Racial and ethnic differences have been part of the fabric of the political and social fiber of the United States since it was established. The writers of the Constitution codified white racial superiority in the Constitution by specifying that an individual slave represented just three-fifths of one white individual for the purposes of a national census. A census count was required by the U.S. Constitution for the purposes of forming a representative government and for apportionment of taxes to districts.
In 1980 the Census Bureau began collecting ethnicity data in addition to race. The term “Hispanic,” which the Census Bureau defined as meaning “a person of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race," was introduced.
Being accounted for in data matters because it means a group has a voice in a representative democracy. Numbers translate to organizing power and funding. And the way people are counted can illustrate or mask injustices, like racially biased drug law enforcement that hide in plain sight.
And, unfortunately, when it comes to race and ethnicity data collection, the criminal justice system lags far behind the Census. It wasn’t until 2013 that the FBI’s guidelines (p 111-112) started requiring states include race as a demographic marker when reporting crime statistics. Just last year, the issue of a Latino Data Gap in the criminal justice system made headline news when national organizations including the Public Welfare Foundation, the Urban Institute, Latino Justice and Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) collaborated on a project showing that many states, including New Mexico, do not report any racial or ethnic demographic data for arrests of Hispanic/Latinx people.
In order to draw attention to the Hispanic/Latinx criminal justice data gap DPA’s New Mexico office collaborated with the ACLU of New Mexico, New Mexico Voices for Children and Young Women United to research the demographic profile of adults in the criminal justice system, and racial bias in drug law enforcement. Although, New Mexico does not report any criminal justice statistics on race or ethnicity of people who have been arrested to the FBI, authors were able to gain access to data of people who were booked into the Bernalillo Metropolitan Detention Center for drug law violations from the Bernalillo County Public Safety Department.
So, what can we tell about racial and ethnic make-up of people booked in jail for drugs in Bernalillo County, New Mexico? Data unequivocally show that Black, Indigenous and Hispanic/Latinx people are locked up at higher rates than they exist in the population. And White people are locked up at rates lower than they exist in the general population.
The War on Drugs is a war on people. It is a web of laws and regulations that are enforced in a biased way. It is legalized discrimination, the New Jim Crow. The harms of drug prohibition are inflicted on more on certain groups than others. Although we know that people of all races use drugs at similar rates, drug laws are primarily enforced in certain neighborhoods and on some members of society. People of color, people who are poor or otherwise marginalized, get arrested and locked up while other people, white people, people in the middle class, are generally left alone when it comes to drug laws.
Given how much we already know about racial discrimination in drug law enforcement, New Mexico’s negligence is inexcusable. Drug criminalization fuels racial profiling, violence against immigrants and other vulnerable groups, intrusive government surveillance, and widespread detentions and deportations.
Download the report here: http://www.drugpolicy.org/resource/racial-and-ethnic-bias-new-mexico-dr…
Jessica Gelay is a policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance, based in New Mexico.