The clip tracks the short but devastating history of the War on Drugs since it was significantly ramped up in the Eighties under Ronald Reagan. As Jay explains, drugs and drug dealers were pegged as the sole reason for blighted inner city communities, while simultaneously social safety nets were cut, schools were defunded, jobs moved away and wealth became increasingly concentrated.
“Young men like me who hustled became the sole villain and drug addicts lacked moral fortitude,” Jay Z says. “In the 1990s, incarceration rates in the U.S. blew up. Today, we imprison more people than any other country in the world: China, Russia, Iran, Cuba — all countries we consider autocratic and oppressive.”
Jay goes on to touch on mandatory minimum sentences that disproportionately affected blacks and Latinos, as well as the racism embedded in how drug laws were written and enforced. While the clip acknowledges recent strides to combat the War on Drugs, such as speaking about addiction to harder drugs as a health crisis, even lucrative marijuana legalization efforts in states like Colorado are tainted by failed drug policies.
“Venture capitalists migrate to these states to open multi-billion dollar operations, but former felons can’t open a dispensary,” Jay Z says. “Lots of times those felonies were drug charges caught by poor people, who sold drugs for a living but are now prohibited from participating in one of the fastest-growing economies.”
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Remnants of the crack era remain as well. In New York, Jay notes, black and Latino kids are issued citations for marijuana possession far more than “kids at dorms in Columbia,” where rates of use are the same, if not higher. “Rates of drug use are as high as they were when Nixon declared this so-called war in 1971,” the rapper says, as Crabapple sketches a War on Drugs Mt. Rushmore. “Forty-five years later, it’s time to rethink our policy and laws. The War on Drugs is an epic fail.”