Continued from yesterday’s roundup, a few more items from this week:
– New York City officials came under fire recently for putting out a pamphlet promoting safety tips for heroin users. The critics of these types of educational efforts are making the same logical error that proponents of teen sexual abstinence education make. They mistakenly believe in both cases that simply giving people information about a moral taboo encourages more people to explore that taboo. As the statistics on abstinence education vs. comprehensive sex education have shown, it isn’t true. And it’s just as wrong when it comes to illegal drug use. Law Enforcement Against Prohibition put out their own press release criticizing the DEA for attacking the pamphlet.
– A recent report by the Center for American Progress shows that an immigration reform proposal that provides a path to citizenship for currently undocumented immigrants and relaxes immigration restrictions would boost U.S. GDP by at least $1.5 trillion over the next ten years. The worst economic approach possible to dealing with the problem of illegal immigration – by far – is to try to deport as many undocumented immigrants as possible.
– I’m sure it surprises no one that I agree with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that Washington’s felon voter ban unfairly discriminates against minorities. The evidence presented at trial is some of the same evidence I’ve occasionally cited here in order to point out the massive racial disparities that exist in drug law enforcement.
The restrictions on felon voting come from the Washington State Constitution itself. The actual wording of the Constitution states:
SECTION 3 WHO DISQUALIFIED. All persons convicted of infamous crime unless restored to their civil rights and all persons while they are judicially declared mentally incompetent are excluded from the elective franchise.
An infamous crime is defined as:
An “infamous crime” is a crime punishable by death in the state penitentiary or imprisonment in a state correctional facility.
The biggest disconnect that I see is that most felons in this state aren’t guilty of “infamous crimes”. They’re often guilty of non-violent crimes. In fact, before King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg started relegating them to District Court in 2008, two-thirds of his felony caseload were cases involving less than three grams of illegal drugs, the exact kinds of crimes for which the evidence introduced at trial shows clear racial disparities in who actually gets arrested, prosecuted, and convicted.
The State Constitution, with that clause, was written in 1889. At that time, not only was drug possession not an “infamous crime”, it wasn’t a crime at all. Opium, heroin, marijuana, and cocaine were all legally available to people. It’s possible that smugglers who were found guilty of trying to avoid paying opium import tariffs were guilty of “infamous crimes”, but certainly not the man on the street who had a small amount of drugs on him.
After the turn of the century, prohibitions on these drugs were slowly enacted. All along the West Coast, anti-Chinese sentiments led to crackdowns on opium. Across the country, racism against blacks fueled attempts to ban cocaine. And animosity towards Mexicans led to the federal bans on marijuana in 1937. No one anywhere should be surprised that the outcome of nearly a century of these laws – born out of racism themselves – would be overtly racist implementations.
I’m not an expert on the Voting Rights Act. I’m making a logical argument here rather than a strictly legal one – and sometimes the two are not the same – but I have trouble understanding the arguments against this decision that pretend that our criminal justice system doesn’t have glaring racial disparities. If Attorney General Rob McKenna makes that the primary argument in his appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, he deserves to lose the case. After a century of America trying to enforce various drug prohibitions (even alcohol for a while – which New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia spoke out against because it targeted certain ethnic groups), these laws have ended up doing exactly what they were intended to do, to disproportionately put larger numbers of minorities behind bars.