Access: Al Jazeera
Summary: This short news documentary examines the relationships between race, poverty, incarceration, crime, and the war on drugs. It focuses on Baltimore, and its very high crime rates, showing how poor residents get attracted to crime and the drug business as a means of economic survival. With the war on drugs and its harsh prison sentences, many poor people are getting put behind bars. But despite harsh prison sentences and incarceration, these individuals continue to be drawn into selling drugs. Ed Burns, one of the writers behind The Wire, says "I don't know how much progress is being made because we're not dealing with the root causes." For example, jobs have been leaving Baltimore (and other US cities) since the late 1960s as a result of suburbanization and deindustrialization. Donnie Andrews (the real-life inspiration for Omar, a popular character from The Wire) notes that when people come out of prison, they are not able to find affordable housing, jobs, or health care, so people are likely to end up back in crime to survive. But rather than addressing the causes, since Nixon started the war on drugs in the early 1970s, our means of addressing the problem is through punishment and incarceration. This has caused an explosion in the US prison population, and the US now incarcerates more people than any other country in the world. This issue of drugs and incarceration also has a significant racial dimension. Despite the fact that black people are only slightly more likely to be involved in drugs than white people, they are seven times more likely to be incarcerated for drugs. The narrator notes that "if current incarceration rates remain unchanged, 1 in 3 black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime." In the video, Ed Burns adds that it is not really a war on drugs, but a war on black people (which has also now spread to a war on poor whites) that was started to take away energy from the Civil Rights movement. Viewers may be encouraged to reflect on what is the objective in the war on drugs? To what degree is it successful? What kind of policies would help rehabilitate perpetrators and help them to avoid returning to prison? For a shorter 2008 news clip (6:40) that more narrowly focuses on drug use in Baltimore, see here.
Submitted By: Paul Dean