Jay Z: The War on Drugs Is an Epic Fail
September 15, 2016 1:53 PM   Subscribe

"Why are white men poised to get rich doing the same thing African-Americans have been going to prison for?" An essay by Shawn Carter, AKA Jay Z, on racism and the War on Drugs. Illustrated by Molly Crabapple.

Melissa Harris-Perry has a response here: "The rest of story, black women and the herstory of the War on Drugs."
posted by The corpse in the library (28 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
 
Is this essay anywhere in non video format?
posted by corb at 2:01 PM on September 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


Great, thanks for posting this. I wonder why Obama was left out of the drawing of Presidents since Nixon?
posted by beau jackson at 2:02 PM on September 15, 2016


This is pretty great, and well presented too. One thing I thought upon the conclusion, is that if you reconfigure your goals, then the WOD is a massive success. If you want to disenfranchise and suppress whole populations of economically disenfranchised people, it's a success. If you want to relentlessly scare suburban folks with tales of the dangerous, terrible inner city that must be controlled through 'law and order', then it's a success. If you want to build prisons and sell militarized police hardware, then it's a success. If you want to control the market for escapism and hold a monopoly on legal drugs (e.g. tobacco and alcohol), then it's a success. If you want to be re-elected by pandering to any of the above, then it's a success.
posted by codacorolla at 2:08 PM on September 15, 2016 [44 favorites]


Great project. Especially also appreciating Melissa Harris-Perry's annotated expansion. This is a key point that I think is a small example of the many ways that drug policy is racialized to harm African Americans. I remember I was blown away when I first learned that the "crack baby" phenomenon is a total lie:'

"Crack babies are a myth, but alcohol and tobacco have well-documented and extremely negative effects during pregnancy. Alcohol and tobacco have something else in common — good lobbyists representing in Washington and in state capitals across the country. Maybe that is why you can’t be arrested for arriving to give birth drunk, but in many states you can be arrested if you have illicit drugs in your system when you give birth. Arrested. Not offered drug counseling or prenatal care. Arrested. Many of those states have, in turn, seen a substantial decline in poor women seeking prenatal care. Perhaps since, no surprise, 70 percent of women charged with fetal abuse are women of color. I wonder why they are the ones being tested."
posted by latkes at 2:11 PM on September 15, 2016 [22 favorites]


They have been getting rich all along. Hell Bayer just bought Monsanto with cash. That is a lot of street cred, right there.
posted by Oyéah at 2:12 PM on September 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


> Is this essay anywhere in non video format

Not that I could find. I usually don't have the patience for videos, but if you have the ability I recommend watching this one. The art works very well with the narration.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:15 PM on September 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


More from Melissa Harris Perry in Elle.
posted by gingerbeer at 2:23 PM on September 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


Well worth the view.

Is anyone getting rich in Washington or Colorado with legalization? I ask becuase in my super limited exposure, I've never seen a dispensary that appears to be rolling in cash, most look like marginal concerns, viable perhaps but not wealth generating. But maybe I'm wrong.
posted by Keith Talent at 2:31 PM on September 15, 2016


Here's an article from the Seattle Times about who's getting the money from the legal marijuana business here.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:39 PM on September 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


Molly Crabapple is really amazing.
posted by goneill at 3:11 PM on September 15, 2016 [10 favorites]


Great, thanks for posting this. I wonder why Obama was left out of the drawing of Presidents since Nixon?

I wonder why Carter and Ford were left out of your list of Presidents since Nixon?

(Snark aside, that clearly wasn't a drawing of presidents since Nixon, but a drawing of presidents thought by Carter & Crabapple as having been the most instrumental in advancing the "War on Drugs.")
posted by xigxag at 3:28 PM on September 15, 2016


Is anyone getting rich in Washington or Colorado with legalization? I ask becuase in my super limited exposure, I've never seen a dispensary that appears to be rolling in cash, most look like marginal concerns, viable perhaps but not wealth generating. But maybe I'm wrong.

The real money will be made when it goes legal federally. At that point Phillip Morris will roll in and make a few tens of billions.
posted by Justinian at 4:56 PM on September 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


Thanks for posting- this is a really great video.
posted by Secretariat at 4:59 PM on September 15, 2016


Legalization unaccompanied by amnesty/commutation for prisoners held solely for possession, distribution, or sale of the legalized drug is not justice.
posted by praemunire at 5:30 PM on September 15, 2016 [19 favorites]


I am ready to be corrected, but it seems to me that Jay-Z feels no culpability for dealing drugs. He acknowledges their potential negative impact, but it's the system to blame for the sale of drugs, not him. He casts himself as a victim, it seems to me.
posted by oneironaut at 7:55 PM on September 15, 2016


Why would you get that impression? 'seems'? Where did you get that story that you're making up about Jay Z in your head just now?

I can tell you that I feel like it's a meaningless question. I can also tell you that someone who didn't feel anything would not have made this video.
posted by eustatic at 8:23 PM on September 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


I am ready to be corrected, but it seems to me that Jay-Z feels no culpability for dealing drugs. He acknowledges their potential negative impact, but it's the system to blame for the sale of drugs, not him. He casts himself as a victim, it seems to me.

I don't know where you are getting the impression he's cast himself as a victim. I think as far as culpability is concerned, he's long admitted it. Certainly the system has an effect on how and where and to whom drugs (and which drugs) are sold. Did you not watch the video? In the sense that he was once a young black man in Marcy trying to get ahead, yes, he's a victim of racist WOD laws and policies. Just because he made it doesn't retroactively make it OK.

I think the idea that for many people, drug dealing is an attractive path to a better life. Its illegality increases the reward for doing so (it drives prices up) and it's not like you have a ton of options to start with. "Just don't be poor" is perhaps the stupidest of the talking points I have heard people say around this; only the truly privileged can think poverty is a choice. Legal bans do little to stop its use, but that was never really the point anyhow.
posted by axiom at 9:19 PM on September 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


I am ready to be corrected, but it seems to me that Jay-Z feels no culpability for dealing drugs. He acknowledges their potential negative impact, but it's the system to blame for the sale of drugs, not him. He casts himself as a victim, it seems to me.

From "Reasonable Doubt"
Regrets
D'Evils

"Like I told you sell drugs; no, Hov did that
So hopefully you won't have to go through that"
-Izzo, "The Blueprint"
posted by dudemanlives at 9:27 PM on September 15, 2016


I got the impression from his discussion of history in the video, which was history he lived and was a part of in some small way. I got the impression from the devil horns drawn on the figures of the dealers--yes they were scapegoated and demonized, but they weren't innocent. It was a meaningful question, and I got meaningful answers that better informed me, which is why I'm here. Thanks everyone.
posted by oneironaut at 4:50 AM on September 16, 2016


Drug dealer is such a loaded term - as is pusher. Drug use is ubiquitous across all strands of society, and you get your stuff from people like you, so the benefits of privilege and access, and the harm of prejudice and powerlessness, apply to buyer and seller alike.

It's just not possible to see the War On Drugs as anything other than a massive engine of repression; the old fight carried on under new branding. That's not just because of the overwhelming demographic evidence of who suffers, or the overwhelming evidence that the WOD's stated aims are not being met and will never be met, but because there's no other context in which the staunch refusal of the most powerful to even discuss the matter makes any sense at all.

For as long as I can remember, every objective investigation into the way illegal drugs are legislated has said 'this isn't working, it should be changed' - here's only the most recent one from earlier this month. And the response has never been to engage with the evidence or the argument, but to restate implacable opposition because drugs.

I am so fed up with having a fucking nuanced, thoughtful, worked-out-as-best-I-can position on this - the 'yes drugs cause problems and no it won't be a magic bullet to relax control but it will be better, cheaper and more humane according to all the evidence' take - when such thinking is treated as identical to some sort of nihilist strawman libertarian 'let the kids take all the drugs' rant. What, exactly, is the path forward?

And all this when it's possible for the most powerful legislators to admit to taking drugs when younger, with no fall-out, but nobody saying 'So, why are you making the laws about this while your black brothers and sisters are suffering from them?' - at least, not that's being heard. Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel...

What will it take for King Reason to claim the throne?
posted by Devonian at 5:34 AM on September 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


Drug dealer is such a loaded term - as is pusher.

Itinerant drug merchant.
posted by Sebmojo at 5:56 AM on September 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


I believe the proper term is "street pharmacist".
posted by I-baLL at 8:03 AM on September 16, 2016


>
Legalization unaccompanied by amnesty/commutation for prisoners held solely for possession, distribution, or sale of the legalized drug is not justice.


Exactly. Which is why Prop 64 on the California ballot is retroactive (pdf) and will result in the expungement of previous convictions for anything which would be legal under the new law.
posted by gingerbeer at 11:23 AM on September 16, 2016 [5 favorites]


it seems to me that Jay-Z feels no culpability for dealing drugs

I don't know Jay-Z's specific history here, but in general I'm not sure what "culpability" one needs to feel for selling drugs. Do grocery store cashiers feel responsible for the harms of alcoholism?

Now, if he was involved in violent assaults or selling to children or something, that's different. Maybe he was, some quick searching doesn't show me a detailed analysis of what he did, if he ever did admit to anything specific.

As someone who thinks drug use is largely not a criminal or wrong action, I never liked how some people wanted to let users off the hook but not sellers. If drug use is OK, then selling drugs should also be OK.

I guess the distinction is between people like me and those who view drug use as a bad thing inherently but see users as victims and sellers as predators. There are certainly predators who sell drugs (just like there are lots of bad people in lots of professions), but there's nothing inherently predatory about selling people something they want.
posted by thefoxgod at 1:41 PM on September 16, 2016


I think there's maybe nothing inherently predatory about selling people something they want, but the pushers in my shitty NYC neighborhood were horrible people who did horrible things to make money and didn't care if people were destroying their lives and communities for more drugs. Yeah, grocery clerks don't have to feel bad for selling alcohol, but if a grocery clerk was hanging outside a middle school selling jugs of whiskey to kids, they sure as fuck should.
posted by corb at 2:30 PM on September 16, 2016


Like, I don't know Jay-Z's specifics, but my personal experience growing up around drugs is that they were horrible. And yes, mostly they had kid dealers selling to kids, but it was adults selling to the kid dealers in the first place.
posted by corb at 2:33 PM on September 16, 2016


Do grocery store cashiers feel responsible for the harms of alcoholism?

This is likely to startle some people but yes, alcohol is so legal in parts of the US that you can buy it in the grocery store -- not just beer and wine, either. Here in the New Orleans area at my local grocery two aisles over from the breakfast cereals are the hard liquors, an entire aisle where you can pick up your bourbon, rum, vodka, or tequila including specialty flavors. The expensive stuff like Jack Single Barrel is behind glass not because of moral objections but because it's so expensive.

Next over is an aisle and a half of wine sorted by country of origin. And on the other side of the store where the coolers are, there's an entire aisle of chilled beer and a little alcove of pre-chilled champaigne and white wine. The clerk will card you before checking these items out but otherwise there are no special black bags or other marks of stigma. The Jack Daniel's goes in the same bag with your sugar.

Groceries being a competitive industry there are essentially no stores in the region that don't sell liquor, and you cannot work as a clerk in such a grocery store if you have some kind of moral objection to selling alcohol. (Cigarettes are a bit different bedause they are only sold from behind the special customer service desk.) But you can put enough booze in your basket to put three football teams under the table and they will just put it on your credit card and say thanks.
posted by Bringer Tom at 4:31 PM on September 16, 2016


One of the few videos I have been wiling to sit through. But no mention of this:

"Look, we understood we couldn't make it illegal to be young or poor or black in the United States, but we could criminalize their common pleasure. We understood that drugs were not the health problem we were making them out to be, but it was such a perfect issue...that we couldn't resist it."

- John Ehrlichman, White House counsel to President Nixon on the rationale of the War on Drugs.

?
posted by BentFranklin at 6:23 AM on September 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


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