Unequal under Law: Race in the War on Drugs

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University of Chicago Press, Sep 15, 2008 - Social Science - 193 pages
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Race is clearly a factor in government efforts to control dangerous drugs, but the precise ways that race affects drug laws remain difficult to pinpoint. Illuminating this elusive relationship, Unequal under Law lays out how decades of both manifest and latent racism helped shape a punitive U.S. drug policy whose onerous impact on racial minorities has been willfully ignored by Congress and the courts.

Doris Marie Provine’s engaging analysis traces the history of race in anti-drug efforts from the temperance movement of the early 1900s to the crack scare of the late twentieth century, showing how campaigns to criminalize drug use have always conjured images of feared minorities. Explaining how alarm over a threatening black drug trade fueled support in the 1980s for a mandatory minimum sentencing scheme of unprecedented severity, Provine contends that while our drug laws may no longer be racist by design, they remain racist in design. Moreover, their racial origins have long been ignored by every branch of government. This dangerous denial threatens our constitutional guarantee of equal protection of law and mutes a much-needed national discussion about institutionalized racism—a discussion that Unequal under Law promises to initiate.

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Brilliant. Eloquently written with ample research and evidence, Provine's writing should be mandatory reading in high schools. So much of the history of our current system of drug enforcement, especially by the middle of the century has been founded upon ignorance, lack of science, and blatant racism. The parallels between laws and public attitudes back then and now are alarming, and should lead people to question our own support for an unscientific, out of date, and unsuccessful drug enforcement and criminal justice system.  


One Racial Discrimination in the Eyes of the Law
Two Race in Americas First War on Drugs
The Drug Menace in Racial Relief
How RaceNeutral Language Hides Racial Meaning
How Government Coped
The Courts Consider Sentencing Disparities

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About the author (2008)

Doris Marie Provine is the director of the School of Justice and Social Inquiry at Arizona State University. She is the author of several books, including Judging Credentials and Case Selection in the United States Supreme Court, both published by the University of Chicago Press.

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