Public Comment

Drugs and the Race Issue

Harry Brill
Saturday June 27, 2020 - 12:11:00 PM

In June 1971 President Richard delivered a special message to Congress to declare drug abuse as "public enemy number one". What he did not reveal to Congress was the motive for his message. Nixon didn’t really care about the drug issue. However, the president along with one of his top advisors, John Ehrlichman, were committed to getting rid of the civil rights movement.  

Many years later Ehrlichman apparently had misgivings about the role he played. In an interview with a writer, Dan Baum, Erlichman’s comments were published in Harper’s Magazine. He acknowledged that the plan was to associate blacks with the use and distribution of dangerous drugs, such as heroin. The idea was to facilitate the ability to “disrupt their communities, arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and villlify them night after night on the evening news”’. Alderman then added “Did we know that we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did”. 

This so called war on drugs for the purpose of undermining black activism is politically and economically very much alive. This battle against African Americans is ongoing. The business community views blacks as a source of low wage labor and as a barrier to uinon organizing. So encouraging both drug consumption and the arrests of African Americans continue to be major business strategies to keep blacks in their place. 

Take, for example the observatons made in the Chronicle by a San Franciso Supervisor who lives in the Tenderloin (Matt Haney). Haney noticed that while some dealers were being arrested, dozens of drug transactions were taken place right in front of the police. He described police behavior as brazen, that is, bold and without shame.. 

According to the Federal Bureau of Justice, which is a federal agency, although only 16 percent of those who sold drugs were blacks, they made up 48 percent of those arrested. And rather than providing treatment for drug addicts 74 percent went to prison just for possessing drugs. Moreoer, blacks receive longer sentences than whites even when committing a similar crime -- almost 20 percent longer. 

Arresting blacks by the police followed by heavy jail sentences can appreciably injure the lives of African Americans as well as members of their families. Wouldn’t it be appropriate for the Black Life Matters Movement to expand its focus to address these concerns?