When it comes to incarceration in the United States, the facts are jarring. A country that has less than 5 percent of the world’s population houses nearly 25 percent of the world’s prisoner population. This dishonorable distinction is, of course, due in great part to four decades of harsh drug policies that have had damning consequences for African-Americans.
Now, Jay Z slams the drug war as an “epic fail” in a short film that he narrates, with artwork by Molly Crabapple.
In a video history lesson produced by filmmaker and activist dream hampton, the rapper condemns Nixon-era drug policies from the 1970s that were enforced in a way that targeted Blacks. He also points out that the justice system has been comparatively gentle when it comes to Whites, who use and sell narcotics at roughly the same rate as African-Americans.
“NYPD raided our Brooklyn neighborhoods while Manhattan bankers openly used coke with impunity,” he recalls in the video.
During the height of the crack epidemic, young Black men—like Jay Z, himself a one-time dealer—were considered “the sole villains” in the rapid decline of urban neighborhoods. However, he points a finger at President Ronald Reagan’s economic and drug enforcement policies that also contributed to failed, unstable communities.
The short film, which features stunning illustrations from Molly Crabapple, also emphasizes that prisons have been filled with African-Americans who are not drug lords but low-level dealers and users, arrested and given long sentences for marijuana possession.
A significant step toward rethinking the drug war is dismantling draconian laws associated with marijuana.
Asha Bandele, a senior director at the Drug Policy Alliance, wrote in a New York Times op-ed that hampton approached her organization to collaborate on the project.
In her piece, Bandele rallies support for California’s Prop 64, which would legalize recreational use of marijuana. The Los Angeles Times reported that a majority of Californians support the measure.
Bandele describes Prop 64 as “the most racial-justice-oriented marijuana legalization measure ever.”
She praises the proposition for retroactively applying reduced criminal penalties for marijuana offenses, which means it would apply to those in prison. Bandele also notes that Prop 64 would fund community investments.