Published in How to Legalize Drugs – Jefferson M. Fish (Editor), 1998 | reprinted in Waiting for Lightning to Strike:The Fundamentals of Black Politics, 2008
|Profiling 101 | i.e. “the war on drugs” (or ‘on blacks’ – whichever you prefer) – once the word “drug” or “drug-related” (or “gang-related” or “thug”) is uttered in policing, public discourse (to include media) – the person whom its applied is presumed “to have no rights that any man (or law) is bound to respect.”
“… The racists, that are usually very influential in the society, don’t make their move without first going to get public opinion on their side. So they use the press to get public opinion on their side. When they want to suppress and oppress the Black community, what do they do? They take the statistics, and through the press, they feed them to the public. They make it appear that the role of crime in the Black community is higher than it is anywhere else.
What does this do? This message ‑‑ this is a skillful message used by racists to make the whites who aren’t racist think that the rate of crime in the Black community is so high. This keeps the Black community in the image of a criminal. It makes it appear that anyone in the Black community is a criminal. And as soon as this impression is given, then it makes it possible, or paves the way to set up a police‑type state in the Black community, getting the full approval of the white public when the police , use all kinds of brutal measures to suppress Black people, crush their skulls, sic dogs on them, and things of that type. And the whites go along with it. Because they think that everybody over there’s a criminal anyway…”
The “war on drugs” particularly affects how children are viewed, valued and treated by society. The perception created by the war is that youth are abnormally violent. The dehumanizing portrayal of the current youth subculture as being more violent than past generations has resulted in a corresponding erosion of the rights of minors. Warrantless searches of lockers, drug sniffing dogs and urine testing for athletes have become commonplace in the public schools. Many state and federal laws now allow minors as young as thirteen to be tried as adults. Punishment is one of the few areas that society grants minors equal (or more) value to adults. Ordinarily, minors do not receive the same rights’ protections, or value, as adults. It might be assumed that since many in the black community have a child, relative or friend under some type of penal supervision, they would eschew any attempts at dehumanization. However, it seems that tacit acceptance of the portrayal of youth as abnormally violent has taken place. Since the fear of youth is promoted, solving the drug abuse problem takes a back seat to control and containment. This promotion of fear gives irresponsible adults an escape from facing their responsibility for the problem of so-called incorrigible youth. Instead of dealing with the problems of youth one often hears stereotyping comments such as, “If you look at them [youth] hard they will cuss you out or shoot you.” Fear also creates irresponsible parents. Fear lowers resistance to dehumanization and parental responsibility is surrendered to the state. The surrender takes the form of more police with an over-abundance of power, the proliferation of boot camps, regressive “youth-oriented” legislation such as curfew and noise ordinances, and schools that are more reminiscent of penal facilities than educational institutions. Consequently, lack of parental responsibility coupled with the increased reliance on control and containment has caused children to become resentful and lose respect for adults and institutions, especially in the face of the erosion and disrespect for their equal protection and due process rights. Worse, there is a diminution in value that the child places on all life. These are the dynamics that make for a more violent society.”
You cannot have war without an enemy. The first act of the drug warriors was to claim that they were protecting citizens from an evil enemy. After identifying the enemy, war supporters peppered the air with cries of national unity and war metaphors. The metaphors helped create a militaristic environment. Criminologists’ Peter B. Kraska and Victor E. Kappeler write:
Metaphors play a central role in the construction of and reaction to social problems: they act to organize our thoughts, shape our discourse, and clarify our values (Ibarra and Kitsuse 1993; Spector and Kitsuse 1987). Sociologists have documented the spread of the medical metaphor — defining social problems as “illnesses” to be treated by medical professionals — as an important trend in twentieth-century social control (Conrad and Schneider 1992; Conrad 1992)… The ideological filter encased within the war metaphor is “militarism,” defined as a set of beliefs and values that stress the use of force and domination as appropriate means to solve problems and gain political power, while glorifying the tools to accomplish this — military power, hardware, and technology (Berghahn 1982; Eide and Thee 1980; Kraska 1993).
When the enemy is a targeted group of people, they face immediate dehumanization. Martin Luther King, Jr. often referred to dehumanization as “thingification.” Public acceptance of the growing incarceration rate is due in large part to the continuing thingification of blacks. Rather than picturing the black and Latino fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters that are being jailed, politicians and demagogues dismiss them as criminals — the “enemy.” The obvious consequence of dehumanization is an erosion of respect for human rights and the constitutional protection of those rights.
Dehumanization has a variety of elements, nonetheless, in the drug war racism is the most obvious element. The war’s propaganda re-enforces the notion that the enemy possesses an inherent or genetic predisposition to violence. This validates disproportionate state action and control. As long as the object of scorn has no humanity, they are not worthy of justice or even life. During World War II, the Japanese were labeled “Japs” and assigned a variety of stereotypes. This made the decision to drop atomic bombs on them seem somewhat less barbaric. During the Vietnam War, the North Vietnamese became “Charlie” or “gooks,” which partly explains why the United States could not envision losing a war to a group of ‘pajama clad commies.” When Africans were enslaved for their labor and North American aborigines were exterminated for land, they were respectively referred to as “dumb savages” and “noble savages.” In the war, black men labeled are “predatory,” in an attempt to reinforce dehumanization. Labeling black youth as “predatory” arose from attacks against foreign tourists in Florida in the early nineties. It was also used to describe incorrigible youth in New York City (along with the term “wilding”). In 1993, during the heat of the crime debate, news programs, such as NBC’s Meet the Press, revived and popularized the D.W. Griffith Birth of a Nation stereotype of the black male “predator.” Needless to say, all crimes are predatory in nature. Milwaukee serial killer and cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer was surely predatory, however, he was not a black or a teen when he committed his crimes. Furthermore, neither Dahmer or Colin Ferguson –the Long Island Train killer, had any arrests prior to their murderous acts. To apply the term “predatory” on the basis of age reinforces the perception of the youthful offender being more violent than the adult offenders. To add race simply implies that black youth offenders are more violent than all others.
The drug warriors target the “enemy” by use of a “profile.” The profile allows police to make cursory assumptions as to whom they suspect is apt to engage in criminal activities. How one “fits the profile” can depend on a number of things. It can be something as obvious as gender, race and age. It can be the area one drives through or lives. It can be the time of day that one drives down a highway or the fact that one drives on a certain road at all. Profiling encompasses one’s car and its “gold” accessories. Those driving with tinted car windows, any type of neon lights and, chopped or hydraulic suspensions are always suspect. It can be a haircut — dreads locks (hairstyle associated with Rastifarians) mean reefer smoker. A style of dress — baggy pants and oversized jacket mean gangbanger. In addition, “colors” are a dead give-away. It can be “eye balling” a police officer or, looking away. It can be traveling with a crowd or traveling alone. Profiling can entail anything, everything and nothing. The most often used profile is that of being a young black and there is an increase in the number of these “profiled” individuals from targeted areas going to jail. To this extent, the drug warriors’ battle plan is a success….