Knowledge Is Powerless Without Action
Adam B. Clausen
Professor Tony Gaskew, Ph.D.
September 27, 2012
Abstract: This paper uses the author's personal experience to examine the differences between the theoretical and actual effects of the War On Drugs. History and statistics are merely words and numbers if they cannot be personalized. This author has seen the effects of various drugs within diverse communities and attempts to account for what appears to be a disparity in drug law enforcement and sentencing. Furthermore, this author believes that the problem requires definitive action once a potential solution is defined or else all the knowledge that has been acquired becomes powerless.
No matter what a person's involvement is within the American criminal justice system, today they have a moral responsibility to try and improve its effectiveness. The system was intended to protect society from all those persons who had proven that they were unable to abide by the law. Their temporary removal from society was itself seen as sufficient punishment. As the severity of punishment has increased over time, primarily with the inclusion of stiff mandatory minimum sentencing schemes, so too has the number of recidivists returning to prison each year. The obvious difficulty in rejoining society after having been long and far removed from it is an issue that clearly needs to be addressed with greater consideration and resources. If the actual punishment was intended to be only that initial time served in prison, then why is it that so many men and women end up serving so much more additional time inside?
"The Federal Bureau Of Prisons 2020 long-range capacity plan projects continued growth in federal prison population from fiscal years 2013 through 2020 with system wide overcrowding exceeding 45 percent through 2018: (Federal Legal Center quoting the Government Accounting Office's study on prison population on September 14, 2012). The United States leads the world in the rate at which we incarcerate our popultion. Most of those men and women are casualties of the War On Drugs, which continues to rage to this very day. The Federal Bureau Of Prisons has clearly stated their plans for continued expansion despite the contradictory claims of commitment to rehabilitative programs that effectively reduce the rate of recidivism. Plans to expand prisons instead of community release centers, for which there are ample qualified candidates, erodes the fragile confidence of all those involved with the current re-entry effort.
Black men comprise the majority of men in prison and have clearly been hit hardest in this War On Drugs. However, the reason for this disparity may be less sinister than many scholars suggest. Logistically speaking, urban areas are much easier for law enforcement to target due primarily to the density of the population but also due to the proximity of urban structures. Conversely, a group of law enforcement officers venturing out into a suburban or rural area have far more ground to cover in much less camouflage to hide their surreptitious activities. The urban War On Drugs is quite simply the easiest one to fight when faced with a system that is results driven. Drugs are prevalent wherever you go within this country so finding them is never difficult Law enforcement simply concentrates their efforts in those ares where they are able to make the most arrests. Apprehension is their only concern. After that the charges become a matter of the court system, where another issue entirely arises.
The crack to cocaine sentencing disparity that previously existed was undisputedly excessive. However, the current 18 to 1 ration is seemingly much ore accurate but many sentencing reform advocates claim that it is still too excessive. Since I have not found any statistics to support the new ratio, I feel compelled to interject my opinion which is the result of my own indirect experiences with both drugs. My attorney and close friend had a serious drug addiction that he battled for many years. Frequently, I would receive calls from his law partner or secretary inquiring about his whereabouts after he had missed a court appearance. On many occasions, I had to track him down and physically remove him, along with whatever was left of his belongings, from a known North Philly crack house. The scene was generally the same no matter where I found him. What I witnessed inside of those places was deterrent enough to prevent me from ever trying crack cocaine myself. However, this same attorney friend was capable of remaining relatively sane whenever he used powder cocaine in my presence. Since I sold and consumed powder cocaine for a lengthy period of time, I have ample experience with the effects of the drug. Never once did I see anyone exhibit the same erratic behaviors while on powder cocaine that I frequently witnessed when someone was smoking crack. In my opinion, a clear distinction should be made between the two drugs. Crack cocaine is much more physically and emotionally devastating than powder cocaine, so I understand why there is a sentencing disparity and have to agree that there should in fact be one. The severity of that disparity however remains open to debate.
The matter of who uses these drugs is also open to debate. Law enforcement is admittedly biased in their decision about who they choose to actively investigate and apprehend and those tactics warrant analysis. In my opinion, there is a very logical reason why the stereotypical "white frat boy" that Alexander refers to on page 132 of her book, "The New Jim Crow" is not a target of law enforcement. College students in general, regardless of their race, are all permitted certain privileges as a result of their anticipated future status within society. College is generally an accepted time of "experimentation" for those young adults who are likely to become the community and business leaders of tomorrow. Drugs are common on most college campuses but law enforcement chooses to ignore these obvious infractions of the law because society takes no issues with their "experimental" activity. Conversely, society is frequently outraged by stories of innocent victims caught in the crossfire of gun battles related to inner city drug turf wars. if violence, addiction and death were as prevalent on our college campuses today as they are in our inner cities then the War On Drugs would be raging there as well.
Statistics never tell the entire story. If numbers are too closely relied upon and over examined, then the human element in this war is greatly diminished. The War On Drugs has torn many urban communities apart and left millions of men and women incarcerated for decades instead of years. Until this point most efforts to improve rehabilitative services, and thus reduce the rate of recidivism, have been largely ineffective. The criminal justice system desperately needs an influx of progressive young men and women knowledgeable with the history of the system whom also have a sincere desire to make things better. Anyone that has such knowledge also has the power to affect change regardless of their personal circumstances. Whether a person finds themselves on the outside looking in or on the inside looking out they already know that "knowledge is powerless without action."