So here we are, forty-five years after the inception of the war on drugs, after spending tens of billions of dollars, after overseeing the deaths and imprisonment of untold numbers of people, after ravaging numerous Latin American countries, after helping establish and expand bloodthirsty drug cartels, after creating the cocaine epidemic of the seventies and eighties, after jailing tens of thousands of Americans for non-violent drug offenses, after all of that we learn what the war on drugs was really all about: racism.
John Ehrlichman, a former top Nixon aide and central figure in the Watergate scandal, confessed to a reporter in 1994 that the primary reason for initiating the war on drugs was to oppress Nixon’s primary enemies, blacks and hippies. This is what Ehrlichman said:
“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? 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.”
If this doesn’t make you ashamed of being an American, you must be a Trump supporter. The toll that racism has taken on this country since its earliest days is incalculable, and in 2016 we have presidential candidates appealing once again to the bigotry and hatred felt by a segment of white Americans. It’s shameful and disgusting and is cause for much of the rest of the world to see us as the village idiot of the global community.
Thinking people have long argued that the war on drugs was racist in nature, but even they believed incarcerating large numbers of people of color was a byproduct of a war that’s primary mission was to end the illegal drug trade. They were wrong. It was from the very beginning a tool to oppress and disrupt the lives of American citizens who were perceived to be a threat to the establishment.
Perhaps the saddest part of all of this is that no one will ever be brought to justice for this major crime against U.S. citizens. Like the perpetrators of the Iraq war and the 2008 financial crises, the bigger your crime, the more likely you are to go unpunished. And many citizens of this country continue to harbor racist beliefs and support leaders who espouse white supremacy. Nixon’s legacy lives on in today’s Republican presidential candidates.