Is the Drug War a Way to Wage Class Warfare?

Is the drug war really being waged in an equitable fashion? Or is it being used to single out poor people?


Some conservatives lean libertarian on recreational drugs. Others are in favor of criminalization, but don’t want our constitutional rights eroded the way that the War on Drugs has eaten into them. I’m not arguing for decriminalizing anything in this post, but I do think that all conservatives need to insist on equality before the law.

Of course, not all races show the same general behavior. So if people of one race happen to commit a specific crime, that does not, of itself, show that enforcing the law is racist. So when Liberals argue about different groups being “harassed” by law enforcement, a natural and right response is to ask if we are sure that the police are the ones at fault.

But another question is: Is this really a racial division or a class division? For example, if blacks tend to be poorer than whites, on average, then we need to account for that. Perhaps a comparison of lower-income people will show there isn’t that much difference, really.

You can almost never get anyone to talk about class in any real way. Perhaps it will be mentioned in association with union and blue collar workers. But for the most part, people insist on taking all the data and shoving it into the issue of racism. If police treat a minority a certain way, there is a whole industry ready to scream that this is an issue of racism. As a result, the issue of how law enforcement as an institution treats virtually everyone who doesn’t have powerful friends and can’t easily hire a good lawyer gets ignored. Rather than address problems with no-knock warrants, grenades that disfigure babies, and the killing of dogs for no reason, etc, the focus is shifted to race issues.

One example of race substituting for class can be found in a video linked by Brian Doherty at’s Hit and Run blog. Reason is a libertarian publication, so its writers all favor decriminalization. But whether you agree with that or not, this interview with former Drug Enforcement Administration agent and federal marshal Matthew Fogg is quite interesting.

Brian quotes from the exchange:

“When…we were setting up all of our drug and gun and addiction task force determining what cities we were going to hit, I would notice that most of the time it always appeared to be urban areas.

That’s when I asked the question, well, don’t they sell drugs out in Potomac and Springfield, and places like that? Maybe you all think they don’t, but statistics show they use more drugs out in those areas than anywhere.

The special agent in charge, he says “You know, if we go out there and start messing with those folks, they know judges, they know lawyers, they know politicians. You start locking their kids up, somebody’s going to jerk our chain.” He said they’re going to call us on it, and before you know it, they’re going to shut us down, and there goes your overtime.

What I began to see is that the drug war is totally about race. If we were locking up everybody, white and black, for doing the same drugs, they would have done the same thing they did with prohibition. They would have outlawed it. They would have said, “Let’s stop this craziness. You’re not putting my son in jail. My daughter isn’t going to jail.”

Doherty thinks that Fogg’s confusion of race with class is “thoroughly understandable.” I’m not so understanding. Every time someone poses as a helper of African Americans he is promoting racial attitudes and, in some situations, promoting racism. I wish we had more altruism in society, but substituting altruism for a real shared interest can only result in a relative lack of concern about the problem. As I have argued before, blacks and whites have shared interests and anyone pretending otherwise is dividing up what ought to be a unified voting bloc.

I reiterate that none of this means that any drug should be legal, but it does mean we need to be concerned for equality before the law and push for penalties that we would be willing to see inflicted on our own child or grandchild if they were caught using drugs.