Drug Culture on College Campuses and the Criminalization of Student Athletes | Urban Cusp


Drug Culture on College Campuses and the Criminalization of Student

By David J. Leonard

UC Columnist

Eye on Culture

In a world where the stigmas of drugs and the destructiveness of the war on drugs have been confined to the black community, particularly those segregated urban spaces, the recent announcement of the arrest of several students from Texas Christian University should cause pause. Following a 6-month investigation from the DEA, the police arrested 17 students, including 4 football players, selling a myriad of drugs – marijuana, cocaine, prescription drugs and ecstasy on and off campus. The inclusion of 4 football players resulted in widespread media coverage, few which made note that 3 of those arrested were white, an important fact given the media-produced stereotype about race, crime, and American athletes. Worse yet, the efforts to isolate the problem of drugs to student athletes, not only plays upon stereotypes about black athletes, even in instances such as this where only 1 person involved is African American, but once again exonerates whiteness from the discussion. In narrating the problem of drugs on college campuses through athletics, an identity difficult to disentangle from blackness within the white imagination, the media sensationalism perpetuates a racially-defined war on drugs.

Described as a “stain on the football program,” and “an especially embarrassing blow to the school because it included four members of the high-profile football team,” the media response focused on the arrest of the 4 student-athletes, simultaneously rendering the other students (at least 11) and non-students involved as insignificant to the larger story. Those from the football team became the story, the starting team, with the others involved reduced to peripheral bench players unworthy of media investigation or commentary. In “TCU Will Survive Shameful Day,” Jean-Jacques Taylor denounced the players as “shameful, embarrassing, stupid,” seemingly letting the other students involved, the school, and the coach off the hook. In fact, Taylor celebrates the coach for how he handled the situation even though according to the article, 80 players tested positive for drugs (other sources put this number between 5-16): “Perhaps he’s simply observed what’s happened at Ohio State and Penn State recently and decided the fallout from the cover-up is so much worse than the crime that it’s far better to come clean and deal with the consequences,” writes the reporter for ESPN Dallas. “Either way, Patterson should be applauded for having the gumption to reportedly order team-wide drug testing when a recruit told him that he was declining a scholarship offer because of the drug culture.” Like much of the media coverage, Taylor turns a 6-month investigation that netted the arrests of at least 17 people for narcotics distribution to the “drug culture” of the team.

He was not alone with a significant media emphasis on how the arrests were emblematic of an epidemic ravaging college athletes. Eric Olson, with “TCU Bust Sign of Increased Pot Problem,” sought to contextualize the arrests as evidence of a larger problem. Noting that 22.6% of student-athletes reported using marijuana once during the last 12 months, and how that number is up from 21.2% in 2005, Olson argues that these arrests are indicative of a larger problem for college sports. Yet, the “evidence” provided by this study is actually contradicted by the study itself, which argues that the slight increase in marijuana use reflects a societal shift rather than something specific to college athletics. Moreover, the study found that within the NCAA, marijuana use is least common amongst Division I student-athletes (16.9%), with Division II student-athletes (21.4%) and those from Division III having the highest level of usage with a number of 28.3%. In fact, while drug usage declined at the Division I level, those other two levels saw increases. Olson also references usage amongst student-athletes playing football and basketball, coincidentally those sports with the most visible number of African Americans, implying that the problem is acute within these sports. While basketball (22%) and football (26.7%) mirror widespread findings within all sports (the study doesn’t break the information down for each sport within each division), men’s lacrosse (48.5%), women’s lacrosse (30%) and women’s field hockey (35.7%) might as well get a feature article in High Times.

continue reading @ Drug Culture on College Campuses and the Criminalization of Student Athletes | Urban Cusp.

NewBlackMan: The “Reasonable Fear” of a Black Male: The Trayvon Martin Tragedy

The “Reasonable Fear” of a Black Male:

The Trayvon Martin Tragedy

by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan

In 2008, 20/20 conducted an experiment to examine how people would respond to criminal activity. Inside a New Jersey park, three white youths gleefully vandalized a car. Without concern for the people walking throughout the park, they destroy the car with a bat and spray paint. In the course of the experiment, only a few individuals call the police or even challenge the kids, with some even joking around with them. When 20/20 swapped out the three white youth for three black youth, the public response was drastically changed, with many more calls to the police. Highlighting the ways race and criminality interact through stereotypes and daily behavior, the most telling aspect of the experiment resulted from an unplanned development. As the white youths wreaked havoc on the car, three black youth waited in another car. These boys, relatives of one of the black actors who were taking part in the experiment, were asleep. In the first instance, the caller suggests that the boys looked like they were going to rob someone. In a case of ‘sleeping while black’ there were two 911 calls (compared to one 911 call about the white youth).

Given persistent stereotypes, news media and popular culture, and a culture of dehumanization, it is no wonder that the 20/20 experiment found that irrespective of behavior black youth convey fear and animosity driven by their presumed criminality, an experience dramatically different from that of white youth. Writing about research on imagery and criminalization, Joe Feagin, in The White Racial Frame, highlights the profound issues at work here. “These researchers conclude that the visual and verbal dehumanization of black Americans as apelike assist in the process by which some groups become targets of societal ‘cruelty, social degradation, and state-sanctioned violence” (p. 105). From a history of slavery and lynching, up through the persistent realities of racial profiling, mass incarceration, and daily instances of violence, the connection between dehumanization and criminalization has been central to white supremacy.

I thought about this experiment when I first heard about the murder of Trayvon Martin. The connection became especially powerful after continually hearing references to “reasonable fear,” the fact that George Zimmerman called 911 because he saw a suspicious person in his gated community, and the purported “perceived threat”; all of this led me back to this study and the countless amount of research that illustrates the power and saturation of the “criminalblackman.” As evident here, it is hard, if not disingenuous, not connect this case and the ideas of fear, suspicion, and threat (and whiteness as innocence), to dominant ideologies of race.

On March 12, 2012, Stanford Police Chief, Bill Lee announced that Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense fit with the evidence of their investigation. During a press conference, he made this clear over and over again: “We don’t have anything to dispute his claim of self defense at this point with the evidence.” He additionally defended the decision not to issue an arrest warrant because of a lack of probable cause: “Until we can establish probable cause to dispute that, we don’t have the grounds to arrest him.” Given recent reports about the investigation, one has to wonder if this even possible.

Similarly, the news media has emphasized that Zimmerman had a bloody nose, that the back of his t-shirt was wet, and that reports indicate an argument all as potential explanation for what happen. We can see an emerging narrative that explains (rationalizes/justifies) the situation as if an argument or even a “fight” justifies the use of a gun on an unarmed teenager.

At the same time, likely responding to this growing anger about this injustice, the media coverage has increasingly emphasized the legal context. In Florida, because of the “stand your ground law,” which Jeb Bush signed into law in 2005, individuals who believe they are under attack can use deadly force. If a person feels in danger and if a person has “reasonable fear” they are legally allowed to use deadly force. According Joëlle Anne Moreno, “under the new law, if you are not engaged in an illegal activity, you can stand your ground by ‘meeting force with force, including deadly force’ if you ‘reasonably believe it is necessary’ to prevent death, great bodily harm, or the commission of a forcible felony.” In other words, if you reasonably believe you or others are in danger you are entitled and empowered to use force irrespective of the actual threat. It is about belief and perception.

Continue reading @ NewBlackMan: The “Reasonable Fear” of a Black Male: The Trayvon Martin Tragedy.

New post from @NewBlackMan- Campus PD: Criminalizing Higher Education?


Campus PD: Criminalizing Higher Education?
by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan

In what was obviously a slow night television night, I found myself searching for something to watch.  After perusing up and down the onscreen schedule, I came across Campus PD (I was somewhat familiar with show having read about their filming in Pullman, WA, where I live), a show that “takes viewers along for the ride with officers on duty to capture firsthand all the mayhem and excitement they take on night after night when student fun spirals out of control.” The show is described in the following way:

From policing parties and security issues, to keeping the peace at sports events and arresting possible suspects, ride with the “Campus PD” as they tackle the ongoing challenge of keeping students safe. Depicting university life from the perspective of the law enforcement professionals who police them, this ground-breaking new series presents a real-life account of these modern-day campus heroes. As they gear up for a shift, these courageous cops know they’re in for a few surprises!

The series heads to five college towns across the country including Tallahassee, FL, San Marcos, TX, Cincinnati, OH, Chico, CA, and Greenville, NC. It takes viewers deep inside the internal lives of the law enforcement professionals policing a town of fun-loving college kids. It isn’t easy, but these dedicated officers love their jobs, and wouldn’t have it any other way.


The emphasis on “fun,” “keeping student’s safe” “fun-loving college kids,” parties, and “binge drinking COEDS” is instructive, demonstrating how a show about criminal misconduct goes to great extents to decriminalize its primarily white, middle-class, “participants” and in doing so criminalizes the Other once again.


The show might as well be called “Warning PD.”  In the three episodes I watched on television, and countless clips online (which don’t necessarily show the encounters from start to finish leaving it hard to see the final resolution), I have only seen a handful of actual arrests.  For the most part, the show brings to life several excessively permissive campus police forces, who tolerate abuse, disrespect, and a culture of chaos.  In many instances, college students are given countless warnings, and only after failing to comply with instructions, are they forced to deal with the repercussions of their actions with a ticket or an arrest.


Another common theme within these initial episodes I watched from start to finish was a belief from the students they were unjustly being persecuted by the police.  Students would often note that, “they were not doing” anything wrong, or that they were simply engaged in “harmless fun” only to be harassed by campus police.  Given the ways in which harassment, racial profiling, and pre-text stops so often define the experiences of youth of color, it is a troubling re-imagination of policing in America.  Worse yet, Campus PD does a good job in showing why many college students view police as unfairly harassing them.


In two different episodes (as in the book Dorm Room Dealers), students respond to the presence of police by telling them to go “police” and investigate some real criminals.  That is, they were wasting their time with the happenings of college students since they were harmless, as opposed to those who “lived over there.”  In both instances, “over there” was clearly the neighborhood inhabited by poor people of color.  This assumption (one that is reinforced by the show) that the “real criminals” exist elsewhere reflects the power of American racial and class logic.


According to a study from the Journal of Alcohol and Drug Education, 95 percent of respondents imagined an African American when asked about drug users.  In other words, blackness operates interchangeably with criminality, especially in relationship to the urban poor.  Better said, “to be a man of color of a certain economic class and milieu is equivalent in the public eye to being a criminal.” (John Edgar Wideman, p. 195)


The consequences of the permissive policing and a culture that imagines college students engaged in criminal activity as just having fun (as opposed to the “real criminals”), is evident in the lack of attention directed at the criminal misconduct taking place at America’s colleges and universities.


According to a 2007 study reported in USA Today, over half of America’s college student regularly abuse alcohol and drugs.

The study found that college students have higher rates of alcohol or drug addiction than the general public: 22.9% of students meet the medical definition for alcohol or drug abuse or dependence — a compulsive use of a substance despite negative consequences — compared with 8.5% of all people 12 and older.


Increasingly, along with the traditionally seen drug and alcohol abuse, college students are abusing prescription drugs like Adderall, termed “smart drugs” by many college students.  “For many middle and upper-middle class young people in New York,” notes Lala Straussner. “Adderall is much more acceptable than using methamphetamine (more common on West Coast) or crack cocaine, although the brain doesn’t know the difference.” Yet, the ubiquity and acceptance of “smart drugs” is simply the perceived function or the consequences of these drugs but the ways in which crack and meth are both racialized and connected to distinct class identities.  Prescription drugs, on the other hand, are linked to those in college, who are said to have a future, illustrating criminality and criminals are identities are constructed as elsewhere and not within college communities.


While shows like Campus PD illustrate the ubiquity of instances of public intoxication, cases of drunk-driving, and physical assaults, other issues plague college communities.  As such, it does little to elucidate the problem of sexual violence (20-25% of women in college will experience rape or an attempted rape), prescription drug abuse, and even drug dealing.  The erasure of these systemic problems reflects a culture that imagines college as a space of parties, fun, and adolescent behavior rather than criminal activity.


This type of narrative is evident in the recent drug busts at San Diego Sate University and Columbia University.  In 2008, after a several month investigation, authorities arrested 75 students (96 people in total), confiscating drugs worth a total of approximately $100,000 worth of drugs.  Among the 20 students arrested for distribution and sales was a criminal justice major, who when arrested was in possession of two guns and 500 grams of cocaine.   San Diego County Dist. Atty. Bonnie Dumanis made clear that their investigation demonstrated “how accessible and pervasive illegal drugs continue to be on our college campuses and how common it is for students to be selling to other students.” This was certainly true with Columbia University, where 5 students were arrested as part of “Operation Ivy League,” “a five-month undercover sting, during which police purchased $11,000 worth of drugs from the students out of Columbia fraternity houses and dorms.”


While the media rendered this incidence and that at SDSU as a shocking spectacle, it is clear that the situation at these schools is a national phenomenon.   This should actually be surprising given how drug markets are as segregated as the rest of America.  According to A. Rafik Mohamed and Erik D. Fritsvold, authors of Dorm Room Dealers, who spent 6-years examining drug distribution at a Southern California Private school, not only do students sell to other students, but do in a reckless manner, which in their mind highlight a sense of entitlement based on the students’ middle-class white identities.  Phillip Smith describes their findings in “Dorm Room Dealers: A Peek into the Drug World of the White and Upwardly Mobile”:

Mohamed and Fritsvold show repeatedly the reckless abandon with which their subjects went about their business: Dope deals over the phone with uncoded messages, driving around high with pounds of pot in the car, doing drug transactions visible from the street, selling to strangers, smuggling hundreds of pills across the Mexican border. These campus dealers lacked even the basics of drug dealer security measures, yet they flew under the radar of the drug warriors.

Even when the rare encounter with police occurred, these well-connected students skated. In one instance, a dealer got too wasted and attacked someone’s car. He persuaded a police officer to take him home in handcuffs to get cash to pay for the damages. The cop ignored the scales, the pot, the evidence of drug dealing, and happily took a hundred dollar bill for his efforts. In another instance, a beach front dealer was the victim of an armed robbery. He had no qualms about calling the police, who once again couldn’t see the evidence of dealing staring them in the face and who managed to catch the robbers. The dealer wisely didn’t claim the pounds of pot police recovered and didn’t face any consequences.



A former Columbia student highlights a similar culture there, adding more evidence to the arguments offered in Dorm Room Dealers.

But, in fact, the prestigious institution on Manhattan’s Upper West Side has long been “ripe” for drug trafficking, a knowledgeable 2009 Columbia graduate told The Daily Beast. “I think the permissive environment of Public Safety”—as Columbia’s campus police force is known—“makes it a no-brainer proposition,” said this former student, who described himself as a recreational drug user who dabbled in selling. “I always felt safe.”


The culture and climate of Columbia in terms of public concern and policing, as opposed to the levels of surveillance found a few miles away in Harlem, tells an important story about how race and class operate in contemporary America.  Campus PD offers a similarly distorted glimpse a crime as well.


Media accounts of these two recent drug operations and shows like Campus PD have done little to shine a spotlight on the double standards that exist between the primarily white middle-class student population and poor youth of color when it comes to policing and incarceration.  With the situation at Columbia, one student has plead guilty thus far; although charged with the most serious crimes, he was sentenced to 6-months in prison in July.  In a city where 46,500 people were arrested for marijuana possession in 2009, with 87% of these people being black and Latino, the inequality is quite clear.


San Diego saw a similar outcome, with many of those arrested pleading guilty only to face probation and entrance into a drug diversion programs, leading some people to question why police are spending so much time and energy conducting investigations against college students that do not result in incarcerations.   When considering the media coverage, popular representations of college campuses, levels of policing and unzealous prosecution, it is no wonder that while African Americans constitute 13% of all monthly drug users, they represent 38% of these arrested for drug possession, 55% of convictions and 74% of prison sentences; it is as argued by Michelle Alexander, the new Jim Crow, ostensibly cordoning off America’s college and universities from policing and prosecution.  The criminalization of black and brown youth and the decriminalization of white America, particularly its middle-class college-bound constituency, have material consequences.


Evident in a show like Campus PD and the various examples provided here is the ways in which  “what it means to be criminal in our collective consciousness to what it means to be black.”  In other words, “the term black criminal is nearly redundant . . . . To be a black man is to be thought of as a criminal, and to be a black criminal is to be despicable – a social pariah” (Alexander 2010, p. 193).   No wonder so many students yell at cops to go focus on the “real criminals”; that is the message they have learned all too well.

Originally posted at NewBlackMan