We know that the American “War on Drugs” disproportionately affects minorities. We know that, despite the fact that white people and black people use drugs at approximately the same rates, black people are arrested far more often. However, I have often encountered skepticism about whether or not this was an intended repercussion of this so called “war”. Was is just a bungle? Was it a genuine attempt to attack the problem of drugs in the States, which then became a tool to undermine African American and Hispanic communities by racist police departments?
A recent article in Vox makes me think that their intentions were clear. As Nixon’s domestic policy chief John Ehrlichman put it, many years later:
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.
This pronouncement was made in 1994. I’m only finding out about it now, though I don’t know if it’s because I have been blissfully unaware of it, or because it actually hasn’t seeped into the discussion about the war on drugs.
Have you heard about this before? And, if so, why does this not come up far more often when debating whether or not to continue this failure of a policy?