Over the past month, the Williamsburg Police Department and the Tri-Rivers Drug Task Force transformed many bystanders in the war on drugs into targets of the war on drugs. Pretending to address the issue of rampant sexual assault, they spent most of March harassing students of color, sending K-9 units into freshman dorms and swarming campus. Tuesday, the police declared success by publicly humiliating the eight students, dining services employee and faculty member that were rounded up in the sweep and making their identities publicly available to the press. After framing the arrests as a safety measure, the College of William and Mary’s spokesperson believed it was appropriate to supply newspapers with the hometowns of the students, even though they are yet to be proven guilty.
According to a Sexual Misconduct Climate Survey that the College conducted last year, 21 percent of students at the College have experienced physical sexual violence, which equals about 1,835 students. Not one of the people arrested in this bust is accused of sexual misconduct. Sexual violence is a far more serious threat to safety than drug crimes, so where are the high-profile sexual assault arrests? These warped priorities make our campus less safe, and this irrational focus on stopping drug abuse at the expense of addressing legitimate dangers is a key component of the war on drugs.
The majority of our student body has enjoyed relative impunity from the war on drugs until now. According to The New York Times, the average student at the College is in the 84th percentile of income. Only two percent of students here come from the bottom 20 percent, while 73 percent of students are in the top 20 percent. Only seven percent of the freshman class is African American. This means few of us have ever visited a loved one who’s in jail for drug possession, witnessed a SWAT raid or been stopped and frisked, all of which are occurrences in many communities.
This is because the war on drugs is not evenly distributed. From the very beginning, it has been targeted at impoverished black and Latino communities. Although there are five times more white Americans than black Americans in the United States and both groups use drugs at basically the same rate, the American Civil Liberties Union found that 55 percent of those who are convicted for drug possession are black and 74 percent of those imprisoned for drug possession are black. Latinos use and sell drugs at lower rates than whites and yet they face far higher chances of serving time in prison for drug charges.
There must also be a shift in funding away from drug crackdowns and investigations toward drug treatment. About $30 million a year of the 2018 Virginia budget is specifically allocated toward policing drug use. State funding for local jails, local police departments, state prisons, Virginia State Police, and sheriff’s offices adds up to $600 million a year. On the other hand, Virginia annually spends $102.6 million on Community Substance Abuse Services and $44 million on drug treatment and rehabilitation in prisons. Additionally, Virginia spends $5.5 million a year on domestic violence and sexual assault resources. Instead of promoting the lie that policing drug use is a response to sexual assault, take the money spent on drug crackdowns like the one the College just experienced and direct it towards programs such as hotlines, sexual assault crisis centers and educational campaigns.
Just as the crackdown on our campus and the public shaming of members of our community must be recognized as pointless injustices, the racial nature of the policing of drug use must be recognized and condemned. Now that our campus has been on the receiving end of the war on drugs, we have no excuse to look the other way at the daily horrors it imposes on marginalized communities. We can’t only care when it happens to us. Millions of lives have already been destroyed, and our community must play a role in bringing this to an end. We need to call on the General Assembly to legalize marijuana, severely slash funding for drug investigations and crackdowns and drastically increase funding for far more useful health and safety programs.
Email Josh Messite at firstname.lastname@example.org.