I’d like to remind you of that day when Trump’s OMB Director Mike Mulvaney told us that the reason this administration’s budget cut funding to programs like Meals on Wheels and after-school initiatives for kids was because they could no longer defend spending tax dollars on programs that don’t work.
Let’s put aside the fact that feeding seniors and children is a self-defined success: hungry people are no longer hungry. It’s really that simple.
My reaction to Mulvaney was that if we’re going to defund programs that don’t work, then the best place to start is by ending the so-called “war on drugs.” For a teaser on that one, take a look at this trailer from the documentary, “Breaking the Taboo.”
In the last 46 years we’ve spent over $2.5 trillion on that war and all we’ve got to show for it are a lot of dead bodies and the highest incarceration rate on the globe. Meanwhile, the U.S. is the No. 1 nation in the world in illegal drug use. As Richard Branson wrote back in 2012:
We could learn a thing or two by looking at what Prohibition brought to the United States: an increase in consumption of hard liquor, organized crime taking over legal production and distribution and widespread anger with the federal government.
So if the Trump administration actually cared about getting rid of federal programs that don’t work, why is this happening?
Law enforcement officials say that Sessions and Cook are preparing a plan to prosecute more drug and gun cases and pursue mandatory minimum sentences. The two men are eager to bring back the national crime strategy of the 1980s and ’90s from the peak of the drug war, an approach that had fallen out of favor in recent years as minority communities grappled with the effects of mass incarceration.
It isn’t just minority communities that have been grappling with the effects of mass incarceration. Criminal justice reform has been a growing movement at the state and local level—even in red states. When we talk about the drug war, the Obama administration not only promoted the idea of being Smart on Crime, they outlined “A Drug Policy for the 21st Century” that focused on prevention, treatment, criminal justice reform and re-entry programs. Included in that policy summary was this statement:
Drugs and crime are often linked, which is why addressing serious drug related crime and violence will always be a vital component of our plan to protect public health and safety in America. But at the end of the day, we cannot arrest our way out of the drug problem.
Apparently AG Sessions and his top lieutenant Steven Cook think that we can arrest and incarcerate our way out of the drug problem, even though both science and recent history tell us that is nonsense. It is worth asking why this administration would cling to one failed federal initiative while proposing to eliminate so many others. Ava DuVernay answered that question with a documentary titled simply: “13th.”
Whether it is Sessions’ move to pull away from police reform, his history of opposition to voting rights, or his plans to ramp up the war on drugs, there is one key element that binds his approach on all of these issues: racism. While we’re in the business of breaking taboos, let’s get rid of the one that keeps us from naming exactly what’s going on here.