The War on Drugs: What are we fighting against? Drugs, or people of color in poverty?
The House I Live In tells the story of the War on Drugs, whose enemy has remained ambiguous throughout its decades of implementation. Has America been targeting drugs themselves or the drug users from disenfranchised communities that have been systematically torn apart as a result of this so-called “war?” The film attempts to answer this question by cataloguing the history of the War on Drugs in the United States and drawing attention to the racial biases that have sustained the persecution of people of color and fed into cycles of poverty and mass incarceration. The film incorporates multiple perspectives and experiences of the War on Drugs, including a prison warden who believes the current systems prevents meaningful re-entry into society and exacerbates recidivism, and police officers who view the battle as a futile endeavour because they feel drugs will always circulate. In addition, the film provides substantial historical background on the political motivations behind the War on Drugs.
The rhetoric of the War on Drugs cites the dangers of drugs as reason for taking action to eradicate this problem in order to make America safe. However, the mobilization of resources and violent force in urban spaces— specifically in poor and minority neighborhoods— to combat America’s “toughest domestic challenge” has had devastating effects on people of color and the relationship between law enforcement and citizens. In order to facilitate the War on Drugs, Congress took action in the mid-1990’s to transfer “wartime technology to local police departments for peacetime use . . .against American citizens.” The transformation of law enforcement duties into military operations caused police to “adopt the view that the inner-city urban environment [was] a war-zone and the enemy [was] the urban underclass.” This shift in dynamics further deepened the rift between urban communities and law enforcement because neither saw each other as individuals, but instead as the enemy. Citizens no longer viewed police as “partners in the community,” but more so “an occupation army” or “a quasi-military warrior class.” The deepening rift combined with the militarization of police encouraged violent clashes between citizens and law enforcement, but this resulted only in harm for targeted communities and “sustained urban poverty.”
The War on Drugs has been unsuccessful and prejudiced according to the police officers, prison employees, and other commentators in The House I Live In. Research regarding drug-use in the 1990’s corroborates their beliefs. It was found in this decade that “76 percent of illicit drug users were white, 14 percent black, and 8 percent Hispanic . . .[while] 74 percent of all sentences for drug offenses” were made up of African Americans. Violent crime in the same decade steadily declined, which would seem to reduce the necessity of a “war” to combat the presence and proliferation of drugs in the United States. However, funding for police militarization has steadily increased from $1 million in 1990 to nearly $450 million in 2013. The question to ask, then, is what are we fighting against? Drugs, or people of color in poverty?
For more information & resources about the War on Drugs, visit Drug War Facts.
1. Spread the word about the film via Facebook and Twitter!
2. Support Existing Efforts & Organizations
–Drug Policy Alliance to learn how to help change drug policy in America
–Communities United for Police Reform to get information about citizen-activists working to change police practices in NYC
–The Sentencing Project to learn more about mandatory minimum sentences and find ways to get involved and take action.
–Students for Sensible Drug Policy to check out what other students are doing to take action and get involved!