When Crack Kills: Media, Misinformation and the Truth About the War on Drugs

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Felice León
·2 min read
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“I feel at this moment more and more, that the United States knows what it is, and knows what it does, and knows that it’s racist and doesn’t care.” —Stanley Nelson, Filmmaker

There are very few points in modern American history that have been as devastating to the African-American community as the crack era.

It was the 1980s, and a new and mysterious drug somehow infiltrated low income Black and brown neighborhoods, causing crime and chaos. It was called crack cocaine.

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“An entire generation would be lost,” they said. “What about the babies?”, they asked. But the reality is, there was more to the crack era than the mainstream white media let on. In fact, the U.S. government and agents of the state were corrupt and had a hand in creating this dark time in America’s history.

Lest we forget the impact that the Iran- Contra Affair had on this war on drugs. In sum, the CIA was funding an illegal war in Nicaragua and drug smugglers were sending cocaine to the United States, on U.S. planes no less. This led to cocaine flooding the United States. Drug dealers got their hands on the cocaine, cooked it up and created what we know as crack.

“The United States knew that at the very least that cocaine was being flown in and and just ignored it.” Stanley Nelson, MacArthur “Genius,” and director of Crack: Cocaine, Corruption & Conspiracy. The award-winning documentary filmmaker said that rampant poverty and international scandal was the backdrop in which the crack era took off.

And the federal government’s to offenders was clear: Lock ‘em up and throw away the key. This is still reflected the nation’s incarceration rates.

According to the Prison Policy initiative, 1 in 5 incarcerated people is locked up for a drug offense. And as recent as 2018 80.0% of crack cocaine trafficking offenders were Black. Nearly half of the federal prison population are held on drug convictions.

The war on drugs changed Black America forever. Full stop. Check out this entire episode of Unpack That with Stanley Nelson to see the ways in which the impact of the crack era lives on.