Tony Newman at (646) 335-5384 or Elizabeth M
A measure just introduced in the Texas Legislature would allow the City of San Antonio to exclude people arrested for drug offenses from entering certain parts of the city except to go directly to their homes and places of employment. The law would ban people who had been arrested for a drug offense — even if they were not convicted — for 90 days. People who had actually been convicted would be excluded from the community for one year. “What we’re trying to do is put these drug dealers out of the city of San Antonio,” said the author of the bill, State Representative Ruth Jones McClendon (D-San Antonio) in an interview.
“The vast majority of people arrested for drug offenses in San Antonio are arrested for marijuana possession,” said Michael Blain, director of public policy for the Drug Policy Alliance. “They’re not dealers or addicts. And for the minority who are, this bill will do more harm than good. Someone who has a substance abuse problem needs treatment and reintegration into the community — both of which are proven to reduce recidivism. They don’t need isolation.”
McClendon’s bill is designed to focus on areas that have a significantly higher number of arrests for drug offenses than other areas of similar population. Critics say that this strategy will impact communities of color excessively due to law enforcement’s disproportionate focus on those communities. Despite nearly equal drug use rates across racial lines, according to Human Rights Watch, African Americans in Texas go to jail at twelve times the rate that whites do.
Texas has also made national news for cases in which innocent Latinos and African Americans have been convicted and incarcerated and later exonerated. In the Dallas “Sheetrock scandal” dozens of Latinos were incarcerated for dealing cocaine, and were later found innocent. In Tulia, 40 African Americans were arrested and incarcerated on the word of a single corrupt police officer, only to be officially pardoned later.
“This law is discriminatory,” added Blain. “While drug use is widespread throughout society, law enforcement focuses on African American and Latino communities. The bill also flies in the face of our most democratic principle of being innocent until proven guilty by condemning people solely on the basis of arrest. And in Texas, even conviction doesn’t always mean guilt.”