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It came as no surprise to some African-Americans this week when news broke that a former aide to President Richard M. Nixon developed anti-drug policies that targeted Black people.

A new article from Harper’s magazine features a 1994 interview with Nixon’s former advisor John D. Ehrlichman, in which he stated that the policy was aimed at disrupting Black people and war protesters.

Author Dan Baum conducted the original interview with Harper’s, which resurfaced for the magazine’s “Legalize It All” cover story. Ehrlichman, who died in 1999, admitted that Nixon’s anti-drug policy hid a far more insidious plot.

Harper’s editor-in-chief Ellen Rosenbush writes in an introductory editor’s letter:

It was not until speaking to Richard Nixon’s domestic policy adviser, John Ehrlichman, that Baum began to hazard the answer he long feared: the catastrophic collateral wrought by the drug war on the lives of millions of black families was intentional. “Did we know we were lying about the drugs?” Ehrlichman told Baum in 1994. “Of course we did.” The Nixon White House thought of the antiwar left and black people as enemies. “But by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities.” 

But what most people probably did not realize was that Nixon’s “War On Drugs” was the progenitor of today’s lopsided criminal justice policies that have resulted in backlash in cities across the nation, including Ferguson, Baltimore, New York City, and Chicago.

Besides the Nixon White House, here are four more times state, local, and federal governments generated policies aimed at criminalizing Black people and dismantling African-American families.

“Just Say No” Anti-Drug Campaign

Two administrations after Nixon left the White House, Ronald Reagan was elected president. His administration carried on Nixon’s War on Drugs, but Reagan’s campaign was aimed at preventing children from engaging in illegal drug use by using the catchy “Just Say No” slogan. The late-former First Lady Nancy Reagan created the campaign and used a spot on the popular Diff’rent Strokes sitcom to promote her message.

But the campaign only succeeded at bringing police officers into classrooms where “Black and Latino kids are far more likely to be arrested at school for these kinds of offenses.”  Read more.

Reagan & Cast On 'Diff'rent Strokes'

Clinton Crime Bill

While former President Bill Clinton and his wife have long enjoyed the support of African-American voters, his signature crime bill helped dismantle African-American families, embracing Reagan’s agenda and doing more harm to the Black community than Nixon or Reagan. Clinton presided over the largest increase in federal and state prison inmates of any president in American history. Clinton did not declare the War on Crime or the War on Drugs—those wars were declared before Reagan was elected and long before crack hit the streets—but he escalated it beyond what many conservatives had imagined possible.” Read more.

New York’s Rockefeller Drug Laws

New York’s former Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, who served as vice president under President Gerald Ford, had presidential aspirations, so he wanted to be known as being tough on crime. As a result, he created what came to be known as the Rockefeller drug laws, which mandated prison sentences of 15 years to life for drug dealers and addicts, even those stopped with small quantities of marijuana, cocaine, or heroin. “[T]he people being arrested and sent to prison under the Rockefeller laws came almost entirely from poor Black and Hispanic neighborhoods.” Read more.

The New York City Hip Hop Summit - Rally for the Repeal of the Rockefeller Drug Laws

New York Stop-&-Frisk

While stop-and-frisk came under heavy criticism in New York, the practice that allows police to stop and interrogate people – mostly Black and Hispanic – on the street has resulted in a major backlash against police across the nation. In 2013, a federal judge ruled that the New York City Police Department’s policy violated the rights of people of color. “The nation’s largest police department illegally and systematically singled out large numbers of blacks and Hispanics under its controversial stop-and-frisk policy, a federal judge ruled Monday while appointing an independent monitor to oversee major changes, including body cameras on some officers.” Read more.



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5 Policies That Prove The War On Drugs Targeted Black People  was originally published on