Many students were upset about an investigation a while ago that lead to the suspension of many students. But it might surprise students to learn that this was actually a relatively tame investigation. Here is a podcast from This American Life about a real drug investigation in a high school in Florida. Click on the link below and click on Act Two and play.
Act Two. 21 Chump Street.
Last year at three high schools in Palm Beach County, Florida, several young police officers were sent undercover to pose as students, tasked with making drug arrests. And this, this is the setting for a love story, reported by Robbie Brown. Robbie works for The New York Times in Atlanta. (13 minutes)
After listening can you see how our school handled the investigation the way the Saints were treated in the Chambliss reading instead of how the Florida school handled it (like the roughnecks)? You can read along on the transcript here.
A second way that we see this relativity in drugs depends on who is getting caught using them. In a landmark study, The Vicious Circle, the Chicago Urban League wrote about how a Chicago Police drug sting operation was handing out felonies to impoverished minorities busted near the projects, but upper middleclass white kids from Naperville who were being caught there (instead of being given a felony) were having their parents called by the cops, or in some cases having their license suspended, but then they were released with no felony on their record. Dr. Paul Street of the Chicago Urban League writes,
Perhaps nothing reveals more dramatically Illinois authorities’ penchant for waging the War on Drugs in…disparate ways than the state’s enforcement of two 1989 bills mandating that a 15 or 16 year-old youth automatically would be prosecuted as an adult if he or she was charged with selling drugs within 1,000 feet of a school or a public housing project. Under the state’s Automatic Transfer laws…youth who have been convicted as adults can be transferred to adult prisons upon their 17th birthday and are automatically transferred on their 18th birthday….Of the 393 young people automatically transferred to adult facilities in Cook County from October 1999 to October 2000, 99.2 percent of them were minorities….
These findings are disturbing in light of evidence that white youth use illicit drugs at the same or higher rates as youth of color. They are doubly troublesome in light of recent reports on how local and state criminal justice authorities have chosen to deal with the rising number of ‘young [white] suburbanites’ purchasing heroin and other illegal narcotics on the city’s predominantly black West Side. In August 2001, The Chicago Tribune reported that city police and DuPage…drug cops… had selected a rather mild sanction for the suburban offenders. ‘Officers,’ the Tribune noted, ‘have seen teens make drug buys, traced the license plates of their cars and notified the registered owner, often a parent, where the vehicle has been.’
Last June…Cook County prosecuters and police had increased the level of punishment for the young suburbanites, threatening to impound their automobiles and suspend their driver’s licenses. William O’Brien, Chief of Narcotics for the State’s Attorney’s Office gave the following rationale for this ‘new crackdown,’ which contrasted sharply with the prison sentences faced by 15-year-old inner city youth caught selling narcotics next to a public housing project; when it comes to young and automobile centered suburban kids, O’Brien explained, ‘driving privileges may resonate more…than the threat of jail.’
The Vicious Circle by Dr. Paul Street, The Chicago Urban League, 2002. (pp.13-14)
Some other examples of how this applies to life beyond high school are the ways in which our society focuses on street crime as opposed to white collar crime. Most of the news each night is spent on street crime: murders, burglary, robbery and rape. The popular media likes reporting on these because they are action-oriented, personalized and fearful. Each crime is presented like a mini-drama story. However, white collar crime is far more costly and perhaps more dangerous. White collar crime includes tax evasion, bribery, embezzling, negligence. For example, a department store defrauded poor customers of over 100 million dollars; tire company executives allowed faulty tires to remain on vehicles despite recalling the tires in other countries - 200 people were killed before the tires were removed; an oil company skirted safeguards which resulted in an explosion and environmental disaster killing 12 people and costing billions of dollars. In each of these cases, there may have been fines imposed on the companies involved, but no one went to prison. No one received a felony record. I bet you cannot name an individual person involved in the incident because no one person was labeled as deviant.
Another example of this is Freaks and Geeks episode 13 is an example of Chambliss's thesis. Lindsay is experimenting with pot but she does not get caught, but her freek friends get caught. They are expected to be deviant. They may have even accepted the label of being deviant and they now see themselves as deviant and that influences their actions.