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A War in Which the Battle Wounds Never Heal-The War on Drugs

A war disproportionately aimed at poor African Americans in which it marginalized them as they continue to struggle with as it has left ex-offenders and communities wounded and dehumanized.


On June 17, 1971 President Nixon officially declared the War on Drugs citing drug use as "America's public enemy #1." President Reagan later deemed drugs to be "an especially vicious virus of crime." The notion was to place punishment of drug use over rehabilitation. Reagan increased anti-drug enforcement spending and built a culture that demonized drug users in 1982. This ideology is still present in today's society, as drug use is criminalized. With the onset of the war on drugs new policies were developed to counter the rise in drug use that the country saw. These policies and laws called for mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses. To be specific the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 enacted mandatory minimum sentences for drug distribution and trafficking. The minimum was based on how much of the specific drug one had in their possession at the time of their apprehension. The minimum for a high level drug dealer was 10 years, while the minimum for a mid or low level dealer was 5 years. Two years later in 1988, Congress made the decision to expand what the act covered, it now covered those who conspired in drug offenses. This is where the disparity in policing and enforcing this act came into fruition.


A mandatory minimum was created for possessing crack cocaine, which would become the main focus of the War on Drugs. Legislators openly acknowledged that crack and powder cocaine had the same chemical makeup. The difference was the fact that crack could be smoked and sold for cheaper on the streets. Crack cocaine grew to be associated with violent crimes which led to the crack epidemic in 1986. If an individual was caught for the first time in possession of 5 grams of crack cocaine their mandatory minimum was 5 years. In contrast, an individual had to be in possession of at least 500 grams of powder cocaine to receive 5 years. After reading and deducting that the government had a specific target group for the war on drugs it is obvious that the intended group was the poor community. The poor community, especially African Americans were overly policed and more harshly punished than white people who were using essentially the same drug but with a different name and method of selling/availability. The United States has always historically punished people for drug use rather than attempting to rehabilitate users. The War on Drugs was during the get tough era, which in my opinion never ended for African Americans.The police entered African American poor communities and arrested its inhabitants at high rates which ultimately crippled the communities forever. The war on drugs is an example of those with power in society having their ideologies so deeply embedded into laws in order to protect their interest and preserve their power. Those with power in society shape the laws so that their behaviors are never criminalized and if they are the punishment is like a slap on the wrist.


During the War on Drugs, legislation was passed which kept ex-offenders from receiving financial aid, limited their access to public housing, and blocked them from receiving food stamps. The Anti-Drug Abuse Act not only enacted mandatory minimums but it also decreased the quality of life for an African American by not providing them with the ability to secure housing. This also led to the diminishing of black people's worth and identity in America in the eyes of white americans. If you're reading this and can't understand how this negatively affected black people, think of it as a human race issue, in my opinion drug use and addiction is a sickness so why how does it make sense to strip these people of things set in place to help improve their quality of life. When ex-offenders returned to their communities they had the wounds of the War on Drugs which America did everything in their power to never fully let heal. No matter how close they got to healing, America found a way to rip them back open. The War on Drugs didn't just strip black communities of its inhabitants and reshape their lives forever, but it also marginalized the communities themselves and dismantled families. The communities that were raided and destroyed were never able to recover due to the disproportionate removal of individuals who contributed to the community in economic, political, and social ways. These people could have potentially aided in fixing the communities and propelling them forward. Removing individuals at high rates disrupts the social cohesion and social controls in the community which is crucial for a community to function. If you're interested or confused as to what I'm talking about take the time to look up social cohesion and informal social control in terms of criminology.


I personally believe that their is subculture in these communities that is misunderstood by the outside, i.e. there is a separate set of rules that are lived by which is coupled with a lack of equal opportunities. I am not making excuses, but I am saying that the odds are openly stacked against individual's in these communities and not everyone of them is afforded with a chance to be and do better. It is no secret that there is a widespread lack of opportunities in low socioeconomic class neighborhoods, and we know that proximity is a factor in crimes being committed. Therefore, the government and the police's actions in targeting specific neighborhoods was a tactic to stop them from ever getting ahead, the War on Drugs knocked the black community while we were already down but on a come up. The black community was seen as such a threat that the government had to excessively use their power in an attempt to keep us down.


Bernadette Atuahene spoke about "dignity taking" which she defined as"occurring when a state directly or indirectly destroys or confiscates property rights from owners or occupiers and the intentional or unintentional outcome is dehumanization or infantilization." In other words, the War on Drugs stripped the offenders and the communities of their dignities, thus destroying lives and communities. According to Atuahene, dignity taking originated during the Apartheid-era. The government made the attempt to dehumanize communities that were plagued with drugs instead of rehabilitating them. The inflicted criminal punishments for drugs stripped the dignity from individuals and their communities.


The War on Drugs had collateral consequences, or in other words it was deeper than just sending individuals to prison. The Criminal Justice section of the American Bar Association and the National Institute of Justice created a codified list of collateral consequences across the United States into the National Inventory of the Collateral Consequences of Conviction. The biggest take away is that punishment is socially and morally degrading as it is connected to the systematic oppression of black people.


John Acevedo theorizes that dehumanization was initiated by the War on Drugs and the militarization of the police. President Nixon painted the criminal as a "cultural villain" and President Reagan further emphasized this notion. Blacks in America are seen as being criminally inclined. People can try to argue and make points as to why they feel that way, but the ultimate truth is that we are viewed as criminally inclined because of the color of our skin. In the New Jim Crow written by Michelle Alexander, she talks about how the criminal justice system preserved the racial caste system. In other words, the criminal justice system allows whites to stay on top while keeping blacks on the bottom by criminalizing their actions. Upon criminalizing their actions they are not afforded certain rights and they overall have to overcome more obstacles with a criminal recored than they would if the record wasn't present. For example, not being able to vote as a felon. If they can't use their voice to vote and call for change, things will stay the same. By incarcerating high amounts of individuals from specific neighborhoods, not only do the individuals become dehumanized but a stigma is created about their neighborhood. If you begin to stigmatize an entire neighborhood or area you are indirectly stigmatizing everyone that comes from there.


Now let's talk about how police brutality is connected to the War on Drugs. Formal policing got it's roots in slavery; slave owners used policing as a means to control slaves. In fact, slave patrols were the first state sponsored police force. I will acknowledge that not all police officers are bad, but historically policing was a means of maintaining white power. Given the current state of the world I believe that that statement is still true, but I would extend it to say that the entire criminal justice system is meant to preserve the power of those with money and white people. Once the Civil War ended, police officers enforced black codes, which made actions of blacks petty offenses and made it so that actual petty offenses committed by whites when committed by blacks were viewed as serious crimes. Black codes were dismantled during the reconstruction period, however, I don't think they were truly diminished as we see disparities in arrests, convictions, and sentencing for blacks and whites who commit the same crime.

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