Academic journal article Social Justice

A Community without a Drug Problem? Black Drug Use in Britain

Academic journal article Social Justice

A Community without a Drug Problem? Black Drug Use in Britain

Article excerpt

The Visible Place of Race in British Drug Problem: Drug Trafficking

FOLLOWING POST-WORLD WAR II BLACK IMMIGRATION INTO BRITAIN, RACE WAS becoming absorbed into popular discourses about drug trafficking (see Hiro, 1992). During the 1980s, drug trafficking became racialized and was portrayed within the context of black people and deprived inner cities (see Dorn et al., 1992). The concept of the Jamaican "Yardie" that found favor in the 1980s and its connection with crack, guns, and violence enriched media representations of race, blackness, and drug trafficking (see Green, 1998; Murji, 1998; Keith, 1993). It was a discovery that similarly effected police practices toward racialized drugs policing in domestic and international contexts (Ibid.). Black communities attracted media attention, and over-policing operations were justified through descriptions of those communities as a mafia-style drug market saturated by big-time professional black drug traffickers whose origins were in the Caribbean and West Africa.

The foreigner representations of drug trafficking meant that immigrants from countries such as Jamaica and Nigeria were held largely responsible for importing controlled drugs into Britain. As Green (1991:21) argued, the drug problem is not only "a constructed drugs' crisis,'" it is also viewed "as a principally imported crisis--imported by West Africans, Asians, or South Americans...." As such, controlling drug trafficking, according to Dorn et al. (1992: 153), invited a combination of "drugs intelligence and immigration intelligence" based on a "perception ... that it was immigrants, legal and/or illegal, who were responsible for much of the importation of drugs into Britain." The emphatic reference to drug trafficking as a major contributor to Britain's drug problem culminated in the implementation of stringent punitive measures as reflected in the 1985 Controlled Drugs (Penalties) Act and the 1986 Drug Trafficking Offenses Act. While the former imposed a maximum penalty of life imprisonment for trafficking in a Class "A" drug, the latter empowered the courts to confiscate drug traffickers' assets that were believed to be their profits from drug trafficking. Drugs law enforcement by way of policing witnessed a new organizational structure (see Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, 1994), of which low-level policing was given top priority. Policing at the low level was considered a vital pattern of drugs enforcement due to its demand--and harm-reduction approach to drug misuse. It was to involve street-level surveillance and stop and search practices, which concentrated on specific areas such as council estates, public houses, and private flats and streets, and were geared toward detecting retail drug markets.

The sensational media coverage given to drug trafficking and the war on drugs rhetoric in the political sphere amalgamated with law enforcement strategies to map out drug traffickers as key targets in the desperate need to curb the drug problem. Inner-city areas, known to be deprived and referred to as crime prone, were already stereotyped and portrayed by the police and the media as drug trafficking areas, with black men labeled as the drug traffickers (see Keith, 1991; Dorn et al., 1992).

This scenario continued into the 1990s. As the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (1994: 3) has acknowledged, drugs policing strategies harbor drastic implications for race:

   An important element of street-level policing is the tactic of stop
   and search of individuals suspected of involvement in drug offenses.
   A significant amount of activity involving drugs is concentrated in
   our inner cities, where ethnic minorities are also heavily
   represented. In turn, this can result in apparently disproportionate
   numbers of ethnic minorities being stopped and searched compared
   with the general population.

Official prison figures have shown that black people tend to be over-represented in the numbers of those imprisoned for drug offenses (Home Office, 1989; 1999). …

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