The early 1980s have been characterized by some historians as the apex of Black political power in California. San Francisco Assemblyman Willie Brown was speaker of the assembly, reigning from 1980 to 1995 as one of California's most powerful politicians. Tom Bradley, serving his third term as mayor of Los Angeles, became the first African American to win a Democratic nomination to run for Governor in 1982. Lionel Wilson was mayor of Oakland, with black majorities on the City Council and School Board. Wilson Riles was finishing his third term as the state's superintendent of public instruction, and Los Angeles Democrat Mervin Dymally was lieutenant governor. Gus Newport became the first black mayor of Berkeley. Robert C. Maynard became the first majority shareholder of a major metropolitan daily newspaper when he became the owner and publisher of the Oakland Tribune in 1983.
However, Reagan's War on Drugs has left a far more tangled legacy of racial inequality in California's criminal justice system. In theory, Reagan's policies focused on suppressing crops and drug traffickers abroad, improved search and seizure along the U.S.-Mexican border, and tough criminal penalties for users at home. In California, law-enforcement officials concentrated their resources in poor, urban neighborhoods. Their assumption centered on crack cocaine as an inner-city scourge. But according to the Schaffer Library on Drug Policy, affluent whites trafficked far greater quantities of cocaine than the urban poor.
Nonetheless, this bias in the criminal justice system resulted in increased racial profiling -the practice of singling out suspects solely on the basis of skin color or accent-of African Americans. In addition, the San Jose Mercury News undertook a special study in 1991, reviewing more than 700,000 California criminal cases between 1981 and 1990. They uncovered statistical evidence that showed consistent favoring of whites over minority defendants throughout the state's criminal justice system.
This bias skewered from the onset the racial composition of California's growing prison population. By 1999, the New York Times found that at least 90 percent of people locked up for crack cocaine were poor African Americans, even though twice as many whites as blacks use crack, and three times as many whites as blacks use powder cocaine.
As a result, during the 1980s California began to build more prisons. In 1980, 379 Californians were sent to prison for drug possession; by 1999, that number grew to 12,749 convictions. As of 2003, the state has 33 prisons with an operating budget of four billion dollars. But as money to build state prisons grew, the amount of public funding for California's K-12 schools, colleges, and universities decreased.
Research conducted by the San Francisco-based Center on Juvenile & Criminal Justice found that the number of African-American males in U.S. prison has more than quadrupled (from 8,139 to 41,434 people) between 1980 and 1996, while the number of African American males enrolled in public higher education has only increased by 29 percent (6,852 to 8,810). Applying those statistics to California, the report predicted that young men growing up in Oakland or Los Angeles are twice as likely to end up in prison as in college.
The Schaffer Library of Drug Policy for excellent discussion of alternative ways to reduce drug use in America, and for additional science background on toxicity of different drugs.
11.11 Students analyze the major social problems and domestic policy issues in contemporary American society. (11.11.7)