Today the president delivered his pronouncement of a war on opioid addiction. He said there would be a massive ad campaign to warn children about the danger of using the drugs; he said there would be more funding issued to fight the crisis, and he promised that since, according to him, 90 percent of all heroin comes from south of the US border, his infamous “wall” would be built.
His supporters are happy, I suppose.
But his statement revealed the underlying prejudice and overarching opinion held by people in this country that those who are addicted to opioids are “victims,” but that those who are addicted to crack cocaine are criminals.
If it is a fact that this campaign against opioid addiction will be waged, with the underlying belief that this addiction epidemic is a tragic crisis, then one has to wonder what will happen to those who are addicted to crack cocaine, many of whom have been thrown into prison for either being addicted or for selling the drugs.
“The least of these,” whom Christians are instructed to help and to serve, are left out of the equation for help and out of the pool for compassion. Their criminalization remains as this culture further pushes them to the periphery of society, into prisons, and out of sight.
We have all heard about the disparity in sentencing those who are addicted to powder cocaine and crack cocaine. Those addicted to the latter tend to be poor people of color, while the former tend to be white and affluent, with the financial means to buy themselves out of the criminal justice system. Much of the cocaine used in the United States comes from south of the US border, too, and recent reports say that “cocaine use and availability is on the rise.” Will the wealthy, white users of cocaine be included in the “victim” pool as well as those who are addicted to opiates? And will those who will undoubtedly become addicted to crack continue to be herded into prison, some for the rest of their lives?
The United States is reportedly the largest consumer of cocaine and its insertion into American life has been profitable for Columbian drug dealers and their American business partners. That being the case, why aren’t there hoards of white people in prison for buying and selling it?
Supposedly, powder cocaine doesn’t produce as much violent behavior as does crack cocaine, mostly because people who use powder cocaine can afford to buy it and because it isn’t as addictive, or is not as addictive in the same way as is heroin.
But heroin addiction is more difficult to get rid of. Heroin, like crack cocaine, is a chronic addiction; there is no let up. Those addicted to both drugs must have it daily, with no respite, and will resort to crime in order to obtain it.
There are many who overdose on heroin, but there are also many who resort to crime to support their habit. The emphasis in the media is on the tragic overdoses (and they are), not on the crimes to which heroin addicts resort. Again, the question has to be, “why?” Why aren’t we getting the reports of these addicts, so many of whom are white and who, if not affluent, certainly are not poor, being thrown in prison?
Just as people of color were the majority of Americans sent to Vietnam to fight in that illegal war, people of color are criminalized for doing what white people in this country have done for decades as well.
Nobody wants to talk about it, but if there is going to be an outpouring of care, compassion and help for those addicted to opiates, we who fight for justice ought to insist that they share that care, compassion and help for the poor souls who are addicted to crack cocaine and/or who are wasting away in prison because of their addiction. What is good for the goose is good for the gander. One type of addict is no different than another; both need help.
Being poor is not a crime, any more than is being a person of color. This country has yet to internalize those truths. The “least of these” have rights and deserve honor and dignity as do people of the paler hue.