SAINT-FORT: Admission from policy advisor means nothing
Opinions Column: Charged Up
Early last week, a Jezebel article entitled “Nixon Policy Advisor Admits He Invented War on Drugs to Suppress ‘Anti-War Left and Black People,’” was published. I saw the article on Facebook and ignored it, but then when a friend texted it to our group text, I decided to skim through it. While the article was largely aggregated from a Harpers Magazine piece by Dan Baum that “broke” the story, neither said anything of any importance. I wasn’t shocked, outraged or annoyed. I simply didn’t understand what the point was.
The Jezebel article provides direct quotes that speak to American politicians’ deplorable history with drugs and race relations. “We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black(s), 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.” The quoted block goes on to say, “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.” Both articles were helpful, if only for providing these quotes as the analysis that followed was simply the regurgitation of previously stated information.
Academic scholars — black, white and in between, including countless Rutgers University professors — have said same exact thing. The War on Drugs and really all drug policy-related efforts were a consorted effort by the Nixon Administration to criminalize minor drug offenses and effectively silence any community that might have had the power to challenge his corrupt policies.
So now it's 2016, and John Ehrlichman, who served on Nixon’s counsel and assistant for domestic affairs, has come forward with something he said in 1994. Great, so an official government agent just confirmed what countless citizens already knew. Are black people supposed to stand up and rejoice? This admission of guilt does nothing to repair black and brown communities that have literally been ripped to shreds by fraudulent and nefarious government policies. I could care less if Ehrlichman is doing “something” about his complicit actions now, because he didn’t bother to do anything about it when it would have mattered most.
His pathetic confession does nothing to revive the missing generations in black and brown families. None of the men and women who have been affected by mass incarceration will be exonerated, none of their sentences will be commuted and none of their families will be repaired.
But it wasn’t just Nixon, it was Ronald Reagan and it was Bill Clinton. What these men and other equality-complicit politicians have done goes far beyond disrupting a couple families in the inner city. Their actions weigh so heavily on black and brown communities that individuals who have never been personally touched by systematic poverty, mass incarceration and contrived drug addictions are characterized by strangers as drug abusers and lazy criminals.
What Ehrlichman’s admission is indicative of is this nation's long and tired history of wronging black people, halfheartedly apologizing for it, and then turning around and repeating their actions. It’s a perpetual cycle of shame that consistently leaves minorities destitute and reeling from administratively inflicted wounds. Slavery. The Reconstruction Era. Jim Crow. The War on Drugs. Mass Incarceration. Police Brutality. Each and every one of these pandemic phenomenon’s are interrelated. None of them can stand on their own as their inception is heavily connected to the petering out of the last.
My only questions are what’s going to be next, and are we as a race of systematically disadvantaged and largely politically inactive individuals — by proxy policy behaviors like incarceration and gerrymandering — going to be duped again? We have stood in solidarity and protest of the actions that we find deplorable. These are methods that have worked well enough in the past, and I can assume they will work well enough now. But that’s just the problem: These practices work “well enough.”
This is what governments do: They systematically oppress any and all individuals who stand to gain traction against their corrupt actions. So how will we as a race finally find a lasting way to stand up to the hellish beast that is our organized democratic government? We’re done with bandages. Let us be staples and sutures that permanently close the lacerations of injustice, hatred and political corruption. And should these surgical repairs be ripped open once more, then let the pain be felt by the entire nation, not just the segment of black and brown individuals have been repeatedly abused.
Ehrlichman and any other corrupt politician can admit their guilt and clear their conscious all they want. But until steps are taken to truthfully right wrongdoings, only the interests of the majority are being served … as per usual.
Yvanna Saint-Fort is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in political science and journalism and media studies with a minor in public policy. She is the former opinions editor of The Daily Targum. Her column, "Charged Up," runs on alternate Wednesdays.
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