Study Finds African-Americans Less Likely To Sell Drugs, More Likely To Get Arrested

By McCarton Ackerman 10/06/14

Despite whites being more likely to sell drugs, African-Americans are being sent to prison for drug offenses at much higher rates.

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A new analysis from the Brookings Institute has found that African-Americans are less likely to sell drugs than other racial groups, but far more likely to get arrested.

Using data from FBI Uniform Crime Reportings compiled from 1980-2001, Brookings fellow Jonathan Rothwell found that African-Americans' arrests for drug abuse violations and possession of drug paraphernalia have skyrocketed since 1980. The research also found that blacks are 3.6 times more likely to be arrested for selling drugs and 2.5 times more likely to be arrested for possessing them.

This is despite the fact the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health showed that 6.6% of white adolescents and young adults between the ages of 12 to 25 sold drugs, compared to 5% of African-Americans in the same age range. Rothwell noted that “the drug war has a profoundly negative effect on racial equality, and on rates of upward mobility.”

Last May, the National Bureau of Economic Research published a study which found that African-Americans are routinely turned away by U.S. employers under the assumption that they use illegal drugs. University of Notre Dame economics professor and study author Abigail Wozniak said she didn’t believe employers were intentionally being discriminatory, but that their racial bias appeared in more subtle ways.

“The results don’t look like what you would call typical old-school racism. The research in the paper suggest that the bias is coming in more subtle ways,” she said. “Instead of looking really hard at every applicant, they [employers] have these impressions that they go by. Testing gives them a rule of thumb that avoids this bias.”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.