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Richard Nixon's administration used the war on drugs to arrest and harass war protesters and black people. — PHOTO: Courtesy

Nixon used war on drugs to arrest war protesters, black people

A decades old quote about the war on drugs during President Richard Nixon's administration is making front page news and being shared widely on the Web. The quote from Nixon's domestic policy chief John Ehrlichman gained new notoriety after appearing in a cover story in Harper’s Magazine by author Dan Baum.

“You want to know what this was really all about,” Ehrlichman, who died in 1999, said, referring to Nixon’s declaration of war on drugs. “The Nixon campaign in 1968 and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying. 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. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

On March 23, the Drug Policy Alliance responded to the renewed interest in Ehrlichman's disclosure.

This explosive admission, while provocative, is sadly nothing new.

The Drug Policy Alliance and our allies in the movement to end the drug war have long known that U.S. drug policies and have been inherently racist and discriminatory. Despite comparable rates of drug use and sales, communities of color and other marginalized groups have been the principle targets of drug law enforcement and make up the vast majority of people who have been incarcerated or otherwise had their lives torn apart by the drug war. That said, it is enormously important that this quote has captured so much attention and shed light on the blatantly racist origins of this horrible policy approach.

DPA’s work is centered on speaking truth to power and demanding accountability for the gross harms caused by the drug war. We challenge draconian sentencing laws, arrest tactics, negligence of life-saving health interventions in favor of prohibitionist policies, stigmatization and bigoted targeting of black and Latino communities here in the United States, as well as minority and vulnerable populations internationally.

As world leaders gather next month for the United National General Assembly Special Session on drug policy, DPA urges participants to publicly abandon the drug war, initiated by U.S. politicians like Nixon, which has resulted in overwhelming damage here and across the globe. In preparation for this gathering, we invite the public to join us for a one-day strategy session with some of the nation’s top thinkers who will address the drug war as a racial justice issue and offer visions for reform.”

On April 17, the Drug Policy Alliance will convene a gathering to explore racial justice and ending the so-called war on drugs.

DPA Fact Sheet.

DPA Network is the  nation's leading organization working to end the war on drugs. We envision new drug policies based on science, compassion, health and human rights and a just society in which the fears, prejudices and punitive prohibitions of today are no more.


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