Workers Vanguard No. 986
16 September 2011
Down With Racist War on Drugs!
NYPD Rips Apart Black Families
You might not be arrested if the cops find a few grams of marijuana in your home in New York City—but they can take your children away! This is the racist reality faced by dozens of black families after police raided their homes and failed to uncover enough marijuana to prosecute them, only to call in the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS). The children were then snatched on the pretext that pot in the home can be a sign of “neglect.” Jose Gunnell of Harlem lost custody of his one-year-old daughter after an employee at a homeless shelter where he was staying found a $5 bag of marijuana during an inspection. Hundreds more parents are facing similar marijuana-related neglect allegations and risk losing their children. These cases—rarely if ever filed against white parents, according to defense lawyers—sometimes are based on nothing more than a parent’s admission to a caseworker of past marijuana use.
The racist contempt shown for these black families is redolent of the practices of chattel slavery, when masters could break up slave families at will. An ACS spokesman defended snatching children, saying: “Drug use itself is not child abuse or neglect, but it can put children in danger of neglect or abuse.” With this twisted puritanical logic, children are “protected” by being thrown into the city’s foster care system. Last year, Mayor Michael Bloomberg merged the ACS with the Department of Juvenile Justice, so that “neglected” children put in the city’s care automatically come under the violently brutal criminal justice system.
The breaking up of black families has gone together with skyrocketing arrest rates for pot possession, making NYC the marijuana arrest capital of the world. From 1997 through 2008, the NYPD arrested 430,000 people, mostly teenagers and young adults, for possessing small amounts of marijuana—12 times more marijuana arrests than in the previous 12-year period. The blatantly racist nature of this campaign was captured in a 2008 New York Civil Liberties Union report that stated: “U.S. government studies find that young whites use pot at higher rates than black or Latinos. Yet, NY City has been arresting and jailing young Latinos for pot possession at over three times the rate of whites, and arresting and jailing young blacks at six times the rate of whites.”
The Spartacist League calls for the decriminalization of drugs. We oppose all laws against “crimes without victims”—from drug use to prostitution, gambling and pornography—which are at bottom designed to maintain social control. We also oppose drug testing in the workplace, which the bosses use as a pretext to go after union activists and cow the entire workforce.
Nationally, the “war on drugs” has been waged particularly against black people as well as Latinos, with hundreds of thousands incarcerated in prison hellholes. A drug felony conviction can close the door to higher education, well-paying jobs, housing and social services, compounding the already grinding conditions of life for the masses of American blacks, whose oppression is rooted in the capitalist economy.
The urban ghettos used to provide a reservoir of mostly unskilled labor for manufacturing. But with the shuttering of plants in recent decades, the black poor have been written off as a “surplus population” by the racist ruling class. The capitalists see no reason to spend money educating and providing for those they’ve thrown onto the scrap heap, instead serving up greater repression. Now impoverished black women, long demonized by racist demagogues screaming about “unfit” single mothers, are having their kids ripped from them for suspected marijuana use, without even being charged with a crime.
Drug busts are a big part of the “stop and frisk” policy, which has become the NYPD’s favored tool in its daily harassment and dehumanization of blacks and Latinos. In 2010, the NYPD made over 600,000 street stops, and the numbers are increasing this year, amounting to a more than sixfold increase since Bloomberg became mayor in 2002. In 2009, blacks accounted for more than half of those stopped by cops, while making up only 26 percent of the city’s population. The NYPD has been able to compile a huge database containing personal information—and in some cases fingerprints and photos—of primarily minority youth, whether or not they are charged with a crime.
One of the opening shots in the national “war on drugs” was the passage of the New York State “Rockefeller drug laws” in the early 1970s, under which some 200,000 men, women and children were condemned to decades in prison. In 1977, those laws were altered so that the legal charge for possession of less than 26 grams of marijuana was reduced from a misdemeanor crime to a violation. However, having marijuana “open to public view” remained a misdemeanor. The NYPD has manipulated this distinction to haul in large numbers of minority youth. In their stop-and-frisk campaign, the cops often coerce their victims into removing any marijuana from their pocket or purse, making it “open to public view.”
In 2008, the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a lawsuit against the City and the NYPD challenging the overtly racist nature of stop-and-frisk. City officials tried to get it dismissed, but on August 31 a Federal Court judge ruled that a trial could go forward. Less than a week later, black City Councilman Jumaane Williams of Brooklyn, a known critic of stop-and-frisk, was detained for walking down a closed sidewalk at the West Indian Day Parade despite displaying City Council identification. A video of the detention and assault on Kirsten John Foy, a black city official accompanying Williams, was posted on YouTube. These arrests were a clear message from the cops, who had complained of the councilman’s “arrogance and ego,” that black people, whatever their station in life, should “know their place.”
In a statement defending Williams and Foy, Democratic Party Congresswoman Yvette Clarke evocatively compared the level of harassment of black people in NYC to South Africa under the hated apartheid-era pass laws. While ghetto youth being stopped by the police is as American as apple pie, black bourgeois politicians can see that their own children are at greater risk of run-ins with the cops when the net is cast so widely. In criticizing stop-and-frisk, their aim is to make the police more effective as an agency of repression. The police, together with the courts and prisons, are the means by which the capitalist class defends its rule and profits, employing organized violence against the working class and the oppressed. This does not change whether it is the Democrats, the Republicans or “independents” who sit in City Hall, the state capitol or the White House.
Under Democratic president Obama, the situation for black people has further deteriorated, with rollbacks of union gains, mounting job losses, home foreclosures and increased cuts in services. In NYC, the billionaire Bloomberg is adding to the pain by laying off teachers and running housing projects better suited for roaches, bedbugs and rats than humans. The decaying capitalist system cannot be reformed to serve the interests of the workers and the ghetto and barrio masses. We need a workers party built in political opposition to the Democratic and Republican parties of capital—a party that mobilizes the social power of labor, including its key black component, to fight against racist injustice and to champion the cause of all the exploited and oppressed. A revolutionary workers party is the necessary instrument to lead the struggle to sweep away the racist capitalist system and replace it with the rule of the working class, under which there would be jobs and quality housing and services for all. For black liberation through socialist revolution!