Major Department



College of Liberal Arts & Sciences


BA (Bachelor of Arts)

Session and Year of Graduation

Spring 2018

Honors Major Advisor

Alyssa Park

Thesis Mentor

Colin Gordon


This thesis regards the history and politics surrounding the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act and the transformation of racism in the United States from the late 19th century to the end of the 20th century. Examining the history of moral drug panics in the U.S., allows for exploration of how criminal law has historically been used to punish unwanted minorities, especially in times of economic uncertainty. Further discussed are the shifts that took place in the 1960s that changed how Americans viewed urban poverty and crime. After the war on poverty became the war on crime, Reagan's war on drugs intensified the punitive ideology of the war on crime through the issue of illegal drugs. The media's onslaught of coverage on the "demon drug" crack cocaine in 1986 furthered public panic. The media's coverage, steeped in racial animus and depicting crack users and dealers as urban black males, tapped into the public's latent race-based fears. From here, the draconian "crack statute" was passed by a hasty Congress- affected by the election year sensitivity. Thus, the unjust and unfounded 100-to-1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine was made law, overwhelmingly punishing young, black males and perpetuating an unequal system that works to stifle black progress and racial equality.


war on drugs, crack cocaine, 1986 anti-drug abuse act, moral panics, mass incarceration

Total Pages

55 pages


Copyright © 2018 Caroline Garske