Jay Z has declared the War on Drugs an “epic fail” in a scorching new video narrated by him and animated with the artwork of Molly Crabapple.
A History of the War on Drugs: From Prohibition to Gold Rush is a short film that takes a long look at the racist history of the effort against drugs — an effort that largely punished poor black people who were forced to hustle (like Jay Z himself) and left the richer and more powerful white men outside its ambit.
Bias in the age-old drug laws has led to the policies that fuel discriminatory practices; an epic failure, argues Jay Z in this video which does not cull phrases to drive home the point. The project was brought together by filmmaker Dream Hampton, who co-wrote Jay Z’s book Decoded.
— Mr. Carter (@S_C_) September 15, 2016
The New York Times opinions editorial by Asha Bandele, senior director of the Drug Policy Alliance, draws attention to the sheer breadth of the video and its “haunting images” in citing the racism inherent in serving criminal sentences for drug offenses on the drug spectrum.
Jay Z is not one to shy away from going political, and the op-ed articulates the contradiction that Bandele encounters in her every day work and Jay Z draws attention to through the video:
“Why were white men poised to get rich doing the very same thing that African-American boys and men had long been going to prison for?”
The video is already trending on social media and has found some important fans in the political arena, including Bernie Sanders, who shared the film and called upon Jay Z to take the ‘war’ further.
Bernie Sanders shared our video pic.twitter.com/NJYm8Ih8xU
— Molly Crabapple (@mollycrabapple) September 15, 2016
In The Undefeated, Melissa Harris-Perry essayed her reply to Jay Z’s moving video with an even more in-depth look into the social and political aesthetic that defined the beginning of the Nixon era onslaught on drugs.
In an article that was shared on Twitter by Jay Z himself, Harris-Perry proceeds to give the black woman’s equally terrible experience in the light of the laws that made it difficult for them to access the very basic amenities available to poor people.
With the prisons expanding as a result of the war of drugs, the ones populating these prisons became the minorities of the society — the black and Latino people. And just like the men, the women (whose numbers in prison do not reflect their plight) of these communities bore the brunt of the racist legislation, argues Harris-Perry.
“Once the public has been convinced that culture and choices, not structures or policies, are to blame for bad outcomes, solutions coalesce around individual punishments rather than systemic change. Let’s lock up the bad guys instead of changing the bad laws. The prison population exploded and the effects of that explosion were not gender-neutral. The war on drugs was especially pernicious for black women.”
The video cements Jay Z as not just a hip hop icon but a crusader of what matters. In language that is hard-hitting and words that bite, he outlines the failure of a drug policy that the U.S. has steadfastly upheld since the times of Ronald Reagan.
Molly Crabapple’s illustrations of gaunt men and women not only stun you into silence but also draw attention to the loss of basic humanity in a criminal justice system which is in itself criminal.
Finally, the ultimate failure in the expensive war on drugs lies in the fact that stringent prison punishment has not led to the use and abuse of drugs to fall in the U.S.
The incarcerated struggle to return to normal life and society, pushing them further into a life of drugs, while the state wastes copious amounts of tax money for a misguided and discriminatory cause. What rings true is Jay Z’s announcement in the video:
“The war on drugs is an epic fail.”
[Featured image by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for TIDAL]