The Rise of Authoritarianism

And the Racist Drug War

by Bob Fitrakis

Dissident Voice

April 22, 2003


The only reason George W. Bush is president today ­ unleashing the dogs of war and pushing the U.S. into becoming a hard right, authoritarian and militaristic state ­ is the unconscionable “War on Drugs.” Like Benito Mussolini in the 1920s, drug wars are usually the harbinger of encroaching authoritarianism, as the state utilizes its police forces to disenfranchise voters and silence dissent.


A February 23, 2000 USA Today article summed up the impending impact of the drug war on the 2000 election complete with the usual bar graphic. The key figure, of course, was that 31% of Florida's black male population was prevented from voting due to felony convictions. Florida, and eleven other states of the former Confederacy, disenfranchise felons for life, rather than restoring their voting rights after they are released from prison.


During the 2000 election, 13% of black men were barred from voting, contrasted to only 2% of white men. The statistics are all too familiar to those who analyze the “War on Drugs”: the federal government tells us that 14% of illegal drug users are blacks, but 55% of those convicted for drug felonies are black and 74% of all sentenced for drug possession are black.


Why the disparity? There’s the usual reasons of racism, fear by the white majority, stereotyping and framing by the media. But a more obvious answer is the politics of the inequality of racial sentencing. The racial and ethnic group most likely to vote Democratic in our society are blacks, with over 90% voting for Democratic presidential candidates over the last few decades. George W.

Bush could only become President of the United States by eliminating as many black voters as possible in key electoral states like Florida.


Moreover, the War on Drugs serves another insidious purpose as well. With the CIA’s well-documented ties to drug traffickers as “assets” of U.S. national security, the attack on African American males not only gives the Bush family power (remember Bush, Sr. was former CIA Director) but it keeps the price of drugs high and profitable for friends of the Bush family like Khalid El Mafusz.


Recall that it was the opium money of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) that funded the former U.S. ally Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda network as well as providing the cash to pay off Bush, Jr. when Harken Oil bailed out his failing oil company. This is classic two-for: those most likely to vote Democratic are disenfranchised in Florida and Texas, and the CIA’s allies reap record profit because the phony drug war makes the plentiful and naturally-grown narcotics artificially valuable. Two for the price of one.


Essentially, the drug war and felony disenfranchisement served the same purpose in the 2000 election as the old Jim Crow era poll tax, a tax on voting that made it difficult for blacks to participate.


As U.S. representative John Conyers, Jr. pointed out, “If we want former felons to become good citizens, we must give them rights as well as responsibilities and there is no greater responsibility than voting.” Judge Albie Sachs of South Africa’s Constitutional Court echoes this theme: “The vote of each and every citizen is a badge of dignity and personhood. Quite literally, everyone counts.” Unfortunately, because the Bush family has learned to count electoral votes, not every citizen counts in the United States. This, of course, makes their right-wing allies on the Supreme Court, like Chief Justice William Rehnquist, apologists for the denial of voting rights. As Rehnquist has commented, “The majority determines the rights of the minority.” A train of thought that runs contrary to that of the Constitution’s architect, James Madison.


The 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution stated, “The rights of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude.” Although not enforced by the U.S. until the passage of the voting rights act of 1965, the actual year the U.S. became a minimal democracy by enforcing voting rights, the law mandates that one cannot be denied the right to vote “on account of race or color.”


Nevertheless, by instituting a systematically racist “War on Drugs,” the far right of the Republican Party can claim that they are acting fairly and impartially by imprisoning drug felons rather than black males. This is much like the old “grandfather” clause, struck down in 1915 by the U.S. Supreme Court which allowed everyone in the former Confederacy to vote after Reconstruction, provided their grandfathers had voted.


The coup in Florida perpetuated by the Bush boys would not have been possible without the racist and unconscionable War on Drugs. They also used a “same and similar” name list to strip voting rights away from tens of thousands of Florida black voters in urban areas. Bush Jr.’s brother Jeb and Florida’s Secretary of State Katherine Harris deliberately set out to disenfranchise law-abiding black citizens because they had the same or a similar name as a felon. Ironically, many U.S. blacks have same or similar names because of the slavery system which required them to take the name of their slave owners.


Also ironic is the notion that Bush Jr.’s admitted two decade period of substance abuse and the allegations of cocaine use, which he refuses to deny, would have most likely made him ineligible to be President or even to vote in Florida, were he black and convicted of a drug felony.


So, when you think about the War on Drugs, realize that the only reason Bush is President after losing the popular vote by more than 500,000 votes, is because of the racist and undemocratic policies of our increasingly authoritarian government.


Bob Fitrakis is a Political Science Professor in the Social and Behavioral Sciences department at Columbus State Community College, and author of The Idea of Democratic Socialism in America and the Decline of the Socialist Party (Garland Publishers 1993). He is the editor of The Free Press, where this article first appeared (www.freepress.org).



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