend.
1) To stop play punching her
2) To generally be more gentle with her body ( to stop digging Iven's fingers into her ribs when she tried to hug Iven and grabbing her intensely & unexpectedly)
3) To not be sexual with her out of context or without warning
4) To not grope her physically or sexually without warning or context
5) For Iven to respect her physical and sexual autonomy

Iven respected these boundaries for about 2 months. On the last weekend in November Iven crossed all of these physical and sexual boundaries when Iven used their hands to push their then girlfriend’s head into Iven’s crotch as if she were giving Iven oral sex. Iven made a moaning sound, and said “Oh Yeah.” Iven did this without warning, context or consent. Iven did this after consent had specifically been removed.

They did briefly talk about it and Iven stated “I have no idea why I just did that.” The following weekend Iven, once over the phone and once in person, told Iven’s now ex-girlfriend that Iven had been experiencing intense sexual arousal at work that felt inappropriate and it was starting to “scare” & “terrify” Iven. The following Wednesday December 10th Iven sent Iven’s now ex-girlfriend, a hyper sexual video via a private FB message on facebook. Iven did not include any text in this message to provide context for the video. Iven previously agreed to include context when sending her messages, articles etc… Iven did not follow through on that agreement.

Once the survivor had some clarity on what it was like for her to have Iven, again, cross her physical and sexual boundaries and use force to do it she attempted to talk to Iven about it on Friday December 19th. Iven yelled at her that “It was just a joke, that she has “too many boundaries” that her “boundaries are too much” and that Iven was “done, fucking done”
On Monday December 22nd they spoke in person. The survivor told Iven “Iven, you took my consent away from me” Iven told her “You’re such a drama queen.” She told Iven “Don’t call me names” Iven responded “well you are a fucking drama queen.” Iven told her that because” it happened 3 weeks earlier it was your issue to deal with, not mine.” Iven told her that Iven was “starting to feel like they couldn’t do anything with her body.” The survivor explained that like the boundaries in September she just needs “context, and warning, and for Iven not to act entitled to doing whatever and whenever.
In other follow up conversations Iven stated that the survivors “boundaries are just her trying to control the way they interact.” That she has “too many boundaries” and “there will always be something you have to have a boundary around.” In all of these conversations Iven has told the survivor things like “you just need to trust me more” and “you’re acting like I’m some violator or assaulter.” In response the survivor would tell Iven “No I don’t think you’re bad I just want you to listen to me, listen to what it was like for me.’ Iven has never given her this space to be heard about what it was like to have Iven again cross her physical and sexual boundaries without interrupting her to talk about Iven’s feelings, without arguing with her about her feelings, and without saying some sort of victim blaming and gas lighting statement like “these are your trust issues you just need to trust me more.” And “there needs to be room for people to fuck up in relationships.” Which yes! Is true, and there also needs to be room to be heard about how those fuck ups feel.
The survivor has been diagnosed with PTSD and has been experiencing severe symptoms since December. The only accountability the survivor ever wanted was for Iven to listen and hear what it was like for her to have her partner keep crossing her physical and sexual boundaries and to sincerely and empathetically apologize. Iven has refused to do this. The survivor no longer wants this or any other form of accountability from Iven. The survivor would, however, like for all potential sexual and romantic partners of Iven’s to know that Iven has the potential to cause this type of harm. The survivor never would have dated or had sex with Iven had she known that Iven was unable to respect physical and sexual boundaries, operated with poor impulse control and with such a refusal to acknowledge the impact of Iven’s actions and behavior. The survivor really did expect more from Iven because of Iven’s lived experience and Iven’s Masters of Social Work credentials. The survivor would like for future partners to be able to fully understand and consent to Iven’s physical and sexual impulses before Iven acts upon them.

Iven’s claim that it was “just a joke” is disturbing. Iven may have intended it to be a joke however Iven did not intend to respect their girlfriend’s physical or sexual boundaries that Iven previously agreed to. Iven did not intend to respect her physical and sexual autonomy. Iven did not intend to provide her with sexual pleasure when Iven “joked” with her in this way. We find the lack of these intentions disturbing.
Because the survivor was not given the opportunity to understand Iven’s behavior and impulses before and consent to these before Iven acted upon them we sincerely hope that Iven finds a lover who will consent to letting Iven do whatever Iven feels like. Otherwise Iven poses a danger to anyone who has sexual boundaries, preferences and comfort levels that differ from Iven’s.
During the last date Iven and the survivor had on Sunday December 28th they revisited another existing issue in their relationship. The survivor asked Iven, twice in October, to try to come to some sort of empathetic understanding about what it was like while Iven was romantically involved with her and cultivating a flirtatious friendship with another woman who thought that Iven and her were trying to figure out if they were going to be lovers or not. Iven did not tell either of these women about the nature of Iven’s relationship with the other. The survivor has attempted over and over to make it clear to Iven that she understands and believes that Iven did not want anything more than a platonic friendship with the other woman. And that she still wanted some empathetic understanding about what it was like when Iven would say “I have plans with a friend” or “I was with my friend the other night” and that it was always this woman. And empathy for what it was like to have Iven agree to be girlfriends and still never tell either of the women the truth about the other. And empathy for what it was like when during their commitment conversation that Iven said “Yes” (a lie) to being asked if Iven “was forthcoming with the other woman about Iven and the survivor dating.” Iven never followed through with the empathetic response that Iven agreed to do. So in the last in person date when the survivor asked Iven again for this empathy Iven became visibly angry, yelled, stood up, hit the survivor's headboard while she was on the bed and stormed off. The survivor followed Iven to try to bring some calm to the situation and told Iven “its okay. A few days later Iven told the survivor over the phone that Iven has no idea why they acted like that and that it wasn’t ok and that Iven couldn’t believe that the survivor told Iven it was ok. Iven never apologized for displaying that kind of violence and only told the survivor that it wasn’t ok that she responded by saying it was ok. It is disturbing that a request for empathy elicits violence and victim blaming from Iven.
Because a bid for empathy elicited violence and the type of accountability the survivor wanted was that of empathy she no longer believes that it would be safe to share these vulnerabilities with Iven. However, the survivor and her supporters will not remain silent.

I know a lot of blacks where

I know a lot of blacks where I'm from I don't know anyone that had to serve jury duty.1 out of 5 black man is a convicted felon. where I'm from you are automatically found guilty. Your attorney persuade you to plead he don't want a trial but he want your money. No black judges,jury, or attorney. They are all with the Klan.They march threw the streets and the national guard protects them with their guns and tanks.

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