‘War On Drugs’ Was A Racist Fraud All Along, Ex-Nixon Staffer Admits
In a Harper’s article urging an end to our disastrous “War on Drugs,” Dan Baum recalls an astonishing interview with the late John Ehrlichman, a policy advisor to President Richard Nixon.
It was back in 1994 and Baum was doing research for his book, “Smoke and Mirrors: The War On Drugs and the Politics of Failure.” He’d prepared his questions, but Ehrlichman brushed them aside.
“You want to know what this was really all about?” he asked with the bluntness of a man who, after public disgrace and a stretch in federal prison, had little left to protect. “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying?”
Dan Baum’s jaw must have fallen to the floor as John Ehrlichman dropped the epic truth bomb to end all truth bombs: Richard Nixon declared a “War on Drugs” in 1971 as a sneaky way to roll back the Civil Rights Movement and criminalize uppity black people, their damned hippie sympathizers, and other malcontents who dared to question authority or try changing The System.
“We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the [Vietnam] war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
Jezebel adds that although Richard Nixon launched the “War on Drugs,” Ronald Reagan doubled down on it.
The War on Drugs was a Nixon invention but, as Baum explains, it’s been useful for every president thereafter, and its function as a suppressive tool didn’t exactly wane—recall the way it defined Reagan’s crack era, which was funneled into black neighborhoods by the CIA and then used to decimate an entire generation.
The “War on Drugs” continues to the present day and has emerged as a focal point of the Black Lives Matter movement. As Bernie Sanders has pointed out, we have “more people in jail than in any other country on earth.” Our prison population has doubled in the past 15 years, over 70 percent serve time for non-violent drug offenses, and roughly half of our inmates are black. White and black men do illegal drugs at roughly the same rates, yet the rate of drug arrests for black men has tripled compared to their white counterparts.
The costs of keeping all these people locked up are staggering. Simply releasing all the non-violent drug offenders we’ve put behind bars would save an estimated $9.3 billion a year. Dan Baum and other advocates tout these statistics — along with promising data from countries like the Netherlands and Portugal — to support their argument for decriminalizing drugs.
Alas, they’re missing the point.
The “War on Drugs” creates slave labor for our for-profit prison industry.
The so-called War on Drugs offers law enforcement a legal and convenient way to suppress dissent and terrorize communities of color because lots of Americans use illegal recreational drugs. But guess what? The War on Drugs is also highly profitable for the private prison industry,
Our history classes teach us that slavery ended in 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation. What most of us are not taught is that the 13th Amendment followed two years later with a gaping loophole that allows “involuntary servitude” for those “duly convicted” of a crime.
The private prison industry rakes in $5 billion a year and is among most powerful lobby groups in Washington. US Uncut reports that for as little as .74 cents a day, slave laborers toil away in America’s prisons raising tilapia for Whole Foods, supplying all manner of goods to Walmart, sewing undergarments for Victoria’s Secret, staffing call centers for AT&T, and providing cheap labor for America’s biggest corporate names. These companies may claim they don’t engage in shady labor practices, but they turn a blind eye towards their low-bid contractors.
When you take a long, hard look at the War on Drugs and many of our other most intractable issues, they almost always boil down to this: Our nation rose to wealth and power on the backs of slave labor, our business and banking elites still demand slave labor, and they pay our lawmakers handsomely to ensure that they have never-ending supply.
When push comes to shove, our addiction to slave labor poses a much bigger threat than our addiction to drugs.
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Elisabeth Parker is a writer, web designer, mom, political junkie, and dilettante.