Eugene Jarecki's documentary, "The House I Live In", connects the dots between the War on Drugs in America and the slow, institutionalised genecide of the poor.
Here is the situation. Since the 70's, the US has spent over $1 trillion dollars on their War on Drugs, yet drug use is the same as it's always been. In fact, drugs are cheaper, purer, and readily available. What has changed significantly, however, is the rate of incarceration. Between 1980 and 2000, the number of people behind bars went from 50,000 to 500,000. During this period 2.3m were incarcerated - most of whom were black. The number of drug-related arrests during the period is roughly 45 million.
Politicians want to appear tough on crime, so they sow fear around new designer drugs and inflate budgets for law enforcement. As the number of people incarcerated climbs, so does the need for products and services to support the industry. It's a virtuous circle that guarantees political support (aka, "re-election") and puts more money into law enforcement and the prison-industrial complex. The US has 5% of the world's population, but 25% of the world's incarcerated population.
Drug abuse should really be a matter of public health, yet talk of rehabilitation is noticeably absent from the political discussion. Instead, it has been framed as a law enforcement problem.
Incarcerating drug offenders for disproportionately long periods of time destroys communities and by not rehabilitating them ensures that the cycle will continue. There are too many vested interests in keeping the prison-industrial complex going. Not only are prisons being privatised, but are welcomed by towns desperate for employment and public funding.
The truth that has emerged from the documentary is that drugs are highly politicised and have historically been used for racial profiling and abuse. The way in which drugs are classified is highly political. For instance, Crack is simply cocaine that has been baked and bonded with bicarbonate of soda to deliver it in a different package. There is no proof that it is any more addictive than regular cocaine. Nevertheless, possession of Crack had a sentencing ration of 100:1 when compared to cocaine (Obama has since reduced this to 18:1). Plus, it has minimum sentencing that ensures a new offender is hardened in prison. Crack was typically identified as a 'black drug' and, so, has led to an inordinate proportion of black men being imprisoned, compared to the rest of the population. Despite the fact that black Americans do not use crack anymore than whites (in fact, whites use more), they represent 90% of the defendants in court over this issue (and are only 13% of the population).
The same was true of the opium den crackdowns during the expansion of the American West. Heroin, opium, and cocaine were freely available at the time and used by a wide cross-section of the population, but opium dens were associated with Chinese, who were putting locals jobs in danger, so they were rounded up using the anti-opium legislation. The same again occurred with the demonising of marijuana in the fifties in order to round up and incarcerate mexicans who were, again, a threat to the native workforce.
Whether the current "profiling by drugs" is intentional racism, or not, is under debate. Nobody can deny, however, that it has affected the black community disproportionally more than any other for the last forty years. These issues have only become part of a wider public debate ever since the criminalisation of crystal meth. That is because meth has mostly been used by white people - often, blue collar workers who have lost their jobs. Consequently, more white people are entering the prison system. This is starting to get the attention of the public at large.
What is particularly chilling about all this is that it is not far off from class genocide. It has been referred to as the "Chain of Destruction" and goes like this:
- Identification - a group of people are identified as the cause of problems in a society; they are perceived of by fellow citizens as evil or dangerous and their lives become worthless.
- Ostracism - citizens learn to hate these people and take their jobs and support networks away, so it is more difficult for them to survive; they are often forced to go live in ghettos, where they become physically isolated from the rest of society.
- Confiscation - these people lose their rights and civil liberties; laws are changed to enable them to be searched, property seized, and they, themselves, locked up.
- Concentration - they are put into prisons and camps; their rights are gone; they cannot vote, or have children; their labour is systematically exploited.
- Annihilation - this could be direct killing, or by degrees - withholding food, medical care, preventing future births.
This has already happened within many black communities within the US. Drug addicts have been identified, ostracised, their property seized (police can confiscate anything they want under the circumstances and keep it), put into prisons, and paid to have vasectomies. Plus, when they get out of prison, they have difficulty finding employment and cannot get social security services.
Since drug use is really about disenfranchisement, then it becomes a problem associated with poverty. What the US is doing by degrees is killing its poor. This is a class holocaust.
What do you think...?
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