In June of 1971, Richard Nixon started a war on drugs. In July 1973, the DEA was formed. Also, 1973, the New York governor instituted mandatory minimum sentences for being caught with small amounts of marijuana and cocaine of fifteen years to life, and almost immediately other states adopted the same policy.
The state and the federal prison population grew from 218,466 in 1974 to 1,508,636 in 2014 according to the Sentencing Project. This is a 600% increase, and the US population has only grown 51% during that time. Out of that number, in 2013 about 58% was black even though black people only make up 30 percent of the total U.S. population.
The U.S. has the unfortunate distinction of having the highest number of its own citizens incarcerated, and having the most minorities imprisoned.
So why and how did this happen?
In the 1960s, the Civil Rights Movement occurred. Integration came. Black people started to have a more equitable existence in the United States. Conservatives were not happy about this. They needed a policy that would target black people so they could put them back in their place.
Nixon started the War on Drugs at a time when crime was unprecedentedly low. There is a conspiracy that the CIA even began planting drugs in Harlem, to then start cracking down on drug use in the black neighborhoods and imprison them.
War on Drugs–sounds great to the American people. Let’s teach our kids drugs are bad, and let’s sell to the public that drug users are perpetrators of violent crimes, and then let’s lock them all up. However, Nixon’s campaign wanted to target specific people: anti-war protestors and blacks. In a 1994 interview, John Ehrlichman, who served as Nixon’s chief domestic advisor, said the administration launched the war on drugs to go after the “antiwar left and black people.”
It’s been forty-seven years since the War on Drugs began. Perhaps, the War on Drugs real name should be The War on Black People. Nixon’s policy designed to make America more safe, helped set in to motion The New Jim Crow. Nixon’s anti-drug policy began a new way to incorporate a new system of racism in our country that most people have not been consciously aware.
With this system came the idea, again, of the Black man as a savage. According to statistics, more white men sell drugs, but more black men go to prison for selling drugs or being caught with drugs. The mass incarceration has caused huge issues in the achievement gap for black children. Black children are often looked at as “problems” before being given a chance in school, since the idea of the black criminal as been perpetuated in our culture. With so many black men being incarcerated, single mothers are having to raise boys (and girls) without fathers. This also means their ability to earn income is often reduced.
With such an increase in the number of people in prison, overcrowding has become a huge issue, and what’s the resolution? Conservatives say it’s to build private prisons. But I think we all know that’s just a way to continue the status quo of incarceration as we know it today as a way to perpetuate systemic racism.
Will change to this system take another fifty years to come down the line? We need to support policies that make the mass incarceration of black people a thing of the past. Every single person can make a difference in changing this New Jim Crow mentality if they vote, vow to make changes, and do the hard work to change the future for the better for all African Americans.
See my other posts on race in the United States:
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