A Colossal Failure: Sundance Award-Winning Film Sheds New Light on Destructive Drug War
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AMY GOODMAN: And I think that’s really what this film is about. You have these facts and figures peppered throughout this film, Eugene. African Americans make up roughly 13 percent of the U.S. population, 14 percent of the drug users, yet they represent 56 percent of those incarcerated—
EUGENE JARECKI: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —for drug crimes.
EUGENE JARECKI: Have 90 percent in the federal system. So you have a 13 percent population. I mean, most people, for example, when they think of crack, they think, because that’s what the media has told us, that crack is a black drug. The fact is, blacks don’t use crack more than anybody else. And as a result, because blacks are only 13 percent of the country, they’re 13 percent of the crack users. So the remaining crack users, i.e. the majority, are white and brown. That’s something you would never even imagine, because that’s not how the laws are applied, it’s not how we hear about it.
AMY GOODMAN: Set up this clip for us around crack.
EUGENE JARECKI: Sure. Well, crack—you know, the crack phenomenon, which exploded in the 1980s, was built on a lie. Len Bias, the basketball player, had died of a heart issue related perhaps to cocaine. It was never even fully determined. And it was pretended at the time that it was crack. And Tip O’Neill and other Democrats, particularly, at that time wanted to appear tough on crime, like their Republican counterparts, and so they used Len Bias and other sort of "shock and awe" stories about crack to say there’s this terrible new drug that is so destructive.
And I totally empathize that—with Nannie, about losses she has seen, that people have experienced, due to drugs. That’s no question. But what you’ll see in the clip is the way in which lies and propaganda by the U.S. government about drugs not only make—they make the problem worse, because they don’t solve the problem that the drug may represent, which is a public health problem. Her son was a victim of a public health problem. What do you do about addictive drugs in the world? That’s a question that’s worth debating and worth figuring out the public health policies for. But instead what we’ll see is, the way that Ronald Reagan and others of both parties have used these issues is to make it a criminal justice opportunity, a law opportunity.
CHILD: Don’t take my mother, please!
MICHELLE ALEXANDER: When Reagan announced that he was planning to rev up the drug war, more than ever, it was political opportunity, because at the time drug crime was actually on the decline, not on the rise. Less than 2 percent of the American population even identifies drugs as the nation’s top priority. But then, of course, they got lucky.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Crack cocaine.
DAN RATHER: Crack, the super-addictive and deadly cocaine concentrate.
MICHELLE ALEXANDER: Crack hit the streets, and suddenly there was a hysteria about this brand new demon-like form of cocaine.
PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: Today, there’s a new epidemic: smokable cocaine, otherwise known as crack. It is an uncontrolled fire.
The American people want their government to get tough and to go on the offensive. That’s exactly what we intend, with more ferocity than ever before.
POLICE OFFICER 1: Police, freeze!
POLICE OFFICER 2: Here is your crack.
MARK MAUER: It’s inescapable that the image of the crack user at the time was a young black man, whether or not that was correct.
CARL HART: What we saw were images of black urbanites on TV smoking crack cocaine over and over and over. And then these incredible stories were being associated with crack cocaine, and they were taken as fact.