font-family: 'Arizonia', cursive; Michael Stichauf - "As I understand it now...'til it changes": How the "War On Drugs" Has Led to Mass Incarceration, Institutional Racism and Private Prisons-Part 1

Thursday, March 23, 2017

How the "War On Drugs" Has Led to Mass Incarceration, Institutional Racism and Private Prisons-Part 1

The "War On Drugs" has not only caused the resurgence of private prisons with it's mass incarcerations but it has totally changed the fabric of America's poor and lower class neighborhoods!

The Scene: A struggling community with a dying economy called Small Town, U.S.A.
The Setting: The V.F.W. Hall.
The Situation: The town residents meeting with a corporation that's looking to change the fortunes of those in the community.

Outside it was an uncomfortably humid August night in the town of Small Town, U.S.A. The atmosphere inside the V.F.W. hall wasn't any better, either. The air conditioning had broken and the members of the hall couldn't afford to have it fixed. Men wiped their sweating brows with handkerchiefs and women fanned themselves with the proposal pamphlet which had been placed on each chair for the town folk to peruse prior to the pitch.

"The Pitch"
The Proposal and The Pitch: "We, the corporation unabashedly known as, "We Lock 'Em Up For You, Securely", propose to build a hi-tech prison in your town which will employ "X" number of your town's people, effectively getting them off welfare and food stamps and providing gainful employment. This is how "We Lock 'Em Up for You, Securely" is going to save your town. My name is Joe Toughguy and I'm the President of the company. In order for us to help you save your town, though, we will need two things from you- a parcel of land and your manpower to staff your prison."

As you can see, Mr. Joe Toughguy and many others like him have found the key to persuading town's people across America, whose towns are failing, that they have the answer to their problems by building a prison in their backyards. All he does is continually remind them that their towns are failing and that the prison will employ most of their people. 

Mr. Toughguy continued, "You purchase a parcel of land in your community. We will, in turn, rent that land from you, thereby, giving the town a steady income. Also, once the prison is built, we will hire and train your town's people as prison guards and staff, nearly bringing your town to full employment."

This is a steadily occurring scene in small towns across America due to the increase in the prison population. It certainly sounds like a good proposal to a town that's starting to go under. Where is the increase in the prison population coming from? For the most part, it's coming from the government's "War On Drugs". The "War On Drugs" has overburdened and overcrowded the existing state and federally funded prisons in America, giving rise to Private Prisons in order to ease the situation.

The Government's “War On Drugs”

The Government's decades-old policy of getting tough on drugs has been a huge bust! If the goal of the "War On Drugs" was, and is, to drastically curb or end drug use and cut or end the supply of drugs coming to the United States, the opposite has happened. The number of drug users and the amount of drugs that have been smuggled into the U.S. has risen dramatically since the inception of the first get tough on drugs policy was imposed in 1971.

Aside from the "War On Drugs" failing to stop drug use and drug selling, there are other far-reaching and devastating consequences associated with this "War". These consequences go well beyond affecting the individual, although that's first and foremost in the destruction. The consequences involve the family, the neighborhoods, and society to be more specific.

With the percentage of the American population who are considered "addicts" hovering around 1%-1.5% from 1971 to 2010, the actual number of addicts, then, has expanded because of population growth. Now, that's "addicts"- the number of people in the U.S. who use drugs, whether they're "addicts" or "recreational users", is estimated at about 22 million users. Although the chart of figures above ends in 2010, there's been no decline in them over the last seven years. The simple truth is that the U.S. government cannot stop the flow of drugs into the country nor curtail or end the usage of drugs by individuals who are intent on getting "high"- especially with the current policy that's in place! The economics are rudimentary; There is a demand, then there is a supply. There is a supply, then there is a demand.

Nixon's Campaign Promises and Vendettas

In one of my previous posts entitled, "Nixon's 1968 Election and it's Impact on Crime and Drugs", I talk about how Nixon and his campaign staff decided that their path to the Presidency needed to be the "getting tough on crime" path. With all that was going on in the country; Vietnam, the protest marches, the Black power movement, and drugs, Nixon realized that there was a huge majority of the country who was appalled and fed-up. It was this group of voters who Nixon referred to as the "great silent majority" and he felt that if he could get them to believe that he was going to get tough on the protest marchers, the Black Panthers and the drug users and suppliers (the Hippies), then he would be able to win the election. Nixon was right and it worked. It worked so well that most Republicans and many Democrats who ran for any office since then has tried to convince the voting public that they were the real "tough on crime" candidate!

Once in office, Nixon and his staff realized that they could take on their political opponents and follow through on their campaign promises by lumping them into one easily compromised category- DRUG OFFENDERS! By labeling the war protestors, the Hippies, and the Black Power Movement and Blacks in general as drug abusers and drug dealers they could smear them in the press, thus, marginalizing them and their issues. In a 1994 interview with Dan Baum of Harper's Magazine, John Ehrlichman, Nixon's domestic policy advisor, laid it out rather simply. Dan Baum writes;
At the time, I was writing a book about the politics of drug prohibition. I started to ask Ehrlichman a series of earnest, wonky questions that he impatiently waved away. “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? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the 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.”

As the Nixon administration enacted their campaign of
Nixon Addressing Congress
vilification, they began to compose a policy that would attack the "drug problem" in the U.S. Mind you, by now, the "Drug Problem" phrase and any variation of it quickly become code for anti-war Hippies and Blacks. If Nixon was going to attack his enemies in this fashion, he needed to put some "bite" into his "bark". Therefore, in 1971, Nixon came through on his campaign promise to get tough on crime. He stated that "America's public enemy number one in the United States is drug abuse. In order to fight and defeat this enemy, it is necessary to wage a new, all-out offensive." (Sharp, 1994, p.1). On June 17, 1971, in a special message to Congress, Nixon said,
"I intend to take every step necessary to deal with this emergency, including asking the Congress for an amendment to my 1972 budget to provide an additional $155 million to carry out these steps. This will provide a total of $371 million for programs to control drug abuse in America."

This message to Congress was, in effect, the Government's opening salvo in the new "War On Drugs". No one knew that this first volley would end up, over the years, snowballing into what is now "institutionalized racism" and have devastating consequences for a whole class of Americans. This class is made up mostly of African-Americans and anyone who's considered lower class and poor! Yet, this isn't the first time that the "powers that be" have used drugs as a way of controlling and stigmatizing a whole class, or group of people whom they deem as "not worthy"!  

A History of Stigmatizing
Early Anti-Drug Propaganda

America has always been a country that has used drugs and prohibition style tactics to control and stigmatize certain ethnic and social groups which it deems as unsavory or unwelcome in this country. The first thing that happens is a campaign of propaganda which begins to enmesh the group with a specific drug, or drugs in general, but also to start to get the rest of the public on board with the program. Stories start to appear in the newspapers, radio and, depending on the era, television. They tell stories of cocaine driven rapes and heroin inspired robberies- anything that would vilify that particular group. In order to turn a citizenry against a group of its own, that citizenry needs to be told how the group is hurting them and is a danger to them. Remember, this is a covert, destructive process which the government is perpetuating upon a group of people which, under normal circumstances, would never be allowed to happen, even if their customs and/or language may be different! Hate is taught! The propaganda is the tool by which the hate is taught to the masses. Here's a perfect example; When Hitler took over the German state in the 1930s his Reich Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, created a most sinister propaganda campaign against the Jews! Within a few years, the German people had been brain-washed into believing that the Jews were the people behind all of Germany's problems! Without the propaganda campaign of hate towards the Jews, the Nazis wouldn't have been able to get away with locking them all into concentration camps and then killing millions of them. Although it only took a few short years of propaganda to get a majority of the public to accept the internment and killing of the Jews, it was still a process- a process of hate filled propaganda. I want to say right now that I'm NOT comparing the Holocaust to the "War On Drugs"! I would never compare what the Jews suffered through to anything else! What I am comparing, though, is the propaganda that was used to turn a whole population against a group within them. The propaganda that the U. S. Government has used to fight the drug war and turn a whole country against a group within the country is the same thing that the Nazi's used to teach their country to hate the Jews. As I referenced earlier, John Ehrlichman admitted that they associated the Hippies with marijuana and the Blacks with heroin (through being able to vilify them on the evening news-propaganda) and then criminalized them heavily in order to jail them! And then he added, "Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course, we did."

The Chinese and Opium

One of America's first attempts at attaching race to a drug
1877 Opium Den Stigmatizing-
Luring the White Women
law was in San Francisco in 1875. Beginning with the California "Gold Rush" in 1849, San Francisco experienced an influx of Chinese immigrants due to the need for cheap, plentiful labor. Coupled with the building of the Trans-Continental Railroad in the 1860s, there was a large Chinese community which had settled in San Francisco. Problems with the Chinese began to turn into a race issue during "The Panic of 1873" when there was a huge rise in unemployment and the Chinese were blamed for the white workers losing their jobs because the Chinese worked for far less wages. Thus, the beginning of the stigmatization of the Chinese. In 1875, San Francisco passed a law which outlawed, not opium, but the smoking of opium! What made this so racially prejudicial was the fact that smoking opium and the places where it was smoked, opium dens, was a mostly Chinese cultural practice. White men and women, if they used opium, tended to take it in liquid form by drinking Tincture of Opium or Laudanum. Prior to this law being passed, there were fears created through the press which ran stories of white women being lured into opium dens and after they were high, they were obliged to have sex or even raped. While there may have been situations where women were raped, it was widely understood by individuals in the know that these were stories made up in order to raise fears of the Chinese and their "unwanted" cultural practices. As a final insult to the Chinese, all of this stigmatizing culminated in what is known as the "Chinese Exclusionary Act" of 1882 which was the first immigration act of it's kind.

The Blacks and Cocaine

Ant-Black Propaganda

Another example of this vilification and stigmatization tactic is in the response to prostitution and the more racially blatant tactic of attaching cocaine use to the rise of negro "fiends" or, as "The New York Times" quoted in a February 8, 1914, article, the "Cocaine Nigger". The article, entitled, "Negro Cocaine Fiends Are A New Southern Menace", was written by Edward Huntington Williams, an M.D. who would be one of the main antagonists in this particular era of vilification of the blacks. In his article, he used an example which illustrates the exaggerations which are imperative for propaganda. Williams tells the story of a North Carolina policeman who confronts a Negro who "was 'running amuck' in a cocaine frenzy" and yielding a knife. Here's a section of the article;
But when he arrived there the negro had completed the beatings and left the place. A few moments later, however, the man returned, and entered the room where the Chief was waiting for him, concealed behind a door. When the unsuspecting negro reached the middle of the room, the chief closed the door to prevent his escape and informed him quietly that he was under arrest, and asked him to come to the station. In reply the crazed negro drew a long knife, grappled with the officer, and slashed him viciously across the shoulder.
 Knowing that he must kill this man or be killed himself, the Chief drew his revolver, placed the muzzle over the negro's heart, and fired-"Intending to kill him right quick," as the officer tells it but the shot did not even stagger the man. And a second shot that pierced the arm and entered the chest had as little effect in stopping his charge or checking his attack.
 Meanwhile, the chief, out of the corner of his eye, saw infuriated negroes rushing toward the cabin from all directions. He had only three cartridges remaining in his gun, and he might need these in a minute to stop the mob. So he saved his ammunition and "finished the man with his club."
 The following day, the Chief exchanged his revolver for one of heavier calibre. Yet, the one with which he shot the negro was a heavy, army model, using a cartridge that Lieutenant Townsend Whelen who is an authority on such matters, recently declared was large enough to "kill any game in America." And many other officers in the South; who appreciate the increased vitality of the cocaine-crazed negroes, have made a similar exchange for guns of greater shocking power for the express purpose of combating the "fiend" when he runs amok.
Aside from exaggerating stories, the "good doctor" uses inflammatory language later in the article when he uses the phrase, "cocaine nigger". As I stated before, some main ingredients, ingredients which are imperative to propaganda, are; creating falsehoods, using inflammatory language, and conjuring any other means by which to create fear. By the time this article was written, there had
Notice how "Sin" & "Degradation"
Are Painted "Black".
been many years of victimization of the Blacks in the press. Consequently, later in the year, the "Harrison Narcotic Act" was passed which dealt, mainly, with Heroin and Cocaine. Although it was a revenue act, it still made the possession and selling of Cocaine and Heroin illegal- without a license.

Keeping these examples in mind, you can see that the proponents of the current "War On Drugs", from the Nixon administration right up to the present day Trump administration, have had the benefit of previous "Wars" in order to draw upon for their propaganda ideas. Although the newspaper story you've just read is an extreme example of "yellow journalism", which was the style of the day, the current propaganda isn't much different. It still achieves its goal of vilifying the drug user and addict with falsehoods and, of course, some true stories because, as with the rest of society, there are some bad actors in these groups. Unfortunately, the fact that addicts do commit crimes to support their habit just makes the job of vilifying them on the evening news much easier. 

“The War On Drugs” Equals More Prisons

"The most certain test by which we judge whether a country is really free is the amount of security enjoyed by minorities."
~John E.E. Dalberg, Lord Acton, "The History of Freedom in Antiquity" (1877)
Kroft & Obama

I recently watched a "60 Minutes" special which went back over the last eight years of the Obama Presidency and the, roughly, twenty interviews conducted by Steve Kroft with President Obama. In one of the interviews with Obama during his first presidential campaign, Obama talked about the indignities which he has suffered over the years as a Black man. He talked about being followed in stores by attendees and, also, about how he would hear the "click" of car door locks as he would walk past cars. These are just two of the indignities suffered by a Black man in America today. I might add, though, that this "Black man" (Obama) who suffered these indignities wasn't a criminal, he wasn't a Black man who was on a "hustle" when he would hear the car door locks "click". No, this was a fine, upstanding "MAN" in America today who was suffering these indignities because of all the propaganda that was teaching people that Black men were people to be feared! After all the years of suffering due to slavery and then the struggles during the "Jim Crow" years and the Civil Rights movement, you'd think that race relations would be much better than they are today. Unfortunately, they aren't and that's got a great deal to do with the propaganda and, subsequently, the imprisonment of thousands of Black Americans, as well as poor and lower class Americans of every color because of the new sentences concocted to fight the "War On Drugs".

The Prison Industrial Complex

Over the last forty years, the prison population has exploded in the United States. From the beginning of the "War On Drugs" in 1971 to 2015, there has been a 550% increase in the number of people that the United States has interned in their God awful prisons. Once the Nixon administration began their "War"; more enforcement and tougher, longer sentences, all aspects of the criminal justice apparatus exploded! As the prison population went from about 338,000 (1971) to 2,200,000 (2015), there needed to be an expansion in the number of prisons and jails that housed these new "criminals". All told, in the U.S. now, there are 1,719 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 942 juvenile facilities, 3,283 local jails and 79 Indian Country jails. This isn't counting all the military prisons, civil commitment centers, immigration detention centers and the jails and prisons in the U.S. territories! "Corrections" in the United States (the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the different states' department of corrections and all other corrections' facilities) have gone from being a minor need decades ago to being a major and significant part of the U.S. economy, rivaling the Military Industrial Complex that President Eisenhower so presciently warned us about. Yet, this explosion in the number of new "accommodations" needed to house the rising number of inmates isn't the worst part of this calamity. No, the worst part is in the actual resurgence and the subsequent rise in the number of private prisons
that this phenomenon has instigated! As it stands now, there are a total of 130 privately run prisons housing, roughly, 150,000 inmates!

The Private Prison Issue

The history of private prisons goes all the way back to the 17th and 18th centuries. Back then, the lack of a need for prisons had the states feeling that the best way to house their small numbers of felons was to contract with someone who was willing to house, feed and secure them. Building and operating a prison was an expensive endeavor for a state and the states believed that private prisons could be run without subsidies from them. They felt that with the profits from the inmates' labor, a private prison could be a profitable, self-sustaining institution. Unfortunately, the profit motive part of the plan was what was at the core of the problem with private prisons.

Throughout the 19th century, private prisons sprung up and closed down sporadically. Periodically, the abuses of inmates, whether physical abuse or the abuse of their labor, caused legislatures of different states to pass legislation that would ban the privatization of prisons. Yet, at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries, the lure of huge profits led private businesses to contract with private prisons, again, in order to exploit the labor of prisoners. As I stated, it was this profit motive which was at the heart of the evils of private prisons. Due to the inherently nefarious nature of some men, the lure of huge profits through the exploitation of individuals whom they deemed as, "throw-always" because they were felons, was too overwhelming for them to pass up! There were fears of some inmates receiving long sentence for crimes that didn't warrant them simply because those inmates were better or younger, more profitable workers! The longer a private prison could keep a productive worker, the more money that prison would make. Conversely, when these private prisons realized that they weren't going to get away with keeping productive workers longer than they should, just to make a profit, they decided that they would then profit from the sale of pardons! There were some reports that a few private prisons in California were profiting from the sale of pardons!

In tomorrow's Part 2 posting, I'll discuss President Reagan's version of the "War On Drugs" and the new "Jim Crow". I hope you've enjoyed Part 1. Please feel free to comment with suggestions or criticisms. I learn from everything!
Regards, Michael K. Stichauf.