Editorials, Marijuana in NYC, NYC Metro, U.S. National

Pres. Obama Still Can’t Say “Black People”

0 Comments 21 January 2014

A young Barack Obama, smoking

So much for progress.

Forty-five years after Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, some claim racism is already mostly a thing of the past. A few will say we even live in a post-racial society. Even if all of that were true, it would only make it more remarkable that the United States’ first Black President still can’t reference the struggles of Black people, even if those struggles are a testament to how far we need to go to reach MLK’s Dream.

You can imagine the absurdity of hearing that President Obama acknowledged marijuana prohibition’s societal damage a day before the nation observed MLK Day, but couldn’t go as far as recognizing the disproportionate impact of prohibition on people of color.

Actually, it was much worse than that, but his failure (or inability) to point out the Black and Brown elephant in the room was probably the most audacious part of this New Yorker interview.

“Middle-class kids don’t get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do.” Yes, President Obama, you are right, the poor youth do tend to be the disproportionate target of marijuana arrests. But this is about as relevant, and dodgy, as stating that poor New Yorkers are the ones who get Stop and Frisked by the NYPD. Sure, it is true, but it entirely misses the bigger issue most people have with both of these policies: enforcement mostly targets poor people of color.

Actually Mr. President, an ACLU report released in 2013 proves your point moot:

“The findings show that while there were pronounced racial disparities in marijuana arrests 10 years ago, they have grown significantly worse. In counties with the worst disparities, Blacks were as much as 30 times more likely to be arrested. The racial disparities exist in all regions of the U.S., as well as in both large and small counties, cities and rural areas, and in both high- and low-income communities.”

Rikers Island PBS Documentary Screenshot

NYC’s Jails Are Full of Young Men of Color

In other words, law enforcement doesn’t seem to care if you’re a middle-class Black male college student, or a Black male high school dropout currently struggling to find a construction job. The overwhelming variable is being a Black male.

And the example of a Black male is purposely being used. Ninety percent of pot arrests in the US are of males; it would have made more sense if Mr. President had tried to discuss gender disparities rather than shoot for his normal safety topic of “we’re all suffering economically together.”

President Obama’s statements can barely slide on the fact that, yes, a large portion of the nation’s impoverished are people of color, and therefore they take the brunt of marijuana arrests.

It would hardly be forgivable if Obama stopped there either, considering he’s done these half-hearted attempts at discussing race before, but what followed only made this interview worse.

“You do start getting into some difficult line-drawing issues. If marijuana is fully legalized and at some point folks say, ‘Well, we can come up with a negotiated dose of cocaine that we can show is not any more harmful than vodka,’ are we open to that? If somebody says, ‘We’ve got a finely calibrated dose of meth, it isn’t going to kill you or rot your teeth,’ are we OK with that?”

First, shame on Obama for perpetuating unsupported media sensationalism. “Meth mouth” is being proven to be more myth than reality. A sensible discussion on drugs requires accurate knowledge of their effects.

Why is President Obama modifying the gateway drug theory baffles me. He’s far more educated than this, and what he’s built here is clearly a straw man.

Obama uses this straw man to avoid the real debate around legalization, which is whether or not the US’ current drug scheduling system is scientifically valid. Drug policy reformers aren’t advocating that we legalize drugs based on an arbitrary evaluation of whether they’re more or less harmful than alcohol (below you’ll see why that’s not only stupid, but pointless).

Reformers argue that in an ideal world where science is used to evaluate how strictly drugs should be controlled, marijuana would be considerably legal to consume and possess due to its low addiction risk, its medical properties, and its low impact on society.

And that brings us to President Obama’s answer to the ultimate question: is marijuana less dangerous than alcohol?

“Less dangerous [than alcohol], in terms of its impact on the individual consumer,” he responded.

A graphic published by The Economist of the harm caused by drugs, both to users and society, based on a study published in Lancet.

Excessive Alcohol Use Costs States Big

This was probably the most accurate comment President Obama made in reference to drugs throughout his interview. A 2010 study cited by The Economist demonstrated that cannabis is one of the least harmful drugs around, both to consumers and society.

But is it less dangerous than alcohol? That question was either genuinely meaningless, or David Remnick was trying to trap our President. According to that 2010 study, almost every illicit drug you can think of is less dangerous to users and society than alcohol, including heroin.

Actually, one could describe alcohol as a pretty selfish drug. It was measured to pose the most danger to society out of every illicit drug tested, far more danger than it poses to the user.

What do we have left after this interview? A Black president who, because of his race, can’t acknowledge injustices targeting Black people for fear of political backlash, even on Martin Luther King’s recognized weekend. He also embodies all the fears that allowed the War on Drugs to become a War on Minorities: straw men arguments about gateway legalization, inaccurate depictions of the effects of drugs, and a failure to understand what the problem is with our current scheduling of drug prohibition.

We shouldn’t buy this. President Obama’s educational and employment experience suggests he should be far better informed on these crucial social policy issues. Instead he resorted to playing the ignorant and terrified minstrel, published a day before we remember an activist who fought for that role to be a relic of the past.

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U.S. National

U.S. National

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N.Y.C. Metro

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- who has written 228 posts on The Blinker.

Former Editor-in-chief - A CUNY student hailing from The Bronx. Geoff brings to the team expertise in Psychology, Sociology, and Economics. He is currently seeking an MBA from CUNY Baruch and is a Fordham alum. Connect on Facebook, Tweet to @BlinkerMullings, Connect on Google+

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