Last week, a quote from Richard Nixon’s former Chief Domestic Advisor John Ehrlichman surfaced, confirming a disgusting truth that’s been well-known by black folks for several decades: the war on drugs had nothing to do eradicating a drug epidemic. Instead, it was a ploy to hide the intentional targeting and decimating of the black community.
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.
I’ve always believed the “War on Drugs” was a hoax from the very beginning; thus, I felt a wide range of emotions reading this quote. I’ve seen my own community ripped apart by enforcement of draconian drug laws. I know people who are currently serving sentences related to the same drug that, now increasingly legal, is being used to make white folks and the government wealthier.
And still, America’s embarrassing incarceration rates and disparities, painstakingly outlined in Michelle Alexander’s now legendary book The New Jim Crow, are merely a fragment of the aftermath of Nixon’s vicious war on black folks. When the highest levels of government, in the now incontrovertible spirit of genocide, decide to decimate a community, the ripple effects will be unending.
Consider first: all wars need soldiers. The soldiers in Nixon’s phony war have been police officers, chiefs, prosecutors and judges — all law enforcement officials tasked with carrying out inherently racist order. Much of the now well-documented problem with how law enforcement officials interact with communities of color can be traced to the war on drugs. Despite the fact that drug use in our country has always spanned broadly across lines of race and class, our entire system and everyone in it were necessarily taught to view urban communities as being rife with criminals and addicts needing to be cleansed.
None of this was was possible without Nixon perverting another broken system for his destruction campaign: mainstream news media. Plastering implicitly anti-black propaganda on major networks with regularity is how America was taught to view urban centers — and the black people living there — as deserving of war. The war’s soldiers, therefore, are to be supported with a similar blind deference as we are taught to give our military. (A comparison which, of course, helps us justify equipping the police like they’re in combat.)
The kind of racist reporting Nixon expressly requested from mainstream media outlets didn’t end with Nixon’s shameful exit from the White House; four decades later, it remains a staple of what Americans consume daily. Just Google news anchor Wendy Bell and see what people who control the messages on your TV screens think of black people. Hell, media bias is the reason this news of Nixon’s war against black communities (read: treason) wasn’t a front page headline.
This is bigger than detestable police and biased media, however. Like with any unjust war, there are economic implications – in this case, in excess of a trillion dollars spent destroying the very community that ironically is one of very few domestic racial groups terrorized by the government that hasn’t received any sort of reparations. There are social implications, namely that what follows from unjustly incarcerating black people at alarming rates, a majority of them men, is a decapitation of the black family unit that spans generations.
And there are lasting community implications, the most startling of which is that the blighted neighborhoods that are most impacted by the terror of the war on drugs — pillaged by Nixon’s soldiers and stripped of many of their bread winners — are part of the communities across the nation being actively identified for “development.” Gentrification is a brand of renovation that forces the removal of black families for economic reasons — and it didn’t appear out of thin air.
So remember that the next “conspiracy” you hear being repeated by hundreds of thousands of marginalized people probably isn’t a conspiracy at all. The next time you hear that a useful social initiative is just too expensive, be reminded that we wasted more than $1 trillion over 40 years taking out Nixon’s perceived enemies. And the next time people try to convince you that drug abuse in black communities is a criminal issue, tell them to extend the same courtesy given to white communities and call it what it is — a healthcare issue.
Nixon wasn’t the first criminal to commit crimes against his own citizens; our government has perpetrated criminal atrocities against communities of color before, from the Tuskegee Experiment to Japanese Internment Camps.
Lies and deceit are nothing new.
But this time, when you go to the polls, remember Nixon’s “War on Drugs.” Then act accordingly.
The stakes are too high to let another lie go unchecked.
Walter Bond is an educator, activist, DJ, and the Chief of Staff of Teach For America Milwaukee. You can follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/wtbond