Nixon and the War on Drugs
Dr. Christina Greer | 4/7/2016, 1:50 p.m.
So it has finally been confirmed. Black people are not crazy, or left-wing conspiracy theorists or hypercondriacs. Recent reports have been released that confirmed what many Blacks in America knew in their hearts and feared was the truth about their government. The United States president, Richard Nixon, and his administration implemented the War on Drugs in 1971 to undermine his political opposition, specifically those who opposed the Vietnam War and African-Americans. Essentially, the 21st century effects being felt in communities across the country were targeted attacks from the highest office in America, the United States presidency. I know Nixon was paranoid, untrustworthy, ambitious and vengeful, but having confirmation of his efforts to destroy Black communities and families has shed a new light on the long-lasting effects of his presidency.
This new information makes me think of my grandmothers words to me when I left to attend my “fancy” private school in New England. In her southern wisdom, which never let me down, she told me, “The only time you should be surprised, is when you are surprised.” This revelation about the Nixon administration should not surprise me, yet it somehow does. How could a president and his administration view the antiwar left and Black people as their primary enemies who must be destroyed? This effort was calculated and coordinated to associate Blacks with heroin drug culture (and the antiwar left with marijuana usage), and then over-incarcerate and criminalize said activity. According to John Ehrlichman, who served as domestic policy chief for Nixon, this multi-stage series of attacks was meant to specifically destroy communities, discredit leaders and vilify an entire race of people on the 6 o’clock news each evening. And it worked to a certain extent. The mass incarceration and subsequent voter disenfranchisement of so many Black men (and now women) has been just one of the negative effects. The generational poverty and revolving door for jail and/or prison in so many neighborhoods is a direct result of policies implemented almost 50 years ago.
According to a 2012 report from the U.S. Sentencing Commission, Blacks are actually less likely to sell or use drugs, but when convicted, they are more likely to serve longer sentences solely because of their race. This outcome is not an unintended coincidence, but a direct goal of Nixon and his War on Drugs.
One man was able to change the course of history for millions of Blacks in America. This new information also makes me wonder just how much we as regular citizens are unaware of during each presidency. What will history tell us about the Reagan years and his War on Drugs, both domestically and internationally? What will we uncover about both father and son Bush and each of their Gulf Wars? And that’s just the Republican presidents. So we must continue to fight for dignity in a country that has made laws for the specific demise of Black people. And, I will refuse to be surprised by the surprising facts I discover in the future.
Christina Greer, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Fordham University and the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream.” You can find her on Twitter @Dr_CMGreer.