In 1971, President Richard Nixon declared a “War on Drugs,” saying that drug addiction was “public enemy number one.” The use of heroin was apparently on the rise; soldiers serving in Viet-Nam were disproportionately addicted to that drug.
By the mid-60s, there was significant backlash to the intervention of the federal government as it passed legislation to protect the right of black people to vote. More black people voting threatened to weaken the capacity of state governments to pass and uphold white racist legislation. There had to be a way to neutralize the black vote; Nixon actually said that the “problem” was the blacks and there had to be developed a system to control them while not appearing to. Politicians had to feed into the fear of whites that blacks, allowed to vote, would have too much power. And so, code language was developed and used; “states rights” was one of the code phrases used; whites understood that phrase to mean that the federal government had overstepped its bounds by passing legislation which protected the rights of blacks, and the “war on drugs” was yet another phrase used to support the belief that black people were in effect the bane of American society. Conducting a “war on drugs” was effectively conducting a campaign against black people, making sure there was a reason to arrest and imprison them, moving them out of the way.
So, this war on drugs has proliferated; literally hundreds of thousands of black people are in prison for minor, non-violent drug charges. When or as the rhetoric about Freddie Gray has increased, news reports are careful to say that he has a “slew” of minor drug offenses and that his arrest took place in a “drug infested neighborhood.” Such language validates the feeling that he was a criminal, worthy, perhaps, of whatever police decided to do to him.
It hit me, though, that the “war on drugs” is severely deficient. If we take the term at face value, and eliminate the racial undertones, it is clear that many of America’s neighborhoods are “drug infested.” Street drugs may be the norm in poor neighborhoods, but in affluent neighborhoods, drug use is rampant as well. People who can afford it are addicted to prescription drugs, including Oxycontin and Valium and Xanax, to name a few. Powder cocaine use is notoriously rampant amongst the wealthy. And kids in affluent high schools, as well as in colleges, are known to use any drug they can get their hands on.
It hit me: If we’re going to conduct a war on drugs …then let’s conduct a war.
Instead of singling out the poor, who use street drugs, let’s go after the wealthy, who use and sell drugs just as much as do poor people. Since we have a penchant for locking up those who use and sell drugs, let’s lock up those affluent people who are smack dab in the middle of the drug culture.
Let’s do a war on drugs, for real.
It would be refreshing if the media would not keep lifting up that Gray lived in, or was stopped in, a drug-infested neighborhood. The media helps sustain the perception of black people as the primary problem drug users and sellers in this nation. That simply is not true, and it is disingenuous for the media to keep up its biased reporting, helping to support the myths that make way too many people feel smug about police arresting individuals and locking them up for years. The media have helped, and is helping, the process of dehumanizing and criminalizing black, brown, and poor people.
If it is a war on drugs that America wants, I repeat, let’s do a war …and go after ALL people who are engaged in using and selling drugs. There should not be such a blatant practice of racial and class discrimination based on a culture which is drug-infested in and of itself.
A candid observation …