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 2

Friday, March 24, 2017

How the "War On Drugs" has Led to Mass Incarceration, Institutional Racism and Private Prisons-Part 2

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

This is Part 2 in my series of 3. Part 3 will be published tomorrow.

Reagan's Version of the "War On Drugs"

As the 1980s began, the use of cocaine started on its meteoric rise. Coupled with the economic boom, the excesses of the "nouveau riche" and the ability to turn cocaine into a cheap, smokeable product- "crack", a perfect storm was created for the conservatives in congress and the Reagan administration! Within three to four years, crack had begun to destroy neighborhoods, families, and lives! It happened that quick and the Reagan administration seized the initiative. During his first term, Reagan increased the funding for interdiction 220% from what the Carter administration had allowed. Conversely, during that same first term, Reagan cut the funding for education and drug treatment from 386 million to 362 million. By this time, the propaganda for "The War On Drugs" had been ongoing for about ten years and the effects could be seen here in Reagan's budgets. Nowhere were drug addicts portrayed or seen in a sympathetic light. Whether it was on a television drama or in a magazine expose, they were portrayed as criminals who stole to support their habits or worse. The public had been taught that "those types", the addicts, never changed or got sober so why spend money trying to do the impossible. It was just throwing good money after bad! It was just that easy for the Reagan administration! In a paper produced by Stanford University entitled, "The United States' War On Drugs", they sum up Reagan's policy perfectly,
"Reagan’s demand side initiatives focused on “getting tough” on drugs.  The program became known as the “zero tolerance” program, where punitive measures against users were emphasized.  The 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse gave the drug user full accountability.  Drug users were to be prosecuted for possession and accordingly penalized.  Although some block grants were given for drug treatment, the rehabilitative efforts were insufficient to meet the overwhelming amount of drug abuse.  Reagan’s demand side drug policy largely reflects the colonial, or moralist view of addiction."
And there you have it, the propaganda only took about ten years to come to fruition. Just as in Hitler's Germany where the propaganda against the Jews made it easy for the Nazi's to intern them, the propaganda against the addicts made it a no-brainer for the Reagan administration and the Congress to enact laws that made it easy for the public to accept that we can just throw these people in jail and throw away the key! It was just that easy!

"Just Say No" & "Zero Tolerance"

Publicly, Reagan's "War On Drugs" was called the very well-known, "Just Say, 'NO', to Drugs", campaign. Anyone over the age of forty has seen the commercials with Nancy Reagan, surrounded by a group of young kids, telling them to, "Just say, "NO", to drugs"! It's was a very good propaganda slogan and campaign, perhaps one of the best ever imagined! It was also good because it actually put a friendly, sympathetic face on the whole issue of the "War On Drugs". But, to the bureaucrats, the legislative and the executive branch of the government who weren't interested in being sympathetic towards addicts, it was better known as the, "Zero Tolerance", plan! This is more indicative of the actual results from legislation passed during Reagan's terms. There would be "zero tolerance" given to drug dealers and drug addicts! And, to emphasize this attitude, new, draconian sentencing guidelines were passed. 

What is interesting about Ronald Reagan's version of the
"War On Drugs" is that it is associated with the "crack" cocaine epidemic in America. Yet, Reagan really began his "War" in 1982... before the crack epidemic really started. In fact, in 1982, drug crimes in general were on the decline. According to some sources, only 3% of the public pointed to drugs as the nation's top concerns. So, what were the reasons behind Reagan's ramping up of the drug war? They certainly weren't moral ones- concern for the addicts! No, his reasons were strictly political. In fact, just about every reason for the government's and all the administrations' reasons for continuing the drug war were, and are, political. Much of the evidence is in the funding. If there was even a small concern for the addicts, there would be enough funding for all the addicts to get treatment and there isn't even enough money for a quarter of the addicts to receive the treatment that they need! In 1982, Reagan began fulfilling his campaign promises to get tough on the people who, over the last decade, had been vilified as dangerous to society- addicts and drug dealers. Or, if you've been following along closely, blacks and poor and lower class people. If there was ever a President who epitomized the kind of person who didn't even know that the poor, the blacks and the disadvantaged even existed, it was Ronald Reagan.

Now, to be fair to Reagan, it was a bi-partisan effort as the eighties continued to see who could be tougher on drugs and crime. The Democrats actually led the fight to get those draconian "mandatory minimum sentences" passed which condemned ungodly numbers of people, guilty of just drug crimes, to sentences that were just as long, if not longer, than most murder sentences! As the "War On Drugs" was entering its second decade, the Democrats worried that they'd be labeled as, "soft on crime"! There was no way they were going to let that happen. Consequently, when Reagan kicked off his "War", funding for law enforcement to fight the drug war went through the roof without much of a fight in Congress. Again, there was a lot of blame to go around but the guy leading the fight was the guy in the White House, Ronald Reagan. Although Nixon began the whole affair, Reagan was the one who is the author of today's modern version of the "War On Drugs".

Len Bias and the Hypocrisy of "The War"

Len Bias
As Ronald Reagan commanded his "War On Drugs", he eventually became the unwitting beneficiary of circumstances which gave his "War" a boost that no one expected. Over the previous couple of years, crack cocaine had begun it's onslaught on "inner city" neighborhoods (code for Black and crime-ridden neighborhoods) and there were countless deaths occurring in these neighborhoods because of this scourge. Yet, most of them were never written about or televised on the evening news with any sort of compassion or personalized effect in order to put a face to the millions of victims who were being destroyed by crack cocaine. But, on June 19, 1986, college basketball star, Len Bias, died from a cocaine overdose and Reagan's "War" received an early propaganda Christmas present! Len Bias' death wasn't an "inner city" death, though. No, Bias' death occurred worlds away from the dirty, crime-ridden neighborhoods that the government would have you believe it usually occurs in. Len Bias died in a lily "white" dorm room at the University of Maryland, less than ten miles away from the corridors of the white power structure called Washington, D.C.! His
death finally put a face on the crack cocaine menace. But, the highlighting of his death also highlighted the hypocrisy that surrounded the "War On Drugs" and the propaganda that went with it.

The fact that it took the death of a famous black American to finally wake up the public to the fact that drugs and the "War" that was attached to them was failing miserably says something about the state of race relations and the effects of the propaganda that stigmatized the black and poor communities that used drugs. It says that unless you are white or an important black individual, your life doesn't matter to the rest of society! If it did matter, there wouldn't have been the rush to pass a law, any old law, that made it look like the Congress and the rest of America cared. There would have been something already in place that would have been addressing the addiction problem from the start. There would have been funding for treatment and rehabilitation that matched the funding for interdiction from the beginning! In the 1980s, the only people who were able to go to treatment were the middle and upper class Americans who had stable jobs with health insurance policies which covered the cost of drug treatment. Although Nixon decided to attack the supply side of the problem, it needed more funding for treatment to attack the demand side which had only been a trickle in the funding of previous legislation and policy efforts. Unfortunately, that didn't happen. What did happen was that Bias' death woke up the legislators to the fact that if they didn't get tough on drugs, they were going to be considered "soft" on drugs and crime and they were going to be out of a cushy job after the next election. Consequently, they hurriedly rushed into law, the "Anti Drug Abuse Act of 1986". Because of the circumstances which forced Congress to rush this act into law, there wasn't the same care taken that goes into the research that crafting new laws need! Consequently, Congress' selfish, self-serving need to be re-elected crafted a law that would have disastrous consequences on society for years to come!


The Anti-Drug Abuse Acts of 1986 & 1988

The "Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986" came into being just a few weeks after Len Bias' death and it was the law that created, among other things, "mandatory minimum" sentencing guidelines. According to "FAMM", "Families Against Mandatory Minimums",
"Mandatory minimum sentencing laws require binding prison terms of a particular length for people convicted of certain federal and state crimes. These inflexible, “one-size-fits-all” sentencing laws may seem like a quick-fix solution for crime, but they undermine justice by preventing judges from fitting the punishment to the individual and the circumstances of their offenses. Mandatory sentencing laws cause federal and state prison populations to soar, leading to overcrowding, exorbitant costs to taxpayers, and diversion of funds from law enforcement. Most mandatory minimum sentences apply to drug offenses, but Congress has enacted them for other crimes, including certain gun, pornography, and economic offenses."
An example of the many lengthened sentences was in the cocaine sentencing. An individual getting caught with 5 grams of crack cocaine was sentenced to a mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years. Conversely, an individual would need to get arrested with 500 grams of powder cocaine before he was to receive the same 5 year sentence! Why did legislators create a law with such a huge disparity
between the sentencing of "crack" cocaine offenders and powder cocaine offenders? It's rather simple.

Len Bias' death laid the "crack" epidemic problem, just for a moment, right on the front porch of not only the "white power structure" of Congress but white America as a whole. Although blacks had been dying from crack overdoses for a few years by this point, white America barely even knew about it. Stories in the newspapers and on television were virtually non-existent. It took the death of a famous black athlete, who white America watched on television, for them to do something about it. The 99th U.S. Congress, as a whole, had only 20 black members in 1986 so it had to take something this big for the white members to act so fast on a bill to make it look like they were doing something about this problem. Many of them had an election coming up in November and they needed to look tough on drugs and crime to have a chance at retaining their seats. When they finally decided to take a look at the problem, they were told that it was the inner-city neighborhoods that were taking the biggest hit from the crack epidemic- the black and poor neighborhoods. "Crack" is a cheaper, smokable version of cocaine which is what made it perfect for a poorer drug clientele! It was not sold in $50 and $100 packages as powder cocaine was in the white and middle and upper-class neighborhoods. It was sold in $10 packages and with that $10, two people could get high if neither one could come up with the whole $10. They could each come up with $5 and then split it so it was a perfect product for a class of individuals who were ready for a drug to give them a respite from their already failed or failing lives!  After all the years of the propaganda for the "War On Drugs", all of this information made sense. Of course, it was the blacks who were abusing crack, they were the drug addicts according to all the propaganda. So, after realizing that the blacks and the poor were the offenders- the "throw-aways", they knew that no one would care that they were, with this legislation, throwing away lives! Proof that this was a racially biased law can be seen in this segment from an A.C.L.U. paper entitled, "Cracks in the System"- Twenty Years of the Unjust Federal Crack Cocaine Law,

"In 1986, before the enactment of federal mandatory minimum sentencing for crack cocaine offenses, the average federal drug sentence for African Americans was 11% higher than for whites. Four years later, the average federal drug sentence for African Americans was 49% higher."
This law, along with the "Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988" are the laws which created the overburdening of the Justice system and the prison system. Along with these "mandatory minimum" sentences, the laws gave police departments huge amounts of money as funding to hire more officers and buy more military type vehicles and weapons- turning Black, poor and lower class neighborhoods into virtual "war zones" being patrolled by a "militarized" police force intent on keeping their funding stream flowing! These two laws, the "Anti-Drug Abuse Acts of 1986 and 1988", also authorized the forfeiture of assets from individuals arrested for drugs. This "forfeiture" aspect of the law is one of the most egregious weapons that law enforcement has which it abuses on a regular basis.

Other Aspects of the Acts of 1986 & 1988

"Asset Forfeiture" states that an individual who is only arrested for a crime, not yet convicted, has whatever assets that a police department deems as gains from a criminal activity, forfeited to that department. Even if the individual is found innocent of the crime, 9 out of 10 times they never get their assets back! The forfeiture part of the law is an insidious travesty which, in the wrong hands, ends up being almost criminal. For example; an individual has a large amount of money on them, let's say $ 2000.00 because he's going to take a trip from Florida where he lives, to vacation with friends who live in California. As he's traveling on the highway, he gets pulled over by a State trooper who says he was speeding. Actually, the State trooper has profiled the man as someone who represents a group of individuals who transport drugs or money for drugs. Because of this profiling and the fact that the man has the large amount of money with him, all the trooper has to say is that he thinks that the individual is transporting profits from a drug sale and he can seize that money on the spot. That's it! He doesn't need to find drugs on the individual. All he has to do is say that he thinks that the money is from a drug deal and it becomes the property of that officer's department! Once this occurs, it now becomes the job of the arrestee to prove that his own confiscated money isn't from illegal activity! This totally goes against the basic principles that our criminal justice system was built upon- that a defendant doesn't have to prove his innocence but that the government has the burden of proving his guilt! This is why I say that this "forfeiture" aspect of the act is almost criminal. All it takes is a "copper" with a slightly crooked moral compass and this act gives him the cover of law to steal an innocent victim's money with impunity!

Another aspect of the laws is the incentive that law enforcement departments are given in order to continue to receive the high levels of federal and state funding to keep their departments flush with the cash that is needed to finance the militarized forces that we see today. All these military vehicles and military grade weapons don't come free. Aside from the assets they receive from their asset forfeitures, they also receive funding from federal and state budgets, as long as their drug arrests are at a certain level to warrant the continued funding. What this funding incentive does, though, is give police departments the idea of focusing most of their law enforcement efforts on the easy targets or, as this quote from a retired police officer printed in, "Vox: Is the "War On Drugs Racist?" ,states, "the low hanging fruit".

"Neill Franklin, a retired police major from Maryland and executive director of "Law Enforcement Against Prohibition", said minority communities are "the low-hanging fruit" for police departments because they tend to sell in open-air markets, such as public street corners, and have less political and financial power than white Americans"

"Vox" and Franklin go on to say;
" 'Doing these evening and afternoon sweeps meant 20 to 30 arrests, and now you have some great numbers for your grant application,' Franklin said. In that process, we also ended up seizing a lot of money and a lot of property. That's another cash cow.'
 The disproportionate arrests and incarceration rates have clearly detrimental effects on minority communities. A 2014 study published in the journal "Sociological Science" found boys with imprisoned fathers are much less likely to possess the skills needed to succeed in school by the age of 5, starting them on a vicious path known as the "school-to-prison pipeline".
As the drug war continues, these racial disparities have become one of the major points of criticism against it. It's not just whether the war on drugs has led to widespread, costly incarceration of millions of Americans, but whether incarceration has created "the new Jim Crow"- a reference to policies, such as segregation and voting restrictions, that subjugated black communities in America."

  The New “Jim Crow”

As the rates of incarceration began to reach epidemic proportions, critics began to associate the "War On Drugs" with the old "Jim Crow" south. "Jim Crow" was not just a system of laws but, as the publication for the Ferris State University's, "Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia", states;
"was the name of a racial caste system which operated primarily, but not exclusively in southern and border states, between 1877 and the mid-1960s. Jim Crow was more than a series of rigid anti-black laws. It was a way of life. Under Jim Crow, African-Americans were relegated to the status of second class citizens. Jim Crow represented the legitimization of anti-black racism. Many Christian ministers and theologians taught that whites were the chosen people, blacks were cursed to be servants, and God supported racial segregation."
To put it in an even simpler form; "Jim Crow" was the way that racist southern whites devised to get around whatever federal legislation was enacted to protect the rights of black citizens and the way that they kept blacks "in their place"! The ways that the whites kept them "in their place" was through jailing them and, more horrifically, through terroristic tactics such as burning crosses on their front lawns and lynching them when they felt like it! These were the tactics which the Ku Klux Klan became famous for perpetrating!

It took four Civil Rights Acts in the 1960s, along with some Supreme Court decisions to "officially" end what was known as the "Jim Crow" laws in the areas where they had been functioning. It comes as no surprise then that, within a couple of years (Nixon's beginning of the drug war in 1971), the "War On Drugs" and it's racially discriminating propaganda begins. Without the "Jim Crow" laws to control the blacks, there needed to be a sufficient substitute in order to mollify the racists. Nixon, with his extreme paranoia, was the perfect target for the racists who could play on his weakness to convince him that he better go after his enemies before they came after him. It didn't matter that this new strategy to control the blacks was also going to include the
hippies and the poor and the disadvantaged. In fact, this was the perfect way to go after and change "The Great Society" which was created by President Johnson to end poverty and racial injustice. It was a program which was supposed to help the very people who the racists and white social elitists wanted to keep down and under control. The "War On Drugs" had the cover of a program which was set-up for a good cause- a benevolent cause because it was advocating an anti drug view point which couldn't be a bad thing, right? Wrong! America never did read the fine print!