Ten African-American Boston Police Officers who lost their jobs due to failed drug tests have won a major victory at a federal appeals court, reports the Boston Herald. The fired cops claim that a hair follicle test used to detect drug use unfairly singles out black people and leads to false positives. The appeals court judge agreed and sent the case back to the district court that had thrown it out.
According to data from the police department, among both officers and cadets, there were 55 blacks and 30 whites who tested positive for cocaine from 1999 to 2006. However, there were over two-and-a-half times more whites tested than blacks. Statistical analysis showed these disproportionate rates of cocaine positive tests for black officers and cadets could not be mere chance, fulfilling an important legal test to determine if the testing violates the Civil Rights Act.
Hair follicle testing has long been criticized as racially unfair due to the higher levels of melanin found in the hair of African and Mediterranean people. Melanin, the protein that gives us our skin and hair color, also happens to bind to cocaine and other drug metabolites at a higher rate. The unanimous three judge appeals agreed, noting that the federal government abandoned hair testing for federal employees over concerns of reliability.
Six of the 10 officers have already been rehired and given back pay when the Massachusetts Civil Service Commission threw out hair testing last year. But all ten are continuing their suit to get the other four police officers reinstated and to claim more restitution from the state. They are joined by the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers, whose president, Larry Ellison, told the Herald he doesn’t “want people accused of something that the science can’t say, ‘This is what they did.’ ”
Huh, Larry? You mean like when one of your K-9 officers alerts on a car that you claimed smells of weed and it turns out to have no weed inside? Or like when a positive result for marijuana metabolites on a piss test is used to convict a sober person of impaired driving? Or are you only worried about the junk drug detection science when it indicts black police officers of having previously used cocaine?
There’s a certain irony to a minority police officers’ association complaining about the inherent civil rights violation of a hair follicle drug test, rather than the inherent civil rights violation of drug testing in the first place. It’s not that this type of drug testing is racist, it’s that drug testing itself is wrong. Add to the irony that these cops who get their jobs back because of the racism of drug testing will go back to enforcing drug laws that disproportionately target minorities, and that the drug testing itself exists due to the drug war, and you’ve got your USDA recommended dose of irony for the month.
Didn’t someone once reveal his dream that someday society would judge his children not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character? Judging people’s fitness for employment by the content of their urine, saliva, and hair betrays the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It’s nice some Boston cops are beginning to understand the anger many of us, including me, have felt when fired from a job we’re well-qualified for because of a drug test.