The founder of the popular Christian-themed children’s show VeggieTales recently gave a comprehensive lecture on the role of the drug war in the racial injustices fueling protests across the country.
Phil Vischer, whose voice many might recognize as Bob the Tomato from the animated biblical series, presented a 17-minute “Holy Post” video examining the history of US policies that have marginalized and dispossessed American blacks. It includes an analysis of how communities of color have been disproportionately affected by drug laws that criminalize substance use, despite the fact that white people use drugs at comparable rates.
While numerous advocates and policymakers have been emphasizing the need to end drug criminalization as a means of promoting racial equity, it is notable that it comes from a figure commonly associated with a program that generally posts stories. Scriptures in a context acceptable to a younger audience.
In the video, Vischer makes it clear that both Republicans and Democrats have enacted discriminatory drug war policies over a period of decades that have directly contributed to the racial injustices being protested today.
Watch Vischer discuss the racial justice implications of the drug war below:
Here is an excerpt from the conversation related to drug policy:
“Then came the war on drugs. Blacks in the inner city were extremely vulnerable financially. The overwhelming majority of African Americans in 1970 lacked college degrees and had grown up in completely segregated schools. In the second half of the 20th century, factories and manufacturing jobs moved to the suburbs. Black workers struggled to keep jobs. They couldn’t live in many of the new suburban developments. And as late as 1970, only 28 percent of black parents had access to a car. When a white man in Cicero, Illinois, outside Chicago, rented an apartment to a black family, the white community rampaged, setting the apartment building on fire and smashing windows until the National Guard had to intervene.
“The result of all this: in 1970, 70 percent of African American men had good manual jobs. By 1987, only 28 percent did. As unemployment skyrocketed in African American communities, so did drug use. As drug use increased, so did crime, a current dynamic that we see unfolding in white rural communities hard hit by unemployment and opiate addiction. Throughout the 1970s, white America became increasingly concerned with images of black violence displayed on television and in magazines. Drugs were the problem. Drug dealers and drug users were the enemy.
“So we decided to treat the drug epidemic not as a health crisis, but as a crime crisis. And we militarize our response. During the Reagan-Bush years from 1981 to 1991, the way we invested money in drug allocation changed completely. The anti-drug budget for the Department of Defense went from $ 33 million in 1981 to more than $ 1 billion in 1991. The Drug Enforcement [Administration’s] The budget to fight crime and drug use went from $ 86 million to more than a billion dollars.
“Then we came to the Drug Abuse Act of 1986, which contained much tougher mandatory minimum sentences for the distribution of crack, which was associated with blacks, than powdered cocaine, which was associated with whites. Mandatory evictions from public housing for any tenant who allowed a drug-related criminal activity to occur on or near the premises. It eliminated many government benefits, including student loans for anyone convicted of a drug crime. The 1988 review established a minimum sentence of five years for possessing any amount of crack, even if there was no intention to distribute it. Previously, it had been a maximum sentence of one year for possessing any quantity of any drug without the intention of distributing it.
“Now it may seem like we are bothering Republicans, so now is the time to bother some Democrats. During the Clinton presidency, funds for public housing were reduced by $ 17 billion. At the same time, funding for prisons increased by $ 19 billion. The number of Americans jailed for drug offenses exploded. In 1980, there were 41,000 Americans in prison for drug offenses. Today, there are more than half a million, more than the entire prison population of 1980. Most arrests are for possession. In 2005, 80 percent of arrests were for drug possession, not for drug sales.
“In a strange twist, we also militarized our police forces. Between 1997 and 1999, the Pentagon handled 3.4 million orders for military equipment for more than 11,000 police agencies, including 253 aircraft, including Blackhawk and Huey helicopters, 7,800 M-16 rifles, 181 grenade launchers, police grenade launchers, 8,000 bulletproof helmets 1,200 night vision goggles. We also changed police tactics. A knock-free entry is when a SWAT team literally breaks their door or crashes through windows as in ET, when cops fly in from all directions looking for ET. So back to Minneapolis. In 1986, the Minneapolis SWAT teams made innings without hits 35 times. Ten years later, in 1996, they made innings without touching 700 times. That’s two every day.
“There were financial incentives to arrest more drug users. Federal grants to local police departments were linked to the number of drug arrests. Research suggests that the large increase in arrests for increased drug use was due more to budget incentives than actual increases in drug use. So what was the result? An explosion of our prison population. In 25 years, the prison population in the United States increased from 350,000 to more than 2.3 million. The United States now has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. We imprisoned a higher percentage of our black population than South Africa during apartheid. The data shows that the increase in the prison population was mainly due to changes in sentencing policy.
“There was no visible connection between the highest rates of incarceration and the highest rates of violent crime. If you are a drug offender, cannot access public housing, are not eligible to receive food stamps, you are required to check the box on unemployment applications that mark you as a convicted offender. A criminal record has been shown to reduce the likelihood of receiving a callback or job offer by as much as 50 percent. The negative impact of a criminal record on an African American job applicant is twice as great as for a white applicant. In 2006, one in 106 white men was behind bars. For black men, it was one in 14. For black men between the ages of 20 and 35, the age at which families are formed is one in nine. In general, African Americans and white Americans use drugs at approximately the same rate, but the rate of incarceration of African Americans on drug charges is almost six times higher than that of whites.
“It may be true that there is no longer explicit racism in our legal system, but that does not mean that justice is blind.”
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Photo courtesy of YouTube / VeggieTales Official.