Meanwhile, in the South, "colored only" saloons were declared "centers of vice, schools of iniquity, and hot-beds of crime." Prohibitionists dressed the movement up as concern for those poor black people who were spending all their money and "[feeding] their animalism," but they also accused black saloons of threatening the safety of white women and children. Because who knew what those dastardly blacks were planning when whites couldn't keep an eye on them?
Again, Prohibition was complicated, but to some proponents, taking away one of the joys of minorities while making them less scary to the sort of people who wring their hands a lot was a big plus. One Southern Prohibitionist even argued that getting rid of saloons could prevent a race war and keep black Americans from rampaging through the streets, because ready access to alcohol was obviously the only reason black Southerners might get mad at white Southerners.
Numerous Government Officials Have Confirmed That Laws Against Drugs Are Based On Race
So far we've only given you historical examples, but you know what they say about history repeating itself to screw over minorities. Here, for example, is a 2015 interview with a former DEA agent who says they were told not to target drug sellers and users in rich areas, even though drugs are as prevalent there as anywhere else. The reasoning was that rich (read: mostly white) people have connections to lawyers, politicians, and judges who could make life a living hell for the DEA, while people in poorer areas (read: generally nonwhite people) wouldn't be able to fight back.
You can find comments like that throughout American history. In the '30s, Harry Anslinger, one of the big shots behind cannabis laws, said, "Reefer makes darkies think they're as good as white men," and, "There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the U.S., and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others." It's admittedly kind of refreshing to hear someone be openly racist instead of trying to dress it up as being "for their own good," although it sounds like Mrs. Anslinger probably had an unsatisfying marriage.
via Wiki Commons
Ironic, considering her husband was named "Anslinger."
Now let's skip through time to a 2016 article on a 1994 talk with John Ehrlichman, one of Nixon's top advisors and a Watergate jailbird. He told Harper's, "The Nixon White House had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people ... 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." He then presumably twirled his mustache and demanded one billion dollars, or else he would melt the ice caps.
The Nixon administration's official line was that they were responding to a heroin epidemic and an uptick in the smoking of jazz cigarettes, as we believe the cool kids still call weed. And to be fair, several of Ehrlichman's children and colleagues called bullshit on his statements, suggesting he either never said them or was being sarcastic (the writer who talked to Ehrilchman thinks he was serious and trying to atone). Nixon did establish drug education and addiction treatment programs, but also signed off on no-knock searches and is on record as referring to black Americans as "little Negro bastards" who "live like a bunch of dogs." Again, drugs are complicated. You're welcome to draw your own conclusions.
But while you're reaching those conclusions, keep in mind that the drug war is incarcerating African American men at a rate about four times worse than black South Africans were during apartheid. Oh, and thanks to drug laws, there are more black men in the prison system than there were black men enslaved in 1850. So ... maybe a change in strategy is in order here.
Mark is on Twitter and has a book.
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