There’s no more soldiers left in the battlefield. The flags have been burned. The wounded have been carried away. The terrain has been decimated. The war has been lost. But, oddly someone still thinks they won. Forty two years of a war. Forty two years of a war that America waged against its own people. Forty two years of a war that destroyed black America and imprisoned an entire generation.
The “War on Drugs” was no war on drugs at all, as drug use and access to drugs is higher than before the war began. During the 1970’s, when the use of narcotics ran rampant in urban communities, the only solution that President Nixon and his homeboys could think of was to send diseased addicts away to 6×10 cages housed in rural communities. Although the rural communities were home to these new residents, they had problems of their own. In the 1980’s, as manufacturing and textile jobs were being taken out of these communities and shipped overseas to China, Taiwan, Haiti and beyond, there was a desperate need to create new jobs as America entered into a deep recession. The answer? Build more prisons!
Thus the mass construction of prisons began around the country all the while Nancy Reagan was whispering in children’s ears to “just say no.” And the only way to keep the prisons open twenty four hours a day was to have a “no vacancy” on the window. And the best way to have a steady stream of customers was to create “scare-the-shit-out-of-you” mandatory minimum sentence drug laws that forced anyone in their right mind to take a plea bargain. So throughout the 80’s ad 90’s, that is precisely what America did. We targeted the most vulnerable, the ones who we knew would take that plea, because going to trial would be too costly to the state. And where did we find these great customers? In poor, urban communities. Yes, you guessed it! Black people! First-time, non-violent offenders, most of whom were addicts, would appear before the judge and face 15-to-life, 25-to-life sentences if they went to trial OR eighteen months if they took that plea bargain. So, just like a slave plantation, these men (mostly men at that time) would be shipped off to rural communities all across America, warehoused in these colossal cement structures, stripped of their voting rights, given penny paying jobs working for major corporations and forgotten about. When they returned home to their communities after serving time, these addicts were now hardened criminals, forced to learn a tough demeanor behind the barbed wire in order to survive. Back in the “hood,” they wreaked havoc upon the community, teaching the young men how to hold guns, hold dope and take plea bargains. The viscous cycle of the prison industrial complex was birthed.
If you are curious to understand how America became the largest jailer in the world, with over 2.3 million people locked up, this was the secret sauce. Harsh drug laws tied to unjust mandatory minimum sentencing, where the judge has no discretion, and District Attorneys hand out plea bargains like free desserts on your birthday. Over 97% of all drug cases end up with a plea bargain, and over half of those incarcerated in this country are in for drugs. With a broken public defenders system, these young black men who would be caught with low amounts of drugs were encouraged to just “do the time.” When white people use drugs at a rate of five times the amount of blacks, yet blacks go to prison at a rate of ten times the amount of whites for the same crime, it is because of pure economics. Many white people fight their cases, can afford to fight their charges and are not forced to take a plea bargain, because a paid lawyer loves going to trial. Cash money. While, public defenders love getting you out of their office as quick as possible (not all, but most). It is because of this that prison sentences for black men are nearly 20% longer than white men for same crime. And the prison knows that once they get you in, you are almost certainly gonna come back for another visit. They own you. Modern day slavery. The New Jim Crow, as Michelle Alexander’s brilliant book calls it.
There is no sane supportive argument that a society can survive when 1 in 9 children has an incarcerated parent. That is the current state of black America compared to 1 in 57 white children. Or the prospect of a bright future when, based on statistics, we can predict that one in three black men will spend time in prison at some point during his life. Or how do we explain to our children that there are more black men in prison or jail, on probation or parole RIGHT NOW than slaves in 1850. This is not America, the beautiful, we sing so proudly about before football games. This is not the land of the free nor the home of the brave. This is no proof through the night that our flag was still there. This war has failed and it has failed miserably. After one trillion dollars thrown down the toilet and millions of families destroyed, it is time that we end this American nightmare.
For the first time in three decades the rate of incarceration for black men has slowed down. Under new policies ushered in by Democrat and Republican governors in numerous states and federal policy supported by Barack Obama, we are beginning to see that there is another way to attack our drug problem in America. We can end the “War on Drugs” by first treating drug addiction as a health issue and not a criminal one. Rehabilitation should be the first, second and third option before we even think about a prison cell. We need to eradicate mandatory minimum sentencing, invest in re-entry programs in order to reduce the recidivism rate, expand prevention programs, end “zero tolerance” policies in school that adversely affect black children, immediately decriminalize low level amounts of marijuana possession (ultimately legalizing it) and create alternatives to curb gang violence. As we close prisons across this country, we can replace those jobs with new “green” energy jobs, which was part of the President’s original climate bill. No longer should we warehouse the black people of our nation in cement boxes far away from their homes, for they have suffered for far too long, and their shackles must be freed!
Michael Skolnik is the Editor-In-Chief of GlobalGrind.com and the political director to Russell Simmons. Prior to this, Michael was an award-winning filmmaker. Follow him on twitter @MichaelSkolnik