What do Drug Laws Have to do with Trayvon Martin?
The verdict is in for George Zimmerman, and it shouldn’t be surprising. The government couldn’t support a 2nd degree murder charge; prosecution witnesses ended up helping the defense.
But of course, the biggest reason for the tragic, foregone conclusion is race: a white defendant invoking the “Stand Your Ground” defense is more than ten times likelier to be acquitted than a black defendant making the same claim.
Such massive racial disparities, sadly, should come as no surprise to anyone who studies the U.S. criminal justice system and, in particular, the war on drugs. As Michelle Alexander points out in her book The New Jim Crow, U.S. drug laws written in ostensibly race-neutral terms are used in racially disparate ways consistently. My book, Weed the People, details how such disparities are anything but new in the U.S. and documents racial double standards in drug laws as far back as an 1875 San Francisco ordinance which banned the use of opium for Chinese immigrants but not for whites. But perhaps the most damning evidence comes from a recent report by the ACLU, which shows that American blacks are nearly four times more likely to be arrested for cannabis crimes than their white counterparts – a disparity which can be found in every state of the Union.
So regardless of whether George Zimmerman is actually guilty of murder, the result should have been predictable. The U.S. criminal justice system protects whites more than racial minorities, and has done so for 140 years.