Keri Blakinger, a senior at Cornell University, was arrested this week with $150,000 worth of heroin in her possession. The arrest represents the second largest drug bust in the history of the Ithaca, NY police department. Blakinger was carrying the drugs in a tupperware bowl and immediately admitted that the drugs belonged to her.
According to her Facebook page, Blakinger was an English major. There is no word on what sentence could be, but given the magnitude of New York drug laws, she may be in prison for a very long time.
The Blakinger case at Cornell is a telling reminder that drug abuse occurs on quite a few campuses across the country and not just in urban communities. This is not the first Ivy League drug ring to be brought to light. Others have been found at Harvard, Columbia and other well-regarded campuses. But while bad behavior knows few boundaries, there is a stark disparity in the way that drug possession and use is prosecuted, and much of that variation runs along racial lines.
Whites and blacks have roughly proportionate drug use (10.1 percent for blacks and 8.2 percent for whites) , but there are 70 percent more black inmates than white who are incarcerated for drug-related offenses (115,000 to 72,000). Much of the disparity is driven by the fact that African Americans are more likely to be searched, arrested and incarcerated than whites, even when they commit the same crimes. While Blakinger is certainly going to be punished for her crime (as she should be), one expects that Cornell police won't be as quick to incarcerate Blakinger's clients as they were to go after the dealer herself.
If police were to search college students the way they search black men on the street, they'd be shocked at what they find. I've been on college campuses for a long time, and have been consistently stunned by the amount of drug and alcohol abuse I've witnessed. What's also interesting is that much of this behavior is written off as young people simply being kids, and often overlooked by police who fear the backlash from parents and university administrators. One of the reasons I support the Georgia Prison Strike is not because I think that every person in prison is innocent. It's because our commitment to the disproportionate sentencing of minorities (where black men have become a commodity that supports the profitability of the prison industrial complex) undermines the state of the African American family. We can't keep pretending that one life is more or less valuable than another.
As far as Keri Blakinger is concerned, she won't be the last Ivy League student to be found selling drugs. As long as there is drug use, there will always be someone around to sell them. But when it comes to the myth that college campuses are somehow immune to the same problems that occur in inner cities across America, we shouldn't believe the hype. The difference is that college students are typically kept out of our penitentiaries, and African Americans are not.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition and a Scholarship in Action Resident of the Institute for Black Public Policy. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.