Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Sensationalizing the "War on Drugs"

Michaela's picture

After our discussion in class last week about what a female offender looks like, and our reading of "The Real Cost of Prison Project" graphic strip, I see many of the intersections between what we wrote on the board, like "overpolicing" and the overcriminalization of drugs, leading so many of the women pictured in the graphic to prison and all the other consequences that came with their arrest (losing children, not being able to get a job, etc). Reading Alexander's book, however, has gotten me really upset about how hard people fought to criminalize drugs, especially in the 1980s, especially in the war on crack cocaine (used largely by African Americans), and how that vendetta is still so prevalent in our public consciousness today that drug rehabilitation is hard to come by, when offenders are shipped off to prison instead. 

Reading (the DEA officer) Stutman's quote from Alexander's book, on page 52, about how he had to lobby to make drugs an issue that Washington (as a symbol for the government as a whole) would care about and work to combat. I was kind of appalled by the idea of the media lapping at the DEA's story, since "crack was the hottest combat reporting story to come along since the Vietnam War". Making a great, sensationalized story for the masses is not reason enough to create harsh laws and punishment that will impact offenders, too many of whom like the women from "The Real Cost of Prison Project", will be hurt in such a negative and unforgiving way. 



Uninhibited's picture


I also think about this in relation to the "War on Drugs" which started BEFORE cocaine even hit the streets. It all seems like a manipulation to incarcerate poor, brown folk from the cities. There's a business behind it that has been fed by the media. When thinking about the media, I not only think of popular TV shows, movies and music, but also "the news". These are newspapers and news channels that are supposed to give the public the facts. Instead, like explained in Colored Amazons, this medium of "information" seems to exist to reinforce society's stereotypes about who incarcerated people are or should be. It gives us excuses to accept extremely long sentences for drug crimes instead of drug treatment. It allows us to continue to have one of the highest incarceration rates in world where people serve unusually long sentences. It is distortion that allows us to look away. As mentioned in the New Jim Crow, the system may not be obviously oppressive, but it works in very intentional ways to oppress certain groups of people.