“Drugs are not going to make you cooler,” Boris Johnson said earlier last month in his speech that promised a war on drugs. This also couldn’t have come at a worse time where cocaine was found in 11 out of the 12 toilets in the Houses of parliament. I’d like to believe that this newly declared war on drugs would be directed to the middle and upper classes, yet I am afraid that this declaration will likely only affect and persecute working class drug users. When we look back at what history has shown us, this new war won’t change a thing about how the middle and upper classes use drugs; we are more likely to see harsher punishment for drugs found in poorer communities.
Drugs have always been a part of our society from the 20th century, in communities rich and poor. However, the role that the state and specifically the police have in attempting to tackle drugs is to target citizens in poorer communities. This results in turning a blind eye to the fact that a plethora of upper- and middle-class citizens (and politicians) also use the exact same drugs. Within the middle-class, drugs have always been used for celebration, at parties and events where guests aren’t afraid and definitely are not judged by their intake. Their drug use is seen as a form of relaxation, needed for taking on such ‘important’ and ‘difficult’ roles that are considered a burden.
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However, when discussing drug use in poorer communities, it is often associated with ethnic minorities and viewed as self-destructive behaviour, as well as being detrimental to the whole fabric of society. The idea that cocaine is only medically dangerous and addictive to poorer people is a stereotype, and provides a false basis for the police to save the day by criminalisation.
History is due to repeat itself again; in the 1980s when President Ronlad Reagan declared war on ‘crack’ which was the popular drug used and associated with African Americans and those living in the poorest towns in the USA. Subsequently, ‘crack’ was cocaine that has just been processed, and while powdered cocaine which was snorted was associated with the upper class, ‘crack’ was seen to be the detrimental drug that was ruining America. Crack was the real enemy; it was the sole blame for the decline of the USA.
1980s movies such as ‘Scarface’ celebrated the use of cocaine used by the upper class, it was considered a luxury that ethnic minorities couldn’t afford. President Reagan authorised the police to interrogate and abuse their use of power to demolish this disease. The African American community were and remain targeted heavily and punished unethically for their use of ‘crack’, and the state has done almost nothing to stop this phenomenon. In the 1970s African Americans were twice as likely to be arrested on drug charges, compared to white Americans. By 1988, during the drug phenomenon this had increased where African Americans were arrested at five times the rate than their white counterparts, a clear indication at how the African American community were blamed for this outbreak of drug abuse.
Nancy Reagan in 1986 began her ‘just say no’ campaign targeting children to simply say no to drugs. ‘Just say no’ was her only bit of assistance to her country where she used role models like Mike Tyson, and basketball players in her campaign to influence African Americans, as they were the largest community getting persecuted for drug use. Getting black celebrities involved in the campaign ensured that the drug problem was focused on the black community, dismissing any investigation that would target white upper class citizens for using the same drug.
Even though rehabilitation has always been cost effective as drug courts are intended to aid drug offenders with their minor charges, prison remains a function of ridding the persecuted from society, restraining them in unethical facilities. When prison is the sentence for the prosected, the likelihood of recovering from drug addiction is almost non-existent.
The police exist to protect and support the state, which in effect is a tool for the middle and upper classes to preserve their individual interests from the working class. As ethnic minorities and the working class are not considered as part of the state, they do not have the superiority to reap the advantages of such protection, nor the power to avoid persecution from drug use. They are targeted as people who are seen as dangerous and detrimental to our society, where their victimisation is almost inevitable.
When it comes to policing drug use, whiteness and class are tools in shielding wealthier people from their own prosecution. The police are complicit in this, paid to protect whiteness and private property, interrogating anyone that does not have class or race superiority. It is how the middle class have been able to get away from using drugs such as cocaine for decades. The fact that no MPs have been suggested to be the cause of drugs found in Houses of Parliament is a clear example of how class inequality is structured in our society. Those who do not have this privilege risk being sentenced at the harshest level and have their whole life and freedom stripped away. Meanwhile, the wealthiest will continue to go unnamed and avoid any culpability.
Boris Johnson’s proposed punishment for any charged drug users, is that they would have their British passport taken away, suggesting that to be a citizen is somehow a luxury rather than a fundamental right. This kind of punishment tends to be of particular threat to immigrants and asylum seekers, who are disproportionately likely to be non-white, as well as working class.
Britain has never been shy about their discontent for having ‘foreigners’ in their country, and this punishment just solidifies the fact that ethnic minorities are more likely to have their citizenship revoked if they don’t comply with the rules that their MPs nevertheless do not respect. In between these are the words ‘if you don’t behave, we will send you back to your country,’ a line that has been ingrained in Britain’s racist society; Margaret Thatcher believed Britain was being ‘swamped’ by migrants from the New Commonwealth and Pakistan. Enoch Powell’s 1968 River of Blood speech regarding the fear that one day ‘the black man will have the whip hand over the white man’ has solidified the notion that the state must do everything in their power to stop this from becoming a reality.
This declaration of war on drugs by Boris Johnson will only seek out those who don’t have the advantages of class and race, where ethnic minorities and poorest will continue to be heavily targeted for drug use, unlike their white, rich counterparts.
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