Sunday, April 19, 2009

fail to realize that "the war on drugs" is actually a war on people

American Violet is a new movie that exposes the racist effects of America's decades-long "War on Drugs." It tells the true story of Texas resident Regina Kelly, a young mother of four who was swept up during a series of racially motivated drug raids.

Film reviewer Clay Cane declares American Violet "the first must-see film for African Americans in 2009." I haven't seen it yet, but it looks like a must-see for white Americas too, since most of them fail to realize that the "War on Drugs" is actually a war on people, most of them black and most of them poor.

This movie had a limited release a couple of days ago--if you've seen it, would you recommend it? And are there other films or resources you'd recommend on this topic?

For many Americans, the election of President Obama was the final nail in Jim Crow's coffin.

But it only takes fifteen minutes in any courthouse, watching the parade of black defendants arrested on drug charges, to realize racism still haunts us. Ostensibly color-blind, the enforcement of the US drug laws disproportionately targets black Americans.

Across the country, whites smoke weed and snort cocaine with relative impunity. Blacks and whites engage in drug offenses at roughly comparable rates, but the heavy hand of the law falls on the darker shoulders.

Blacks, for example, are currently arrested on drug charges at more than three times the rates of whites. They are sent to state prisons with drug convictions at ten times the rate of whites. Although there are approximately six times as many whites who use and sell drugs as blacks, almost half of state prisoners sentenced for drugs are black.

Researchers have documented and advocates have decried these racial disparities for two decades. But they are no accident. Although there have long been far more white drug offenders than black ones (not surprising given that blacks are only 13 percent of US population), the "war on drugs" was not created to curb white drug use. It was born in the mid-1980s when crack hit the streets; it was quickly demonized, and it was widely thought (albeit erroneously) to be linked exclusively to blacks. While "drugs" and "tough on crime" were the words used by politicians wooing an anxious white electorate with draconian new drug laws, the real, although unspoken, subject was race. The image of black drug dealers lurking in alleys rivaled that of Willie Horton in the panoply of white fears. . . .

--Jamie Fellner,
senior counsel of the US Program at
Human Rights Watch


  1. slightly off topic macon, but what's with this cnn special on addiction? i haven't seen one addict of color, though i've only now seen half of the program. and they're overflowing with sympathy. where's this sympathy when they're talking about nonwhite drug addicts? then it's degenerate this and career criminal that and whatever else.

  2. I saw a preview for this movie last week and I can't wait to see it this week. Thanks for reminding me of it.

    BTW, I can't help but notice that you have had a rather persistent troll recently. Could we feed him less? I really enjoy the comments section here as much as I enjoy the blog, and while diverse viewpoints compose part of that enjoyment, uneducated and poorly-expressed attempts at arguments are not. We can't reason with people like him. He just wants to ruffle feathers, without a real discussion.

  3. The Real Cost of Prisons Project produced a series of informational comic books which includes Prisoners of the War on Drugs:

    "The comic book includes: the history of the war on drugs, mandatory minimums and how racism creates harsher sentences for people of color; stories on how the war on drugs works against women, three strikes, obstacles to coming home after incarceration, how mass incarceration destabilizes neighborhoods, and alternatives to the present system."

    The comics are available for purchase in print or for free as PDFs here.

  4. Hello j. ren! I haven't seen that program, but it certainly would be interesting to see how white versus non-white addicts are portrayed. I imagine race gets mentioned and/or highlighted for the latter, but never for the former. As for sympathy, well, it's likely all viewed through the usual white framing of corporate media, so there's probably the usual relative lack of sympathy for non-white suffering. An underlying implication is always that they deserve it more somehow (and/or that they're more used to it?).

    Phoebe, that troll has been put on alert, and I'm publishing less and less of his especially off-topic or truculent verbiage. I hope others can resist the temptation to feed him when I do publish his feather-ruffling grumblings.

    Thanks for the link, Colin. I opened the PDF and look forward to reading it, looks promising.

  5. Sorry to point out misstakes, but the woman the film is about is named Regina Kelly, Regina King is an actress.

  6. Thank you Anonymous, I've corrected the mistake.

  7. I recommend Autobiography of a Blue-Eyed Devil: My Life and Times in a Racist, Imperialist Society. Inga Muscio can seem all over the place at times, but she is lovely and identifies as anti-coincidence theorist.

  8. Looks like a good movie. I do wonder too, what makes the critic say it is a must-see movie for black people to see.

  9. I can't wait to see that film and I hope all Americans watch it.


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