Forty years ago this month, President Richard Milhous Nixon declared America's "War on Drugs." This failed war continues even today to have a devastating and debilitating impact on the lives of millions of Americans with the most devastating impact on Black Americans and Latino Americans. We should add our voices to the growing number of people of good conscience to demand a resolute end to this awfully destructive and nonproductive war.
The "War on Drugs" has not only wasted more than a trillion dollars over the last four decades, but also this misguided war has caused millions of families and communities to be injured and decimated. Instead of a "War on Drugs," President Nixon should have declared a "War on Poverty." Today, we all know the bitter truth that the prolonged social disillusionment and self-destructive consequence of the petulant mire of decades of poverty for millions of Americans actually sets the stage for the persistence of drug abuse, violence, and hopelessness.
It's most regrettable that the majority of voters in November 1968 underestimated Richard Nixon's repressive policy intentions. How did Nixon manage to become President of the United States in the first place? The answer to this question is important in 2011 as the nation prepares for the 2012 elections.
The current sentiments of the so-called Tea Party are very similar to the regressive views of Nixon and Agnew back in the late 1960s. Nixon and Agnew ran a divisive but successful "law and order" campaign and were elected in1968 in direct counter action to the profound social and political change in the consciousness of the majority of people who wanted real change in their lives. Thus, President Nixon was elected during a reactionary period in American history. It was a period of repression and the so-called "law and order" theme really was a code phrase for solidifying the "status quo" on the right to prevent further progressive social change that had become characteristic of the early and mid-1960s. Keep in mind that Nixon and Agnew were elected in the immediate wake of the tragic assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
We should be mindful not to let history repeat itself today as we approach 2012 elections. President Obama has to strive both to put an end to the failed drug policies of the past and to promote more treatment for drug related illnesses rather than to build more prisons. America needs more public policy rehabilitation from the punitive and careless drug policies that have led the United States to have the highest incarceration rate in the world while expanding the ranks of the poor and destitute.
The consolation is that we have won some victories even in the face of the failed War on Drugs. We recalled that in the aftermath of Nixon's declaration, the state of New York passed one of the most draconian drug laws ever enacted by a state: The Rockefeller Drug Laws in 1973. The results, in particular for African Americans and Latino Americans, were horrible that left thousands unjustly imprisoned for long prison terms even for first time, nonviolent offenders. But we thank the hip-hop community for helping to lead the way to successfully challenge and end the Rockefeller Drug Laws.
Let us all on this somber anniversary re-dedicate ourselves to struggle to end poverty and to further dismantle the drug policies of the past that have had such a negative impact on the soul, spirit, and life of our nation. Let us prepare ourselves to push for more reforms and effective strategies and policies that will enable more people to become self-empowered and compassionate on behalf of the whole of humanity.
And finally, let's work harder to end the madness of ineffective drug policies. It's time to end Nixon's 40 year war on Blacks and Latinos. We should always strive to learn from the past without permitting the repetition of past wrongs.
Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. is Senior Advisor to the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) and President of Education Online Services Corporation.