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Subst Use Misuse. 2015;50(8-9):1188-94. doi: 10.3109/10826084.2015.1007669.

War on Drugs Policing and Police Brutality.

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a Departments of Behavioral Sciences and Health Education, and Epidemiology, Rollins School of Public Health , Emory University , Atlanta , Georgia , USA.



War on Drugs policing has failed to reduce domestic street-level drug activity: the cost of drugs remains low and drugs remain widely available.


In light of growing attention to police brutality in the United States, this paper explores interconnections between specific War on Drugs policing strategies and police-related violence against Black adolescents and adults in the United States.


This paper reviews literature about (1) historical connections between race/ethnicity and policing in the United States; (2) the ways that the War on Drugs eroded specific legal protections originally designed to curtail police powers; and (3) the implications of these erosions for police brutality targeting Black communities.


Policing and racism have been mutually constitutive in the United States. Erosions to the 4th Amendment to the Constitution and to the Posse Comitatus Act set the foundations for two War on Drugs policing strategies: stop and frisk and Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams. These strategies have created specific conditions conducive to police brutality targeting Black communities. Conclusions/Importance: War on Drugs policing strategies appear to increase police brutality targeting Black communities, even as they make little progress in reducing street-level drug activity. Several jurisdictions are retreating from the War on Drugs; this retreat should include restoring rights originally protected by the 4th Amendment and Posse Comitatus. While these legal changes occur, police chiefs should discontinue the use of SWAT teams to deal with low-level nonviolent drug offenses and should direct officers to cease engaging in stop and frisk.


War on Drugs; police brutality; policy analysis; racism; violence

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