This is the Most Perfect Metaphor Ever for the War on Drugs

Politics Features The War on Drugs
This is the Most Perfect Metaphor Ever for the War on Drugs

First off, I want to apologize to all of Paste’s music fans. This is not about the band that many of you love (as well as our politics editor Shane Ryan). It’s about the systemic oppression of minorities in America. So, yeah. Pretty different. I wouldn’t blame you for axing this tab, but if you don’t mind, there’s a story out of Detroit that everyone really needs to hear. Per WJBK:

Sources say it started when two special ops officers from the 12th Precinct were operating a “push off” on Andover near Seven Mile. That is when two undercover officers pretend to be dope dealers, waiting for eager customers to approach, and then arrest potential buyers and seize their vehicles.

But this time, instead of customers, special ops officers from the 11th Precinct showed up. Not realizing they were fellow officers, they ordered the other undercover officers to the ground.

FOX 2 is told the rest of the special ops team from the 12th Precinct showed up, and officers began raiding a house in the 19300 block of Andover. But instead of fighting crime, officers from both precincts began fighting with each other.

Sources say guns were drawn and punches were thrown while the homeowner stood and watched.

Jim Crow never ended, it just took a different form: the War on Drugs. Here are some sobering stats from my column on why it was so important for Philadelphia to elect a district attorney campaigning against the War on Drugs:

— We comprise 4.4% of the world’s population, but house 22% of the world’s prisoners.

— About half of our inmates are nonviolent drug offenders.

— Despite the fact that all races sell drugs at the same rate, 3 out of 4 black men in our nation’s capital will serve time behind bars.

— African Americans comprise 12% of drug users, but 40% those arrested for drug offenses.

— 80% of defendants cannot afford a lawyer.

— All this madness costs taxpayers about $70 billion each year (which is $2 billion more than the 2016 budget for the Department of Education).

The War on Drugs is a staggering failure, on the same scale as our debacles in Vietnam and Iraq. Good estimates are difficult to come by, as factoring in the prison costs above gets tricky, but most come back saying that it costs around $51 billion each year, and we have found no discernible progress to prove that investment worthwhile.

In 1925, H.L. Mencken wrote:

“Prohibition has not only failed in its promises but actually created additional serious and disturbing social problems throughout society. There is not less drunkenness in the Republic but more. There is not less crime, but more. … The cost of government is not smaller, but vastly greater. Respect for law has not increased, but diminished.”

There is something to this. Portugal decided to stop treating drugs like a criminal issue and instead attacked them like the health problem that they really are. In 2001, Portugal decriminalized all drugs—even hard ones like heroin and cocaine. Instead of putting heroin users in jails, they put them in health care centers where nurses oversaw them getting high, while also helping to wean them off the drug. The contrast between its results versus ours is stark.

Around 64,000 Americans died of drug overdoses last year. Meanwhile, Portugal’s Health Ministry reports that they are down from 100,000 to 25,000 heroin users in the last sixteen years, and their drug mortality rate is the lowest in Western Europe—and 2% of the United States’ inflated death count. This is a staggering success when compared against where they were in the 1990s, when one percent of Portugal’s entire population was hooked on heroin.

On top of all this, the War on Drugs doesn’t even make sense from an economic perspective. As soon as you make something illegal, it becomes more lucrative because it’s more difficult to obtain. Those who can amass as much illicit product as possible can make boatloads of money. In some ways, it’s a subsidy for the drug cartels. Consider this paragraph from the Times:

The Sinaloa cartel can buy a kilo of cocaine in the highlands of Colombia or Peru for around $2,000, then watch it accrue value as it makes its way to market. In Mexico, that kilo fetches more than $10,000. Jump the border to the United States, and it could sell wholesale for $30,000. Break it down into grams to distribute retail, and that same kilo sells for upward of $100,000 — more than its weight in gold. And that’s just cocaine. Alone among the Mexican cartels, Sinaloa is both diversified and vertically integrated, producing and exporting marijuana, heroin and methamphetamine as well.

Estimates from 2012 peg the Sinaloa cartel’s annual revenue at around $3 billion, which is more than Twitter pulled in last year. There’s no way around it: The War on Drugs isn’t about drugs. It’s about maintaining an arcane status quo of racial serfdom through a more broadly palatable political policy of “being tough on crime.” The War on Drugs began the moment the 1964 Civil Rights Act took root, and it is an all-out assault on our own black and brown citizens, in a process which enriches mass murderers, and sucks a drastic amount of police resources away from combating actual crime (all while white-collar criminals avoid jail time altogether).

To top it off, the exact opposite policy has shown dramatically better results in a rich, Western country experiencing a similar scale of drug addiction. Cops pointing guns at each other in an attempt to bust low-level criminals is the perfect metaphor for this intrinsically insane policy that costs almost half as much as our entire education budget and yields no discernable positive result—unless you view disproportionately jailing minorities as a positive result. The War on Drugs is such a blatantly obvious failure that Tupac’s hit Changes could have been written yesterday (it came out in 1992):

And still I see no changes, can’t a brother get a little peace?

It’s war on the streets and a war in the Middle East

Instead of war on poverty

They got a war on drugs so the police can bother me

And I ain’t never did a crime I ain’t have to do

But now I’m back with the facts giving it back to you

Don’t let ‘em jack you up, back you up

Crack you up and pimp-smack you up

You gotta learn to hold your own

They get jealous when they see you with your mobile phone

But tell the cops they “can’t touch this”

I don’t trust this, when they try to rush I bust this

That’s the sound of my tool

You say it ain’t cool, my mama didn’t raise no fool

And as long as I stay black, I gotta stay strapped

And I never get to lay back

Cause I always got to worry ‘bout the payback

Some buck that I roughed up way back

Coming back after all these years

“Rat-a-tat-tat-tat-tat!” That’s the way it is

Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.

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