The War on Drugs is a war on people

by: DeniseVelez

Sun Jan 13, 2013 at 15:19:56 PM EST



Photobucket
Inmate from the documentary "The House I Live In"


The War on Drugs
, a label we inherited from Richard Nixon, is a lie. It is simply a war on people, and has had the most dire effect on people of color, whether inside the borders of the U.S, or as a part of destabilizing military interventions in other countries.

If you have not yet watched the documentary film The House I Live In, it is a must see. It was the winner of the 2012 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize-Documentary.  

DeniseVelez :: The War on Drugs is a war on people
Eugene Jarecki's seminal film Why We Fight dissected the underbelly of the American war machine. Now, with scalpel-like precision, Jarecki turns his lens on a less visible war-one that is costing more lives, destroying more families, and quickly becoming a scourge on the soul of American society. In the past 40 years, the War on Drugs has accounted for 45 million arrests, made America the world's largest jailer, and destroyed impoverished communities at home and abroad. Yet drugs are cheaper, purer, and more available today than ever. Where did we go wrong, and what can be done?

Clearly no one film, or even series of films, can cover the depredations of the drug war, nor all of the history, and current multi-varied facets, but this is a good starting point for raising some of the issues.


It is impossible to write one comprehensive piece delineating all of the aspects of this war which include:  

Incarceration
Criminalization
Decriminalization
Unequal sentencing
Legalization
Public Heath (including HIV/AIDS and Hep C)
Drug Treatment
Harm reduction (including syringe exchange and safe injection spaces)
Moral/religious stigma surrounding drug use
Racism and white privilege
Use of police and the military, including US interventions
Drug trafficking
Agriculture (including hemp, coca and opium poppy cultivation)
Economic impact, costs
Money laundering, Wall Street
Crime
Gun control and gangs
Elected officials and elections-"tough on crime"

My own perspective for over 25 years has been primarily one from a medical anthropology focus-looking at the topic of drugs as a public health concern.

I have spent time working with injection drug users in the streets and shooting galleries of New York and Puerto Rico. I've also worked with crack smokers, and women and men who barter sex for drugs or money to get them.

In the past as a community activist I worked with local organizations to address the drugs flooding our communities-first heroin, then crack, and with new methods of treatment including acupuncture.

As part of the process of my own political education, I learned to make connections to government participation in drug trafficking along with that of local police agencies.  
I will never forget the first time I read, The politics of heroin in Southeast Asia by Alfred W McCoy, back in the early 70s. His opus has been updated in 2003-The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade-to include new chapters detailing "U.S. involvement in the narcotics trade in Afghanistan and Pakistan before and after the fall of the Taliban, and how U.S. drug policy in Central America and Colombia has increased the global supply of illicit drugs."

In December of 2012, Sundog Pictures released its documentary on the war on drugs, Breaking The Taboo, to YouTube:

Narrated by Oscar winning actor Morgan Freeman, "Breaking the Taboo" is produced by Sam Branson's indie Sundog Pictures and Brazilian co-production partner Spray Filmes and was directed by Cosmo Feilding Mellen and Fernando Grostein Andrade. Featuring interviews with several current or former presidents from around the world, such as Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, the film follows The Global Commission on Drug Policy on a mission to break the political taboo over the United States led War on Drugs and expose what it calls the biggest failure of global policy in the last 40 years.

My personal perspective is one viewed from real life family relationships to those who have defined themselves as addicts and/or low level dealers, including my own substance use in the past.  

Important to me these days is supporting efforts around legalization, but to also warn progressives that focusing simply on marijuana will not significantly change the lives of those who do more than smoke or deal a little weed, or who have a need for medical usage.  

Many people I've had conversations with who support legalization or decriminalization of cannibis are still locked into moral judgmental mindsets about those who either use or sell what they view as "hard drugs." I concur with plf515, who has worked as a data analyst on drug intervention projects, who said recently, "No one should go to jail for putting something into his/her own body." His suggestion included checking out the Drug Policy Alliance.

They have a comprehensive collection of data on all of the aspects of the issue, as well as steps for direct action.  

In the months ahead I'll be exploring all of the facets of the failed War on Drugs, how we can fight to end it, and reduce harm.

I hope you will join me.

cross-posted from Daily Kos

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The Drug war clock (2.00 / 23)
http://www.drugsense.org/cms/w...

"If you're in a coalition and you're comfortable, you know it's not a broad enough coalition"

Bernice Johnson Reagon


There is so much to be said here... (2.00 / 17)
That I hardly know where to begin. From inconsistent sentencing guidelines, to the NYPD's racist justifications for "Stop and Frisk". It seems that the drug war is (purposely??) having the greatest intrusion into the most vulnerable populations, without regard or consideration for the consequences beyond that of subsidizing the private prison industry.

Thank you for the diary.


not just the private prison industry (2.00 / 16)
in my home state - NY, many rural counties have only one major industry - state prisons.

Prison populations affected election outcomes

We've been fighting prison-based gerrymandering:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12...

 

"If you're in a coalition and you're comfortable, you know it's not a broad enough coalition"

Bernice Johnson Reagon


[ Parent ]
How can people help? (2.00 / 12)
NY population centers might be liberal, but rural communities are usually less so. But that...whoa.

Thanks for the link.


[ Parent ]
The Prison Policy Initiative (2.00 / 10)

http://www.prisonpolicy.org/

has lots of info and links



"If you're in a coalition and you're comfortable, you know it's not a broad enough coalition"

Bernice Johnson Reagon


[ Parent ]
Word. (2.00 / 7)
... many rural counties have only one major industry - state prisons ...


[ Parent ]
The WoD is incredibly destructive. (2.00 / 15)
And again an example of political contradiction. The issue of bodily chemistry is as personal a choice as it is possible to make, and therefore should be a core Conservative issue to keep the government out of.

From a strictly practical view the entire legal effort to stop drug use has not had any success, ever. On every front, the effort has caused more problems and solved none. The example of Prohibition seems to be lost on proponents.

Inside such a massive effort the granularity of how incredibly poorly it hasn't worked are manifest. While I doubt that in its entirety it is a conspiracy to keep any demographic down, in application it has both the tangential and - where combined with existing biases - intentional effect of doing exactly that.

It has to end, completely. Not just decriminalizing pot, but removing completely the entire idea that criminalizing body chemistry is viable in any way.

Where drug use causes harm it is a health care or social services issue. Harming the body is a medical issue, harming families is a matter for social services. Application of force and detention have no valid use whatsoever.

John Askren - "Never get into a pissing match with a skunk."


Such an eloquent way of stating the basic issue (2.00 / 7)
The issue of bodily chemistry is as personal a choice as it is possible to make, and therefore should be a core Conservative issue to keep the government out of.

Today, I've altered my bodily chemistry with two glasses of 7 Deadly Zins, an inexpensive and robust zinfandel. I've done so despite a rather intense family history of alcoholism, and my own battles with the demon.

Yet, despite my genetics, and family and personal history, it's my personal choice to drink a glass or two of wine during weekends. I benefit from it, I feel better for it, and nothing wipes the worry from my mind more quickly---no, not even an hour of yoga (which, yes, I've tried).

It's a benefit to my life, although it does have profound impact on my consciousness. How is that any different than people who choose heroin or other illegal drugs, or those who choose the path of prescription drugs, as one of my best friends does?

In an ideal world, not a one of us would have need for mind altering substances of any sort---but this is not an ideal world---and sometimes, each of us needs some way to shut down the endless churning of our mind, just so we can settle back into ourselves and heal enough for another day.


[ Parent ]
Rather than telling our kids to Just Say No I have said this: (2.00 / 8)
If you choose to eat only healthy food, exercise regularly and refrain from any sort of drugs: that would be great.

But, statistically, that is unlikely. So, keep this in mind.

Almost anything you put in your body is a drug of some sort, from sugar to heroin. Think of it like a gently sloping beach, with sugar and caffeine and other substances in shallower water and alcohol, nicotine and others in increasingly deep water.

Avoid the deep water, and if you spend any time in it remember you can't stay afloat for very long.

Nicotine is deep water indeed, shark infested, and best to be avoided entirely if possible.

Alcohol is deep water. Swim cautiously if you do, splashing about can be fun and maybe even good for you, but too far out or too long and you go down like many do.

Pot is pretty shallow water, but if you stay in it all the time you may miss the time you could have spent on the beach.

George Carlin put it best (sic]:

"We lie to our kids when we tell them drugs are no fun, and we lose credibility when they find that out. The truth is that all drugs are fun: the first time. With almost all of them, though, the more you use them the less fun they are, the more of them you need to have any fun at all, and the more downsides they bring."

Our 17-year-old has to date refused any more that a single sip of wine and beer ("it tastes awful"). Our 12 and 10 year old daughters have all the info they need for their ages and we will see how that goes.

Honesty is the best policy.

John Askren - "Never get into a pissing match with a skunk."


[ Parent ]
Amen. (2.00 / 7)
Almost anything you put in your body is a drug of some sort, from sugar to heroin. Think of it like a gently sloping beach, with sugar and caffeine and other substances in shallower water and alcohol, nicotine and others in increasingly deep water.

Exactly. I alter my consciousness at work every day around 2 pm by ingesting a small amount of sugar---not much, maybe a teaspoon in coffee. Just enough to keep me afloat until the evening. And caffeine is itself a drug, as is pound cake, good Irish soda bread, etc. etc.

I won't even get into the piece of chocolate candy I simply must have in the evenings when I teach late.

I think you've done your daughters a tremendous favor by framing the debate in such a way. I know it took a tremendous leap of faith for me to begin equating even food with drugs, but food, even the tastiest, can have powerful effects on our minds and bodies.

As for me, I don't see I have any place to be finger-wagging at those I know addicted to painkillers or pot or worse, given my caffeine consumption, my afternoon sugar rush, and my regular weekend glasses of strong wine.

Your daughters will be wise beyond their years.


[ Parent ]
"criminalizing body chemistry",,,,, (2.00 / 8)
Where drug use causes harm it is a health care or social services issue. Harming the body is a medical issue, harming families is a matter for social services. Application of force and detention have no valid use whatsoever.

In a world where such logic prevailed my brother might still be living.

He died of a heroin overdose, following years of alcoholism and drug use. His choices were not what I would have chosen for him, but I will always wish I could have helped him find more comfort, acceptance, and security.

Love is the lasting legacy of our lives


[ Parent ]
I'm so sorry. (2.00 / 7)
I have been lucky not to lose anyone directly to drugs. The impact alcohol has had on friends and family ranges from none to bothering to tragic, with a few deaths when combined with vehicles.

Drug abuse is always a symptom, never a root cause.

The flip side of drug abuse is that, as justme notes, a bit of self-medicating can be healthy. "There is something magical about two or more people failing to be sober at about the same rate", is one quote in context I bring up often on the topic.

Life is complex, and the value of being able to let your hair down from time to time with a little careful chemistry is quite likely on balance a health benefit. If you can achieve that balance using only the drugs your body produces on its own, good for you. If you manage it with a little alcohol, pot, qhat, ... - or even some of the things which are further afield - in appropriate moderation, that is not intrinsically a bad thing.

A friend mentioned a study last year indicating that folks who have used a drug like mushrooms tend to be happier on average with their lives. This holds true even for those who only do this once. It may have more to do with being willing to experience things, but there could be something to the idea of letting yourself have a moment of viewing the world differently. My one experience with peyote, for example, is something I will always remember and perhaps added a view to my life that I would otherwise not have had. I certainly understand why it was thought to allow for contact with the spiritual world, at least.

John Askren - "Never get into a pissing match with a skunk."


[ Parent ]
Thanks Chris.... (2.00 / 7)
I appreciate your reading your thoughts.

Love is the lasting legacy of our lives

[ Parent ]
Excellent Denise (2.00 / 9)
I'd be interesting in learning about how The Netherlands deals with the drug problem in contrast to the US.  

I'll be covering harm reduction (2.00 / 9)
in the Netherlands, Britan, Switzerland and Portugal (as well as the U.S. and Puerto Rico) in the next post in this series

"If you're in a coalition and you're comfortable, you know it's not a broad enough coalition"

Bernice Johnson Reagon


[ Parent ]
Great, I look forward to learning about it (2.00 / 3)
THus far, my impression is The Netherlands looks at it as a health problem and we look at it as a criminal problem. I'm sure the approaches are far different in many other ways.

[ Parent ]
Thank you for this. I agree completely that no one (2.00 / 5)
should be sent to prison for putting something into his or her own body. All this is closely connected to the prison-industrial complex that puts so many of our people, and especially young men of color, in jail. I was in the UK last week, and one of the news shows noted that there are only about 82,000 folks in prison in the UK. While our population is 5-6 times bigger than the UK's, here in the US we have 1.6 million people serving sentences. Many, many of these incarcerations are related to the "war on drugs". If we really want to cut the US and state budgets. let's end the war on drugs and decrease the number of Americans who are being sent to jail.

You go too far, Denise. (2.00 / 3)
I took me until about 3,4 years ago to be okay with legalizing pot and now you want me to think about at least decriminalizing all of it?!

Seriously though, I need to read, think, and absorb because what I've been conditioned to think may just have taken a hit.

"When Fascism comes to America, it will come wrapped in teh stupid and waving a gun" ~ Esteev on Wonkette


Denise will do that to you (2.00 / 4)
It's one reason her posts are always worth reading.


"Most people worry about their own bellies and other people's souls when we all ought to worry about our own souls and others' bellies" Israel Salanter

[ Parent ]
well I have never understood how far is too far :) (2.00 / 2)
but glad you are open to thinking about it.  

I've radically changed my attitudes around this issue over the years.  

"If you're in a coalition and you're comfortable, you know it's not a broad enough coalition"

Bernice Johnson Reagon


[ Parent ]
It is an evolution. (2.00 / 2)
It takes getting past the harm that drug abuse causes and down to the means to best address those.

Nobody is saying we should all use drugs. It is almost impossible to say that enough. Just that, drugs having been around since the dawn of time, we have to be mature enough to find solutions that don't just feel good but actually work.

John Askren - "Never get into a pissing match with a skunk."


[ Parent ]
having seen the harm up close and personal (2.00 / 2)
for so many years - many people are surprised that I take the position on legalization that I do.

It's because I've seen the harm that I am such a such defender of harm reduction.  

Nothing has stopped people from being addicts - in any culture "since the dawn of time" as you put it.


"If you're in a coalition and you're comfortable, you know it's not a broad enough coalition"

Bernice Johnson Reagon


[ Parent ]
For sure sending them to prison isn't the answer. (2.00 / 2)
Nothing has stopped people from being addicts

Even my still-evolving self knows that.

(I walked around last night saying, "huh" whatever I thought about this.  And not to sound like an overly-dramatic idiot but I've really had to rethink those things that I just always accepted.  Wondering, too, what else I'm wrong about.  :(

"When Fascism comes to America, it will come wrapped in teh stupid and waving a gun" ~ Esteev on Wonkette


[ Parent ]
It has been quite a few years since I crossed the line to: (2.00 / 2)
"Legalize everything"

But I recall the process clearly. It was not comfortable, and as I tried to verbalize it - even to my pothead friends - I got tremendous push-back (almost violent from alcoholic friends, ironically).

But the arguments against the idea are incorrect, and exactly the same as anti-pot ("Then everyone will be doing heroin!!!1!"). No, it will still be the same folks.

The people most harmed by legalizing drugs will be organized crime. Next will be small dealers. Next will be nobody.

The people who are harmed by criminalizing drugs are everyone. It costs you and I cash large money, makes us have to defend ourselves and our communities against crime large and small, and provides a pathway into crime for our children.

We would save cash large (twice, by not spending and by earning taxes), reduce our personal and cultural risk, and make our children less likely to go from childhood experimentation to crime.

John Askren - "Never get into a pissing match with a skunk."


[ Parent ]
Hey Sister! (2.00 / 4)
Good to see someone else promote The House I Live In.

Less war on drugs = less dead young men of color due to gun violence.


Hello 43! (2.00 / 2)
Welcome to the Moose!

Any friend of Dee is a friend of the Moose. Make yourself at home, pull up a chair and share your tales.

:~)

John Askren - "Never get into a pissing match with a skunk."


[ Parent ]
Welcome to Mooseland! (2.00 / 2)
I really hope more people get to see the film.  

"If you're in a coalition and you're comfortable, you know it's not a broad enough coalition"

Bernice Johnson Reagon


[ Parent ]
If you want to control damage (2.00 / 2)
you have to legalize and regulate.
Making things illegal means you are willing to give up control.
I lived the tale and survived, unlike some friends. And I see the same things happening, over and over again, even today. The Justice system wants you to break laws, that way they get to keep you in their system, and justify their payrolls.

While there are those (2.00 / 2)
in the justice system who don't care about their responsibilities as much as their jobs, I would suggest it is simper than that.

The justice system simply executes on the laws it is handed. The entire WoD mentality sets them on a path to behave the way they do.

The justice system would be as efficient or inefficient whichever drug laws it was (or wasn't) given to handle. We have to put the blame for this one on legislators, and our common belief in legal solutions to this set of issues.

John Askren - "Never get into a pissing match with a skunk."


[ Parent ]
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