Criminalize-Prosecute-Incarcerate, the American Way

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Are Americans Just More Depraved?

In reality, they probably aren’t but it would seem so. According to Drug Policy.org, with less than five percent of the world’s population, the United States houses almost 25% of the world’s prison inhabitants. In relation to their populations the US is the country with the most prisoners in the world. That’s more than Russia, more than China, more than Iran…

But if Americans are not five times as evil as the rest of humanity, why are so many of them in jail? It’s a long story, a veritable trail of tears, with its roots in some of the country’s most hallowed traditions: ultra-conservatism, racism, religion and the lust for power and profit. The MacGuffin has always been drugs.

 

In the Beginning Was J. Edgar Hoover

 

The story begins in the 1930s with one of the most incombustible, most powerful–and most iniquitous– public servants in American history, J. Edgar Hoover. His biographer, Anthony Summers, sums him up nicely:

J. Edgar Hoover was a phenomenon. The first Director of the FBI, he remained in office for 48 years, from his appointment after the First World War to his death in 1972, achieving fame and extraordinary power. For public consumption when he died, President Richard Nixon eulogised him as: “One of the giants… a national symbol of courage, patriotism and granite-like honesty and integrity.” He ordered flags to fly at half-mast and that Hoover’s body lie in state in the Capitol. In private, on hearing that he had died, Nixon had responded merely: “Jesus Christ! That old cocksucker!”

Bill Clinton, who as president in 1993 was mulling over whom to appoint as FBI Director, thought the reports of Hoover’s cross-dressing were hilarious. “It’s going to be hard,” he grinned during a speech at a press function, “to fill J Edgar Hoover’s… pumps.”

Harry S Truman wrote during his presidency: “We want no Gestapo or secret police. The FBI is tending in that direction. They are dabbling in sex-life scandals and plain blackmail… Edgar Hoover would give his right eye to take over, and all congressmen and senators are afraid of him.” When Hoover died and FBI agents went to his office to requisition his personal files–including the damning dossiers he had on the Who’s Who of Washington, D.C.– they found that his “indispensable” secretary, Helen Gandy, had burned them all.

Just Good Friends

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Much is made of Hoover’s supposed homosexuality, a question which would be irrelevant today if it were not for Hoover’s vicious persecution of homosexuals. The circumstantial evidence weighs heavily. Washington Post journalist, Kenneth Ackerman, writes in 2011:

If Hoover did have a gay relationship, most likely it was with his longtime FBI associate director, Clyde Tolson, another lifelong bachelor — but even this is disputed. Hoover and Tolson worked together more than 40 years. They traveled on vacation and official business, rode to work together, shared lunch nearly every day at Washington’s Mayflower hotel and sometimes even wore matching suits. Hoover, at his death, left Tolson most of his estate. Their relationship, by all appearances, was stable, discreet and long-lasting. But what they did physically behind closed doors, if anything, they kept between them.

Hoover’s biographer, Anthony Summers, offers this on the subject:

Hoover for a while consulted Marshall de Ruffin, a Washington psychiatrist who became president of the Washington Psychiatric Society. De Ruffin’s widow Monteen recalled learning from her husband that his distinguished patient was “definitely troubled by homosexuality”. After several sessions, however, “Hoover got very paranoid about anyone finding out he was a homosexual, and got scared.” As if to compensate, Hoover lashed out at and sought to expose other homosexuals. For years he had his agents infiltrate and monitor homosexual-rights groups, while he sounded off publicly about “sex deviates in government service”.

It was one of Hoover’s lieutenants, Harry J. Anslinger, who helped elaborate and then executed Hoover’s drug policies. Alexandra Chasin, who wrote Anslinger’s biography, calls her book, Assassin of Youth, describing him:

Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics from its establishment in 1930 until his retirement in 1962, Harry J. Anslinger is the United States’ little known first drug czar. Anslinger was a profligate propagandist with a flair for demonizing racial and  immigrant groups and perhaps best known for his zealous pursuit of harsh drug penalties and his particular animus for marijuana users.

To Become Famous and Influential in Washington You Need an Enemy

Drugs, thanks to an essentially baseless wave of hysteria generated by Hoover and Anslinger, became the American public enemy number one, subject to a set of draconian laws that distorted the drug issue. Ironically, the “issue” had a simple solution: regulate them in the same manner that alcohol had been regulated. What prevented that from happening? Two principal factors, which should never have been permitted to intervene: fanatical law-enforcement fervor and fundamentalist religion. Heroin and marijuana were sinful.

American law enforcement’s approach to mind-altering drugs, since the 1930s, has had a far-reaching influence on other societal issues, such as health, penology, race relations and, of course, business. The prohibition of drugs, like that of alcohol, gave rise to fabulous illicit business opportunities. Drug regulation would also have gone a long way towards solving that problem, though nobody thought of that at the time. Though alcohol was eventually re-cast as a controlled–and taxed–substance, drugs remained on the banned –and severely castigated–list.

From the beginning Anslinger associated drug use, race and music. He was quoted as saying, “Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men. There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the U.S., and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing, result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others.”

Nixon Resuscitates the War on Drugs for His Own Ends

Forty years after Anslinger’s first onslaught President Nixon declared in June 1971 his own “war on drugs.” He dramatically increased the size and presence of federal drug control agencies and pushed through measures such as mandatory sentencing and no-knock warrants.

A top Nixon aide, John Ehrlichman–a former Eagle Scout who later would become a key figure in the Watergate scandal, for which he was convicted of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and perjury and served a year and a half in prison–later told the truth:

You want to know what this was really all about? 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.

Nixon relegated marijuana to Schedule One, the most repressed category of drugs. For a few years after that American white kids got a taste of the treatment the black ones had been experiencing for four decades. In 1972, the commission unanimously recommended decriminalizing the possession and distribution of marijuana for personal use. Nixon ignored the report and rejected its recommendations.

Drugs Are the Pretext, African-American Citizens the Victims

Today, even as marijuana is slowly being legalized around the country, Americans still have not shaken off the racist and xenophobic foundations of their appetite for the severe punishment of drug offenders. According to Deborah Small, Executive Director of Break the Chains, the growth of the merciless incarceration culture is due in part to the overly harsh consequences of drug convictions. More than 1.6 million people are arrested, prosecuted, incarcerated, placed under criminal justice supervision and/or deported each year on drug-law violations. But mass incarceration is just one part of the repressive system of criminalization, aggravated by the war on drugs.

Small enumerates some of the side effects of over-zealous prosecution of the law:

“Mass incarceration is one outcome of the culture of criminalization. Criminalization includes the expansion of law enforcement and the surveillance state to a broad range of activities and settings: zero tolerance policies in schools that steer children into the criminal justice system; welfare policies that punish poor mothers and force them to work outside of the home; employment practices that require workers to compromise their basic civil liberties as a prerequisite for a job; immigration policies that stigmatize and humiliate people while making it difficult for them to access essential services like health care and housing.”

In October, 2016 Human Rights Watch and the ACLU issued a 196-page report, “Every 25 Seconds: The Human Toll of Criminalizing Drug Use in the United States.” The report concludes that zealous enforcement of drug possession laws causes unjustifiable harm to individuals and communities across the United States. The consequences include separation of families; exclusion of people from job opportunities, welfare assistance, public housing, and voting; and lifetime discrimination. While more people are arrested for simple drug possession in the US than for any other crime, criminal justice initiatives rarely question whether drug use should be criminalized at all.

This brief video produced by Human Rights Watch and the ACLU bears terrifying witness to the criminalization-prosecution-incarceration abuses in the United States.

A Drug Policy Alliance statement issued on November 17, 2016, expresses concern about racial minorities being deprived of their voting rights:

Because of felony disenfranchisement, over two million Black people could not vote in last week’s week election, in large part because of the drug war and other reprehensible policies that purposefully target Black communities. Check out this powerful video on felony disenfranchisement from our partner, Pastor Kenneth Glasgow, and read more here: http://bit.ly/2gn67Ql.

 

Incarceration Rates Skyrocketed in the 1980s 

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Drug Policy. org offers us A Brief History of the Drug War, from Ronald Reagan’s promotion of a long period of skyrocketing rates of incarceration, largely thanks to his unprecedented expansion of the drug war, until Obama’s more progressive drug initiatives–which are now being countermanded by Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, who has made it clear that he does not support the right of states to legalize marijuana, and believes “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”

In the late 1980s, political hysteria about drugs led to the passage of draconian penalties in Congress and state legislatures that rapidly increased the prison population. In 1985, the proportion of Americans polled who saw drug abuse as the nation’s “number one problem” was just 2-6 percent. The figure grew through the remainder of the 1980s until, in September 1989, it reached a remarkable 64 percent – one of the most intense fixations by the American public on any issue in polling history.

Thoughtco.com on Mandatory Drug Sentencing Laws

Mandatory drug sentencing laws came about in the 1980s at the height of the War on Drugs. The seizure of 3,906 pounds of cocaine, valued then at over $100 million wholesale, from a Miami International Airport hangar on March 9, 1982, brought about the public’s awareness of the Medellin Cartel, Colombian drug traffickers working together,  and changed U.S. law enforcement’s approach towards the drug trade. Lawmakers began to vote more money for law enforcement and began to create stiffer penalties for not only drug dealers, but for drug users.

Today the criminalization-prosecution-incarceration assault on American citizens continues, with 700,000 people arrested for marijuana offenses each year and almost 500,000 people still behind bars for nothing more than a drug law violation.

Drug Policy.org concludes their article, “We look forward to a future where drug policies are shaped by science and compassion rather than political hysteria.”

 

Read more rantings in my ebook, The Turncoat Chronicles.
Thanks for liking, commenting and sharing.

 

 

Author: Michael Booth

Michael Booth, the creator of TrumpAndAllTheRest.com, is a US-born expatriate journalist, publicist, author and online publisher who has lived in a Spanish village in the foothills of Sierra Nevada for the past five decades. Though better known abroad for his fine-art printmaking sites and online magazine, Booth's day job for the past decade and a half, until recently, was his communications agency, dedicated principally to designing and implementing Internet strategies for Spanish companies and institutions. His latest project is a photographic homage site to the Spanish village that adopted him many years ago: http://somospineros.com.

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