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Black People Are Less Likely Than Whites to Sell Drugs, More Likely to Be Arrested


The racist application of drug laws is by now all too familiar.

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There is a critical imbalance between those being arrested for selling drugs and those actually selling them, according to a new report by the Brookings Institute. Sadly but predictably, given the discrimination still rampant in the US criminal justice system, black people are being arrested for selling drugs more often than people of any other race—even though white people are more likely to sell drugs.

The chart below shows how arrests of black Americans for violent and property crimes have fallen between 1980 and 2011, while drug-related arrests have more than doubled. And according to the report, black people are approximately 3.6 times more likely to be arrested for selling drugs and 2.5 times more likely to be arrested for possession than white people. Yet the report notes that whites were deemed 45% more likely than blacks to sell drugs in 1980, by an analysis of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth—and a 2012 study by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 6.6% of white people aged 12 to 25 have sold drugs while only 5% of black people in this age group have sold them.

It’s yet another example of how the drug war perpetuates racial disparities.