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Was Reagan's War on Drugs a Front for Racist-Inspired Ideals?

  1. Beenthere2Hippie
    View attachment 50788 this exclusive excerpt is taken from Ibram X. Kendi’s new book, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. It marks the 30th anniversary of the height of the racist scaremongering and punitive measures around the US crack “epidemic”—in contrast to the relatively compassionate response we see to the perceived opioid “epidemic” among white people today.

    On June 24, 1982, President Ronald Reagan issued one of the most devastating executive orders of the 20th century. “We must mobilize all our forces to stop the flow of drugs into this country” and to “brand drugs such as marijuana exactly for what they are—dangerous,” he said, announcing his own War on Drugs. Criminologists hardly feared that the new war would disproportionately arrest and incarcerate African Americans. Many criminologists were publishing studies that apparently found that racial discrimination no longer existed in the criminal justice system.

    “We can fight the drug problem, and we can win,” Reagan announced.

    It was an astonishing move. Drug crime was declining. Only 2 percent of Americans viewed drugs as the nation’s most pressing problem. Drug treatment therapists were shocked by Reagan’s unfounded claim that America could “put drug abuse on the run through stronger law enforcement.” Americans somehow fell for this myth. And two years later, during his reelection campaign in 1984, Americans fell for another Reagan myth: the good “morning in America” he peddled about the better economy.

    It may have been morning in America again in certain rich and white neighborhoods, which had awakened to prosperity repeatedly over the years. But it was not morning in America again in the communities where the CIA-backed Contra rebels of Nicaragua started smuggling cocaine in 1985. Nor was it morning in America for black youths in 1985. Their unemployment rate was four times the rate it had been in 1954, though the white youth employment rate had marginally increased. Nor was it morning in America when some of these unemployed youths started remaking the expensive powder cocaine into more cost-effective crack to sell so they could earn a living. Then, the Reagan administration wanted to make sure that everyone knew it was not morning in America in black urban neighborhoods, and that drugs—specifically, crack—and the drug dealers and users were to blame.

    In October 1985, the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) charged Robert Stutman, the special agent in charge of the DEA’s New York City office, with drawing media attention to the spreading of crack (and the violence from dealers trying to control and stabilize drug markets). Stutman drew so much attention that he handed Reagan’s slumbering War on Drugs an intense high.

    In 1986, thousands of sensationally racist stories engulfed the airwaves and newsstands describing the “predatorcrack dealers who were supplying the “demon drug” to incurably addicted “crackheads” and “crack whores” (who were giving birth to biologically inferior “crack babies” in their scary concrete urban jungles). Not many stories reported on poor white crack sellers and users. In August 1986, Time magazine deemed crack “the issue of the year.” In reality, crack had become the latest drug addicting Americans to racist ideas. On October 27, 1986, Reagan, “with great pleasure,” signed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, supported by both Republicans and Democrats.

    “The American people want their government to get tough and to go on the offensive,” Reagan commented. By signing the bill, he put the presidential seal on the “Just say no” campaign and on the “tough laws” that would now supposedly deter problematic drug use. While the Anti-Drug Abuse Act prescribed a minimum five-year sentence for a dealer or user caught with five grams of crack, an amount typically handled by black and poor people, the mostly white and rich users and dealers of powder cocaine—who operated in neighborhoods with fewer police—had to be caught with 500 grams to receive the same five-year minimum sentence. Racist ideas defended this racist and elitist policy.

    The act led to the mass incarceration of Americans. The prison population quadrupled between 1980 and 2000 due entirely to stiffer sentencing policies, not more crime. Between 1985 and 2000, drug offenses accounted for two-thirds of the spike in the inmate population.

    By 2000, black people comprised 62.7 percent of all drug “offenders” in state prisons—and not because they were selling or using more drugs. That year, the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse reported that 6.4 percent of white people and 6.4 percent of black people were using illegal drugs. Racial studies on drug dealers usually found similar rates. One 2012 analysis, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, found that white youths (6.6 percent) were 32 percent more likely than black youths (5 percent) to sell drugs. But black youths were far more likely to get arrested for it.

    During the crack craze in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the situation was the same. White and black people were selling and consuming illegal drugs at similar rates, but black users and dealers were getting arrested and convicted much more. In 1996, when two-thirds of the crack users were white or Latino, 84.5 percent of the defendants convicted of crack possession were black. Even without the crucial factor of police officers’ racial profiling of black people as drug dealers and users, a general rule applied that still applies today: Wherever there are more police, there are more arrests, and wherever there are more arrests, people perceive there is more crime—which then “justifies” more police and more arrests.

    Since heavily policed inner-city black people were much more likely than white people to be arrested and imprisoned in the 1980s and 1990s—since more homicides occurred in their neighborhoods—racists assumed that black people were actually using more drugs, dealing more in drugs, and committing more crimes of all types than white people. These false assumptions fixed the image of the dangerous black inner-city neighborhood as well as the contrasting image of the safe white suburban neighborhood—a racist notion that affected the decisions of so many Americans, from housing choices to drug policing to politics, that they cannot be quantified.

    The “dangerous black neighborhood” conception is based on racist ideas, not reality. There is such a thing as a dangerous unemployed neighborhood, however. One study, for example, based on the National Longitudinal Youth Survey data collected from 1976 to 1989, found that young black males were far more likely than young white males to engage in serious violent crime. But when the researchers compared only employed young males, the racial differences in violent behavior disappeared. Certain violent crime rates were higher in black neighborhoods simply because unemployed people were concentrated in black neighborhoods. But Reagan’s tough-on-crime Republicans had no intention of committing political suicide and redirecting the blame for violent crime from the lawbreakers onto Reaganomics. Nor were they willing to lose their seats by trying to create millions of new jobs in a War on Unemployment, which would certainly have reduced violent crime.

    Instead, turning the campaign for law and order into a War on Drugs enriched many political lives over the next two decades. It hauled millions of impoverished non-white, nonviolent drug users and dealers into prisons where they could not vote, and later paroled them without their voting rights. A significant number of close elections would have come out differently if felons had not been disenfranchised, including at least seven senatorial races between 1980 and 2000, as well as the presidential election of 2000.

    What an ingeniously cruel way to quietly snatch away the voting power of your political opponents. Even the statistics suggesting that more violent crime—especially on innocent victims—was occurring in urban black neighborhoods were based on a racist statistical method rather than reality.

    Drunk drivers, who routinely kill more people than violent urban black people, were not regarded as violent criminals in such studies, and 78 percent of arrested drunk drivers in 1990 were white males. In 1986, 1,092 people succumbed to “cocaine-related” deaths, and there were another 20,610 homicides. That adds up to 21,702— still lower than the 23,990 alcohol-related traffic deaths that year (not to mention the number of serious injuries caused by drunk drivers that do not result in death).

    Drug dealers and gangsters primarily kill each other in inner cities, whereas the victims of drunk drivers are often innocent bystanders. Therefore, it was actually an open question in 1986 and thereafter whether an American was truly safer from lethal harm on the inner city’s streets or on the suburban highways. Still, white Americans were far more likely to fear those distant black mugshots behind their television screens than their neighborhoods’ white drunk drivers, who were killing them at a greater rate.

    Since Reagan never ordered a War on Drunk Driving, it took a long and determined grassroots movement in the 1980s, forged by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and countless horrible incidents—such as the drunk driver who killed 27 school bus passengers in 1988—to force reluctant politicians to institute stronger penalties.

    But these new penalties for DUIs and DWIs still paled in comparison with the automatic five-year felony prison sentence for being caught for the first time with five grams of crack.

    By Ibram X Kendi - The Raw Story/June 23, 2016
    Photo: Greanvillepost
    Newshawk Crew

    Author Bio

    BT2H is a retired news editor and writer from the NYC area who, for health reasons, retired to a southern US state early, and where BT2H continues to write and to post drug-related news to DF.


  1. Wanderer
    Just to mention, prescription overdoses and deaths exceeded automobile deaths for the first time last year.

    Regan was playing to his Christian Right base ("Cristian" and Right" are neither usually), and only continuing the madness set in motion by Richard Nixon.

    Be responsible...
  2. donedrone
    Wish I could type faster , as I have an opinion on many points here.

    1st A-lot more violence came with Crack.

    Opiate Dependence is a diff, monster , Hell the Cartels saw a huge money making opp, when pill mills began being shut down and stricter law on prescription drugs was inacted & inforced.

    Now Fentynal spiked Heroin??? , This stuff must be easy to make.
  3. prescriptionperil
    Why is "opiate dependence" different from crack cocaine addiction? I find it doubtful crackheads were more violent. Nobody gave a damn when drugs were a black issue. And, considering I mothered (literally, she asked to move in)a homeless 13 year, whose mother was a crackhead, I saw the ravages of crack addiction. You think the opiate trade hasn't left violence in it's wake?

    Yes, it was racist.
  4. Booty love
    much of the opioid epidemic was started and progressed by the drugs prescribed by medical professionals for legitimate reasons...cocaine has no prescribed use.

    In my opinion....crack was given to the masses..mostly poor, to keep control.. through the severe addiction and criminal behaviors..caused from smoking cocaine.
    We were given crack...its use generated a problem/reaction... and the government created tax dollar generated solutions

    Drugs issues that negatively affected the public were mostly do to heroin.. before crack,
    and our government had less control over the illegal poppy trade than they did over the cocaine trade.
    and also.. heroin isn't a drug thats easy for novice users to enjoy...its usually worked up to.

    stimulants are easy peasy for rookies to use and become addicted to..and crack cocaine is most addictive form of the most addictive stimulant...and its use spread like wild fire.

    fear from Nuclear war was in decline and fear of war is how are federal government profits and controls its people.
    A new war...a war on drugs..had to be created.

    Its not that astonishing.. considering the profits and news media generated, the de-population generated and the government control generated..from the war on drugs.
  5. Booty love
    not more addicted or violent...just many more of them .

    It was never just a black problem..it was a lower class problem
    as the lower class becomes larger and more diverse...the overall public opinion that it was strictly a black issue becomes more and more an illusion

    crack, crystal meth and strong opiates all have the same potential for addiction, its just crack is the easiest to produce, cut, sell and use
  6. Booty love
    "First ship em dope..let em deal to brothers
    Give em guns, step back, watch em kill each other"- tupac

    ^^i thought this lyric when with this thread!

    You know....just because most documentaries and other news media about crack focused on poor urban black neighborhoods doesn't mean thats primarily where it was at!
    Poor white americans have always greatly outnumbered poor black americans and i can tell you from personal experience, that crack cocaine is just as popular in 'trailer parks' as it is in 'the progects'

    The government and news media want to make it about race....that way people stay divided and don't see...that the laws implemented in response to the "war on drugs", don't just affect the 'blacks' but the entire country!

    What crack life brought to all poor neighborhoods was a 'third world society' and seeing white americans living like that...doesn't exactly give the overall...american, public perception necessary for a 'war on drugs'.

    The war was mainly fought in the black neighborhoods with news media, creating the illusion that the war on drugs was constantly needed and successfull in keeping it out of the rest of american society!

    ....and many still today believe that!! When we here at df know that crack cocaine is in every level of society its just easier to document its negative effects in poor neighborhoods
  7. monkeyspanker
    I agree, it is and never was a racist issue, it was a lower class drug problem...which makes it an upper class problem when crime happens to fuel the habit.

    Reagan was a racist, his actions made that very clear, however, his 'War on Drugs' was a hypocritical means to fund the "Contras' " for political gain, the war in Nicaragia (sp) was first on his list at the time, Noreaga pissed Reagan off big time! I remember all this well, as I was dating a man that was an operative for the gov at that time, the cartels where on the dole of the USA to fund all this. Then got smart and moved along on their own...business is business.

    There is an excellent book that documents all this, I'll search if anyone needs more info from the sources that dealt with all this nonsense! It's a looong read, 1100+ pages.

    Hippy, please...your posts are awesome but, huge...very hard to read, just pick a major point, no need for a half page of text to get yours across! We will get what you're saying, link the rest...

    Peace and love, M~
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