About the Author
An historian and journalist, Forrest Hylton teaches Latin American politics and world history at the Universidad de los Andes (Bogotá), and is the author of Evil Hour in Colombia (Verso, 2006), among other books.
One of the defining policies of Cold War liberalism, President Johnson’s “War on Poverty”—which had less than one-tenth of the lifespan of the “War on Drugs”—took for granted that federal and state governments should take responsibility for improving the plight of the poor in northern cities, and represented a semi-coherent response to African American riots and insurgencies. But what if poor black people in cities could be held responsible for their poverty? What if, as industrial jobs disappeared by the millions, they became addicted to selling or consuming illegal drugs produced and/or distributed by U.S. government allies in Cold War counterinsurgent campaigns? Then, of course, African Americans could be locked up for non-violent drug offenses and warehoused in prisons at an accelerated rate.
“blame is at the heart of the War on Drugs.
politicians’ reactions to economic restructuring and the closure of many of America’s biggest factories in the 1970s and 80s, that the crack scare obviated the need to develop effective policies to tackle unemployment. As long as the focus stayed on drug sales and drug abuse, inner-city residents could be blamed for the poverty they had been driven into…what the politicians had to do was convince the American public that the inner cities deserved to be abandoned.”
The idea was to put African Americans back in their place without Jim Crow segregation, and to get elected or re-elected by doing it.
Nixon’s “War on Drugs,” Feiling notes, was “politically expedient, since it turned attention away from…Vietnam,
Whereas the U.S. had 200,000 prisoners in the 1970s, it currently has 1.8 million in jail and 5 million on probation or parole, making it the largest carceral state-society in world history
The U.S. accounts for 5 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of its prison population. 500,000 people are serving time for non-violent drug offenses.
the profile of the U.S. prison population does not reflect consumption patterns: whites consume an estimated 80 percent of cocaine in the U.S., while African Americans consume 13 percent;
Yet 38 percent of those arrested and 59 percent of those convicted for drug offenses have been African Americans.
Were it not for the media, the law, policing, and prisons, the main feature of crack users would be their poverty and the misery of their de-industrialized urban surroundings, not their race.
After Ronald Reagan was elected, aerial fumigation was undertaken against marijuana growers in Mexico, Jamaica, and Colombia in the early 1980s, even as the Pacific Northwest became the leading supplier of the U.S. market thanks to its competitive advantage in transport costs;
“They” refers to drug barons, many of them large landowners as well as warlords, in Colombia, Mexico, Afghanistan, and Pakistan,
U.S. government allies in such countries—the intelligence services, the judicial systems, the military and police, business and political elites—are either complicit with or directly involved in supplying
in order to finance counter-insurgency wars.
The common thread is that the anti-communist end justified the means—active or passive collaboration with rightwing drug trafficking organizations in brutal counter-insurgency wars—in all places at all times.
In the neoliberal economy of the 1980s, anchored in financial services, insurance, real estate, and speculative asset bubbles, many African American males and immigrant males of color saw the cocaine-crack business as the way to achieve material security.
Latin American countries have now joined the Netherlands in treating drug consumption as a public health problem rather than a police problem.
In the U.S., however,
who wins and who loses from legalization. The losers, not necessarily in order of importance, would include U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the DEA, U.S. Border Patrol, the FBI, the ATF, the IRS, state and local police forces, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Armed Forces,
arms manufacturers like Sikorsky Helicopters; large pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer; suppliers of chemicals for fumigation like Monsanto; the banking sector as well as off-shore tax havens; the Republican Party; along with warlords, gangs, and gangsters
The clearest winners would be consumers, direct producers, and societies that would be less militarized, less carceral, less moralizing, and would have stronger public health and education systems.
“When you train your police to go to war, they’ve got to have an enemy.” Cole considers the War on Drugs a “terrible metaphor” for “policing in a democratic society.” Terrible, alas, but substitute “neoliberal” for “democratic” and it is nothing if not apt. Predictably, Obama and Kerlikowske have dropped the nomenclature, but the policies remain intact.