Earlier this week, a 22-year-old interview with John Ehrlichman, a former aide to President Richard Nixon, was published in Harper’s Magazine that confirmed what many black people have always suspected, which is that the “War on Drugs” was specifically designed to target African-Americans. Said Ehrlichman, “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people.” Ehrlichman added, “we knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, 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.”
I read Ehrlichman’s confession on the same morning that I was preparing to go and defend a young black man in federal court who had been indicted on weapons and drug charges. At that moment, I could not help but reflect on both the racism and inanity that is the War on Drugs as well as the fact that for the majority of my adult life, I was a card-carrying black Republican who at one point during my youth admired President Nixon.
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