Nixon Aide Admitted Blacks Targeted In The War On Drugs


“It’s not paranoia when they’re really after you” is the tagline from the trailer for the Will Smith movie, “Enemy of the State.” It made sense for the fictional storyline of abusive government surveillance of innocent American citizens.

The tagline also makes sense after the real-life confirmation that President Richard Nixon’s “war on drugs” was launched in 1971 to disrupt and harass Nixon’s anti-war critics and the black community. John Ehrlichman, a domestic advisor to President Nixon who later was convicted for his role in the Watergate scandal, made the revelation during a 1994 interview with journalist Dan Baum.

“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people,” Ehrlichman told Baum. “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.”

Baum included the provocative quote in an article for the April 2016 edition of the magazine Harper’s. The 1994 interview preceded Baum’s 1996 book, Smoke and Mirrors: The War on Drugs and the Politics of Failure.

Critics of the war on drugs have been making the charge that it unfairly targeted black people for years. Best-selling author Michelle Alexander tied it directly to the prison industrial complex in her book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

“An exceptional growth in the size of our prison population was driven primarily by the war on drugs,” Alexander told the PBS series Frontline in 2014. “(It is) a war that was declared in the 1970s by President Richard Nixon and which has increased under every president since. It is a war that has targeted primarily nonviolent offenders and drug offenders, and it has resulted in the birth of a penal system unprecedented in world history.”

But while critics of the infamous war linked it to many of the societal ills disproportionately affecting black people in the United States, no one involved in creating it had admitted its ulterior agenda prior to Ehrlichman. Of the 2.3 million people incarcerated in the U.S., nearly 1 million are black.
Whites in the U.S. use illegal drugs at 5 times the rate that African Americans do, but blacks are imprisoned for drug crimes at 10 times the rate of whites. African Americans are estimated to comprise 12 percent of the total population of drug users, but represent 38 percent of drug arrests and 59 percent of persons incarcerated in state prisons for drug crimes.

Making certain drugs illegal to target specific population groups for criminal prosecution is part of our nation’s history.

“When you look at the history in the early 1870s, anti-opium laws were directed at Chinese immigrants,” Dr. Timothy Forde told Message. Forde is the director of the African-American Studies program at Eastern Kentucky University.

Forde believes that Nixon was following this historical pattern when he placed marijuana on the nation’s Schedule I drug list, making it illegal to sell or possess because of the belief that it was dangerous and highly addictive. The widespread use of the drug by young people – specifically blacks and anti-war protestors – is what led Nixon to target marijuana, according to Forde.

Audio Sources:

Secular Talk —
The Lip —
YouTube —
Democracy Now –
Phone interview with Dr. Tim Forde

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