font-family: 'Arizonia', cursive; Michael Stichauf - "As I understand it now...'til it changes"

Saturday, March 25, 2017

How the "War On Drugs" has led to Mass Incarceration, Institutional Racism and Private Prisons

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, thereby, saving their towns. 

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!

Reagan's Version of the "War On Drugs"

As the 1980s began, the use of cocaine started on it's 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 nations 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 it's 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!

The Long-term Consequences of the "War On Drugs"

As we move through the fourth decade and on towards the fiftieth anniversary of the "War On Drugs", America has changed drastically. Of course, any country is going to be different after forty plus years of passing time. Unfortunately, for America, the most dramatic and the most devastating changes occurred as a result of the "War On Drugs"! Yet, most Americans have no idea that there is an out of control "Prison Industrial Complex" similar to the "Military Industrial Complex" that President Eisenhower warned us about. When you have a citizenry that doesn't know that an injustice exists, no one is going to do anything about it. No one calls their congressmen or senators to complain and, consequently, their representatives have no inspiration or reason to make any changes. The first way to explain just how the "War On Drugs" has changed the fabric of American society, one needs to start with the numbers.

The Numbers

As I stated earlier, at the start of Nixon's "War" in 1971, there were roughly 338,000 men and women incarcerated in America. Today, depending on which primary source you choose to use, there are between 2,200,000 to 2,300,000 people locked up. From the beginning of Nixon's "War" to today there has been an increase of 550% in the locked up population while the total adult U.S. population only increased 92%. Breaking it into two groups- Nixon's "War", from 1971 to 1985 and Reagan's "War", from 1985 to 2015 you get a much more specific view of the jump in the incarcerated population compared to the jump in the U.S. adult population. From 1971 to 1985 the U.S. adult population rose 45% while the incarcerated population jumped 118%. This is before Reagan's "Anti Drug Abuse Act of 1986" (and the follow-up "Act of 1988") greatly increased the American justice system's powers to arrest and convict the already "stigmatized" Blacks, poor and disadvantaged. From 1985 to 2015, the U.S. adult population rose 32% while the incarceration rate leapt an astounding 200%! During Nixon's "War", which were the U.S.'s first baby steps towards starting to criminalize society's "unwanted" people, you can begin to see the effects of the new, aggressive policy meant to control a segment of the population that the new propaganda was telling us was dangerous to society. The divide, or the difference, between the percentage of the U.S. population increase and the percentage of the U.S. incarcerated population increase during the beginning years of the "War On Drugs" is a rather gradual difference. The chart above, although it's only a chart of the rise in the incarceration rate, shows a gradual increase through the segment marked as the "1970's" and halfway into the segment marked as the "1980's" (Nixon's years). In fact, the
rate of this rise is rather similar to the rate of the rise in the previous sixty to seventy years. But, as soon as the chart hits the middle of the "1980's" there is a tremendous upsurge in the rate of incarceration, all due to Reagan's "War On Drugs" and the enactment of the "Anti Drug Abuse Act of 1986" and the follow-up, "Anti Drug Abuse Act of 1988". As it stands now, aside from the more than 2,000,000 people who are locked up, there are more than 7,000,000 people who are under some sort of supervisory "control" in the U.S. today! That's an astounding number. What I mean by supervisory control is; an individual who is being monitored by an ankle bracelet as part of a probation or parole situation. Or, an individual who isn't hooked up to an ankle bracelet but is still having to report to a probation or parole officer on a regular basis.  That 7,000,000 people number is twice the number of slaves that were under bondage in the U.S. in 1850, the decade before the Civil War!

As astounding and almost inconceivable as the number 7,000,000 is, there is an even greater number that is more astounding... 65,000,000! After more than forty six years of the "War on Drugs" there are 65,000,000 people with records, mainly for only drugs, who are now "disenfranchised" individuals. They are "disenfranchised" because they are, in most states, not allowed to vote, not allowed to collect food stamps, prohibited from living in any form of public housing as well as ineligible to receive student loan money in order to try to better themselves so they can become productive members of society! If the unspoken goal of the "War On Drugs" was to "control" and keep down a certain segment of society, that number of 65,ooo,ooo people who are under "control" seems to indicate that the "unspoken" goal is being achieved!

Another set of numbers, though, is also a dominating reason why this policy of the "War On Drugs" will never end and that's the figures of how many people this run-away institution of jails and prisons employs. In all the research that I've done for this post, I wasn't able to come up with the rather simple figure of how many people the whole Corrections institution employs for both federal and state facilities. The rough numbers that I do have I had to extrapolate from ratios of prisoners to staff that I was able to find but the rough numbers will do to show you why this whole policy will never end. The rough numbers total about 350,000 staff and guards that are employed by both state and federal corrections institutions. Now, this number pales in comparison to the number of police officers across America that every single President since Richard Nixon has increased through their own promises to be just as tough, if not tougher, on crime than their predecessor. It is estimated that there are, roughly, 750,000 full-time police officers employed in the U.S. today. With one of the strongest unions in America, there's no way that number is going down. IF the "War On Drugs" is discontinued, the amount of citizens who end up out of a job, unemployed, would be political suicide. Forget about the fact that it's a, "taking the high road", morally correct decision! There isn't a politician out

there, right now, who has the political guts to make that decision! You'd think that, maybe, a President who is in their second term and who's political career is over when their term ends would have the guts to end the "War". But, if they are in their second term, they are considered "lame duck" Presidents anyways, without the political power to twist enough arms to get the change in policy and the repeal of laws through congress. Unfortunately, the political capital gained through funding the hiring of more law enforcement officers and prison staff, essentially lowering the unemployment rate, far outweighs the character needed to better the lives of the Black, poor and disadvantaged in America! Don't forget, a majority of these "throw-away" individuals can't vote anyways so why would a politician risk their political career for people who can't vote for them!

Here are some other numbers to look at to sum up this failed "War On Drugs";
  1. With a total population of roughly 309 million people in the United States, Whites make up about 72% while Blacks and Hispanics make up about 28%.
  2. Yet, while statistics show that all three groups use drugs at about the same rate, the numbers of individuals who are incarcerated for drugs is incredibly disproportionate. There are 1,785,000 Blacks and Hispanics locked up in America today compared to 275,000 White Americans. People of color are locked up 6.5 times more than Whites.
  3. In a 2002 study, of all the people who were sentenced under the crack cocaine mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines, 80% of them were Blacks thus, serving more time for drug offenses than White. Yet, over 65% of all crack users were White and Hispanic!
  4. Of males for all three racial groups, Blacks have a 32.2% chance of going to jail over the course of their lifetime while Hispanics have a 17.2% chance and Whites have a 5.9% chance! This means that 1 out of 3 Black males will be incarcerated in their lifetime.

Expanded Police Powers and Militarized Police Departments

Another consequence of the "War On Drugs" has been in the area of law enforcement. We've already determined that the goal of the "War On Drugs" wasn't, and isn't, a morally high road decision to help addicts and to stop the flow of drugs into America. It was, and is, a decision meant to criminalize a certain segment of the citizenry which the rich, white power structure has deemed as dangerous and of no value to society! Consequently, a majority of this "War" hinges on law enforcement and it's ability to do it's job to satisfy the ends through it's increased means. And, wow, how their means have increased!

To start with, over the years, through the passage of the two
"Anti Drug Abuse Acts" and a number of policy decisions, powers afforded to the police border on the infringement of the rights of individuals. For instance, for years, police have used the "cover" of stopping a vehicle for what they initially would "say" was a minor traffic stop when they really wanted to stop the vehicle for suspicion of drugs. Prior to a 1996 Supreme Court decision gave them the power to stop vehicles under these circumstances, they weren't allowed to do this. Before the Supreme Court decision, it was up to a Judge in the "probable cause" hearing, preceding a trial, to determine if the officers really were making up this "minor traffic stop" excuse for a defendant's rights to be protected. In a paper by the "National Center for Biotechnology Information" entitled, "War on Drugs Policing and Police Brutality", they explain how the Supreme Court lowered this burden for officers;
In Whren v US (1996) and Illinois v Wardlow (2000), the Supreme Court further lowered the threshold for a police stop.(; ) Whren allowed officers to make “pretext stops,” that is, to stop someone for one violation when the officer’s true suspicion lay elsewhere (e.g., stop an individual for a minor traffic infraction when the officer’s true intent was to search the car for drugs).(; ) In Wardlow, the court expanded the legitimate grounds for a stop by ruling that simply running from a police car was suspicious behavior that justified a police stop and search.()
Essentially, the Supreme Court now has made the burden of
"probable cause" to stop a vehicle or even a pedestrian a simple matter of an officer saying that the vehicle or pedestrian was "acting suspicious" which everyone knows is the catch-all phrase when the cops don't have a legitimate reason!

The Constitution was set-up to protect individuals from the power of the State. Other ways that the police infringe on an individual's rights are through practices such as warrantless searches, no knock military style raids which are a cause of many injuries and deaths, and entrapment style tactics by undercover officers who encourage individuals to commit crimes they may not have otherwise committed! While the State is the only entity allowed to use violence in certain situations, violence should only be used when violence needs to be stopped. These violent practices used by the police- no-knock warrants and raids have no place in these drug arrests when the violators haven't used violence in selling or using drugs! Many houses are "stormed" by the police during raids on houses where there isn't any drug selling going on but only drug using. When one individual is infringing upon another individual's rights through the means of violence then, and only then, should the State (the police) be allowed to use violence!

Community and Neighborhood Consequences of Mass Incarceration

  • 2,700,000 children in the U.S. are growing up with one or both parents incarcerated.
  • One in nine Black children, 1 in 28 Hispanic children and 1 in 57 White children have one parent incarcerated in the U.S. today.
  • One in 28 children in the U.S. have one parent incarcerated.

Mass incarceration is the result of the policies and laws enacted by the government in order to pursue their ends in the "War On Drugs". It is a system of security and control meant to stigmatize and punish the offenders. No matter how strong willed and mentally and emotionally tough an
SWAT on their daily, leisurely, "terror"
 stroll through the neighborhood. 
inmate may be, the effects of our corrections institutions are damaging and long-lasting, effectively causing long term damage to an inmate's psyche and how he feels about himself for a lifetime!

Other effects of mass incarceration, aside from what it does to the individual, are it's effects on families and whole communities. These effects are mentally, emotionally and physically damaging and they are a result of terroristic tactics used by the Government. The constant threat of militarized police department raids through no knock or warrant and warrantless raids keep a neighborhood in a permanent state of anxiety. These terroristic tactics are just another way for the State to "control" and "stigmatize" the people who they've deemed as dangerous to society! After decades of these terror tactics, permanent hostilities between the authorities who are mostly White and the victims, or the "terrorized", who are mostly Black and/or White and poor, have become deeply entrenched! If we want to better our race and class relations- relations between the police and the Black, the poor and the disadvantaged, these tactics need to stop and they begin with killing the "War On Drugs"! Without this happening, individuals and whole communities have no reason to expect that their Government will ever have any respect for them and, thus, this "divide" that's been active for decades has no end in sight.

For decades now, many families in these communities have suffered the loss of their fathers due to this "War". These fathers have been the chief bread winners in the families so, consequently, thousands of young males have had to grow up not only without the influence of a strong male but under great financial hardship. So many families have been raised by mothers who've had to try and hold down two jobs just to put food on the table and a roof over their family's heads. There are many situations where the mothers simply can't meet the needs of their families. Children go to school hungry and without the newest styles in clothing and end up becoming the focus of jeering and ridicule from their peers. Also, even though many communities and schools have makeshift help for families in financial straits, the mere fact that a family needs to rely on these forms of
Kids at after school lunch program
help further stigmatize the children causing even deeper feelings of low self-esteem and feelings of being different and less-than others. When the young boys get older they feel that because they are the males in their families it's their job to start bringing money in to help out. Because of the fact that highly in demand drugs are still illegal, it keeps their costs sky-high which, of course, brings huge profits to those who have the courage to sell them. Without the skills to go out and get a legal paying job, along with the fact that drugs bring huge profits, most of these males end up selling drugs. Yes, I know there are many children who grow up under these same circumstances who
don't become drug dealers. Unfortunately, for the ones who do there are these reasons, caused by the "War On Drugs", to explain why.

Also, with this "War" approaching the end of it's fifth decade, we are now witnessing and have been witnessing for some time, the effects of two generations of families and communities whose male influences have been incarcerated and, literally, "missing in action" from the lives of their families and neighborhoods. We are now entering the third generation of Black youth who have, essentially, been raised by one parent- their mothers. In some instances, many of them have had both parents incarcerated and have been raised by grandmothers. These effects are devastating! This practice of mass incarceration, where communities are losing vast numbers of their important male figures, has a ripple effect throughout the communities- effectively damaging the socio-economic fabric with effects felt generationally!

The "War On Drugs" has caused what is now called, "intergenerational incarceration" where grandfathers, then fathers and finally their young male offspring have followed the same path into the "prison industrial complex" that America has created. They follow in this same path because of the unfortunate examples they've had over the years. When the only examples that a young male sees is his father, and perhaps many of the other male members of his family, practicing illegal ways of making money, he never develops the skills to achieve gainful employment. All he develops are the illegal skills that he's witnessed in his father and grandfather and possibly his uncles and in some cases, the female influences in his life, as well. In many instances, these boys are surrounded by these influences because, not only do they see them in their family, they see them in their community! What they see are the drug dealers, bucking "the system" by creating an underground economy of drug dealing because the regular economy has failed them and their community! These drug dealers become heroes in their communities because they buck "the system" of the white power structure and they have enough money to support their families. With drug dealers becoming the "Robin Hoods" and the people who others look up to in these communities a warped sense of identity becomes the norm. Many of these people who the others look up to have been to prison and, consequently, "doin' time" becomes a badge of honor to these easily influenced young males!

After forty plus years of this "War On Drugs", as well as the harsh economic conditions in the country taking many low-skilled jobs to other countries, the urban black and the poor white and disadvantaged neighborhoods become unstable environments for young impressionable males. When the normal economy fails a certain race or class of people they develop their own, underground economy. We've already talked about the drug economy and it's huge profits as a lure to young males looking to help their families. You also get those individuals who are walking around selling single cigarettes because people can't afford to buy themselves whole packs. There are also the enterprising street vendors who set themselves up on different street corners each day looking to sell anything from packages of socks to cheap t-shirts, whatever they can get their hands on to make a profit. When you start taking a large amount of the money making, male heads of families and locking them up, communities start to lose their purchasing power. When there isn't enough money for neighborhood residents to purchase at their own local stores, those stores dry up and go away. That neighborhood, then, becomes a desert with the only stores left in them being liquor stores. That isn't an ideal setting for a young male... or anyone for that matter.

So, the big picture looks atrocious! The white power structure decides that a whole race and class of people, the Blacks, the poor White, and the disadvantaged, need to be controlled and they come up with another form of the old caste system we used to know as Jim Crow-only this time it includes White people, as well. They stigmatize them with propaganda so that the rest of society become aware that they are dangerous and unwanted. Next, they enact laws giving the police the powers they need to make it easier for them to lock up these "throwaways". Millions of men end up doing lengthy prison time and when they come out, they lack the skills needed to resume a useful, productive life that would keep them from ending up back in prison. Also, when they come out, they face legal discrimination in the form of not being eligible for student loans, public housing and food assistance all due to the fact that they are now branded as felons. In many states, they also lose the right to vote which was at the heart of the old Jim Crow system that kept Blacks from having a voice in their own government. Consequently, the State has, again, made it extremely difficult for the Blacks, the poor and the disadvantaged to have any control over their lives through taking away their voting power to elect their own representatives who understand the problem that's occurring here!

The Future

The prospect for any kind of hope that something, anything, will change in order for things to get better is dismal. There need to be whole sale changes in the system and the theoretical concepts that drive it. The "War On Drugs" has proven to be a failure so we need to change the way we attack the problem. We've already proven that we are willing to fund a program if we feel that it's the correct solution to the problem. Now that we know that the current way of fighting the drug problem doesn't work, we should be able to simply transfer the money that we've spent on sustaining the prohibition style tactics into rehabilitation and education programs.

As things stand now, after decades of this oppressive treatment by the State, the victims have a built in identity problem. So many of the youth from these neighborhoods grow up thinking that it's just a fact of life that they will be going to prison at some time in their lives. What this does to an individual's psyche is devastating. Why would a youth, who expects to go to jail, want to put in the hard work that it takes to learn the skills to get and keep a minimum wage paying job when he can make outrageous amounts of money through selling drugs? Stressing education, whether it be setting up programs to help high school age youth get to college or technical training to get and keep highly skilled jobs must be the focus! Also, some form of economic investment type programs have to be set-up to spur economic growth in these neighborhoods. When you drive through the neighborhoods many of them are so bereft of any economic life that they seem like grave yards. These people need to have a reason to believe in the areas in which they live!

Over the last few years, some states have started to change the mandatory minimum sentences to reflect the non-violent crimes that they are imposed on. Other things need to change, as well. There needs to be an end to the legal form of discrimination that exists which exempts felons from food assistance, public housing and voting. We need to make it easier and not harder for an individual who is coming out of prison to get back on track and become regular members of society again. The stigma attached to an individual who has been to prison is just compounded when he can't feed or house his family.

To expand on this point, most people feel that it's supposed to be difficult when you get out of prison. After all, if it wasn't a little tough, it wouldn't have the deterrent factor that it's supposed to have. Well, there in lies the problem! All these people have no idea just how hard it is when an individual gets out of prison! The policy advisors and law makers, thinking they were protecting the rest of society from these felons once they were released, set up a further system of control through the parole system. When a felon, who has already done time, is released they are released into the parole system which is supposed to monitor the felon for a certain amount of time. While on parole, most felons have fines or fees that were incurred as a result of their conviction that must be paid back- restitution. If these fees and fines aren't paid back, the parolee most often is re-arrested and re-incarcerated. The system is set up for convicted felons to fail! Because of the legal discrimination that they suffer, it is virtually impossible for them to get a job. Without a job, there is no way for them to pay off their fines and they quickly find themselves back in jail! It is no wonder there are 7,000,000 individuals who are still under correctional control today. 

What Does This Say About Us as a Society? 

The founding fathers, afraid of putting the kind of power in the hands of the few, rich, powerful men in the country that were similar to the powers of the King of England, created a constitution where the power was supposed to reside in the hands of the "many". Yet, after scores of decades, the power is again in the hands of the few, rich, powerful men in the country. We find ourselves in this position because in order for someone to run for public office in this day and age, they need to be rich. Consequently, the remaining 99% find ourselves forced to vote for the 1% who can afford to run. And, although there are still supposed to be checks on the power of the State, that same very few, rich, powerful men have found a way to use the system to their advantage to control their political enemies and the people who they deem as dangerous to their very power! After the defeat of slavery and Reconstruction in the South threatened the White power structure, they had to find a way to control the Black population and they created the "Jim Crow" laws to keep Blacks as second class citizens. Then, as the old "Jim Crow" caste system was finally destroyed, the White power structure simply came up with another system, "The War On Drugs", to control the Blacks! Only this time they realized that they could toss in their political enemies which included the liberal Whites and the poor and disadvantaged.

The quote earlier in this post by Lord Acton states that judging how free a country is depends on the amount of security their minorities have. Well, when you digest the evidence that I've provided in this post, you'd have to come to the conclusion that America isn't a free country at all! "Land of the free, home of the brave" is one of our mottos but we aren't the land of the free when 7,000,000 people are either incarcerated or under correctional control. The United States has 5% of the world's population but it has 25% of the world's prison population! The U.S. locks people up at a higher rate than any other country in the world! What makes that statistic so sickening is that even the dictatorial countries of Cuba, Russia, Iran, and China don't lock their people up at such rates as the U.S.!

So what does this say about America? You know, I had to really wrestle with this one. I love my country! I also believe that criticizing my country in order to make it a better place is patriotic! When I look at these figures and examples that I've come across to write this post I've really come to believe that not all of America should be painted with the brush of racism because we have a White power structure who are for the most part, racist! Everyday, I come across many people who are the most compassionate people you'd ever want to meet. They are always willing to help someone in need. There are also many institutions, private ones for the most part, that are set up for compassionate works. No, not all of America is racist!

We really need to take a look at our system of government. The U.S. is supposed to be a representative style government but who is it representing? Definitely NOT the Black, the poor and the disadvantaged! As far as I can tell, our representative government only represents the white power structure which embodies it! Sure, maybe it helps the middle and upper classes to a certain extent. Abraham Lincoln's famous quote from the Gettysburg Address stating that America's government is one that's "... of the people, by the people and for the people..." yet, if that was the case, the small number of 535 Senators and Congressmen wouldn't be the only ones who would get to vote for our laws! I know that you can't have everybody who's a citizen vote whether or not to enact a law but some other form of representation needs to happen when a law comes up for a vote because I, and certainly many millions of others, do not trust our law makers!

Unfortunately, I don't know how to fix this last point. America, as a society, has become cocooned in our own little bubbles of belongings and comforts that we aren't aware, or just don't care, about anything outside of our little bubbles. Because of this, I would venture to say that unless someone has a relative who is, or has been, incarcerated, they have no idea of how messed up our justice system has gotten! Everyone who I've discussed this situation with had no clue that any of this was happening! Yet, they know that they are supposed to stay out of the Black neighborhoods and the poor White ones as well because they are the people who've been committing all the crime. The reason they know this... all the propaganda which has influenced they way they thing about "these people". And make no mistake, the propaganda has worked! Once you get a whole citizenry to hate a particular group, they end up not caring what happens to that group. With drugs already looked upon as a moral shortcoming instead of a disease, people started believing that when addicts and drug dealers were imprisoned it was their own fault! They believe that because they knew what the consequences were before they stated, they deserved whatever they got. In fact, most of the public never knew how draconian the sentences were and are! Because of the stigmatization through the propaganda, eventually the hate turns to indifference and the "hated" become a forgotten group. That's what has happened in America, now, after almost fifty years of the "War On Drugs"! The Blacks, the poor and the disadvantaged who are locked away in our cages have become a forgotten set of people who no one cares about! And ladies and gentlemen this problem isn't getting any better.

And that's, "As I Understand It Now... 'til It Changes".