5 Troubling Truths in the Jay Z ‘War on Drugs’ Video
In a thought-provoking animated Jay Z video published on The New York Times opinion page, Jay Z narrates the disturbing history of the decades-long anti-drug campaign and its disproportionate effect on communities of color. Crabapple’s distinctive artwork brings the story to life as Jay Z weaves his personal history in with that of the nation.
The four-minute video was created in collaboration with The Drug Policy Alliance and the group Revolve Impact, which enlists top names in the creative arts to help drive social change.
The final result, titled “The History of the War on Drugs: From Prohibition to Gold Rush,” illustrates disturbing realities, including:
- Jails are full but problems continue. The war on drugs was billed as the solution to all of our social ills. As a result, incarceration rates blew up, going from 200,000 in 1971 to more than 2 million today — a 900% increase. “Today, we imprison more people than any other country in the world,” Jay Z explains. Yes, even more than repressive nations like China and Russia.
- Minority communities are hit hardest. Mandatory minimums meant judges had to hand down tough sentences for even low-level possession and sales. But those getting arrested in the first place were more likely to be African-American and Latino. During the push to rein in crack cocaine, Jay Z said, “The NYPD raided our Brooklyn neighborhoods while Manhattan bankers openly used coke with impunity.”
- The war continues. Of the more than 1.5 million drug arrests in 2014, more than 80% were for drug possession only. Almost half were for marijuana. And most states still disproportionately hand out mandatory sentences to blacks and Latinos with drug cases, he says.
- Not everyone can get in on the new Gold Rush. As marijuana becomes legal in more and more states and entrepreneurship around it booms, those labeled felons because of prior drug arrests are unable to take part. As a result, Jay Z notes, venture capitalists are now getting rich doing the same thing African-Americans have been imprisoned for.
- “It’s time to rethink our policies and laws.” Drug use rates are just as high as they were when Richard Nixon first declared the war on drugs in 1971. It’s time for compassion, Jay Z concludes. “The war on drugs is an epic fail.”
To view the video, visit The New York Times.