How a baggie of crack cocaine packed with fear, distortion and misconceptions, and one presidential address in the 1980s, helped shape the war on drugs.
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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Hey, it is your favorite host in all of pod custom. Now for the rest of the year, I'm gonna be asking you to join us by becoming a member of reveal reveal is all about going deep, pulling on threads telling stories that matter for more than three years now reveal has been fighting a lawsuit. That's been jeopardizing. Our very existence of restore, we about an organization called planet aid. Our story raises serious questions about whether international aid was actually reaching the people. It was intended to help and what's more, our story was truthful and we stand by it. We believe it's our duty to fight attacks like this, but fighting a lawsuit comes at a huge costs, are legal fees alone totalled more than seven million dollars? Luckily we have pro bono legal support to help our in house counsel, but it still takes significant resources, resources that should be used to do more public service journalists, this kind of investigative,
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in all my memories where I lived. This is kind of utopia the mind. This is in the eyes of a kid, but it was just perfect, a middle class, black neighborhood, where I knew all of our neighbours I got to play until the street lights came on and every week in a bunch of kids came over and hung out in the basin, because my dad had the only reaches player around the house we lived in. It was a fixed rubber, my parents, port all their money, sweat and love into that home by the time we moved to Florida in the eighties. My dad was so Out of that house, it heard to leave. I didn't get back to Jersey for a visit to about four years later, in the middle of a crack epidemic, my little neighbourhood, was hit hard. The streets I used to play on. They just look different. A lot of my friends had left and those who stayed told us that our old house had turned into a crack house boarded up diminished and Dark
I will never forget the look in my dad's eyes like like he lost something he'd, never get back that day this season, the pike, the uncertain our from marketplace, is looking back at that time at the crack epidemic and seeing how it connects to the opiate crisis. America there is dealing with today. The pack has begins by viewing in on this one seminal moment when the war on drugs hit the streets of american cities with a new fierceness left, our laws are prisons and our neighbourhood changed in ways we still dealing with right now. Today on reveal were revisiting stories from the uncertain our which we first brought you back in it, he is a show's host Chrissy Clark, if you happen to be watching tv on the evening of September fifth, nineteen, eighty nine slipping through the channels. You might have seen the image of the White House flashing across your scream.
Life from the oval office. President George Bush addresses the nation, the image threats to President George H, W Bush, the first President Bush he's sitting at his desk blue suit red tie, white handkerchief peeking out of his left pocket. This is the first time since taking the oath of office that I felt an issue was so important so threatening it warranted talking directly with you, the american people. It was bushes, very first televised address from the oval office since being elected press. To nineteen. Eighty eight- and there was one issue he wanted to talk about all
I agree that the greatest domestic threat facing our nation, today's drugs, mostly one drop cocaine and, in particular crap crack Bush says, is America's most serious problem. It Sapien our strength as a nation and then seventy seven seconds in he turns to his left, reaches under his desk and pulls out this clear plastic bag full of white chalky chunks. This. This is crack. Cocaine seized a few days ago by drug enforcement agents in a park just across the street from the White House, there is a close up of the baggy. You can just make out the word evidence printed the top. Drugs are a real and terribly dangerous threat to our neighborhoods friends and our families
one among us is out of harm's way, but the president said he was going to protect us from this threat with ambitious. Plans to transform the war on drugs, take it to new, unprecedented height, It was all wrapped up in this one dramatic prop. In fact, if you talk to people who happened to see the speech that night, That's the thing they usually remember: most use a bag, a crack in size, my with some crack across Stephen Warehouse for Don shots. Something about that. Just didn't sound right! You know nothing is impossible. We come When will you break it down? You really think about it. Nobody sells crack final of and done should know cause back then across town. He was also, telling crack. Not everything is in not the way
that no without I would advise, will know in also it was so that park in front of the White House, where the baggy of crack that Bush held up in his speech came from its called Lafayette Park, and here we are I went there recently, it's lovely a big green square, lots of benches fountains. This park is not at all a place that seems conducive to crack dealing for one thing: there is a lot of tourists taking pictures holding cameras, its be place. People go to take that iconic shot of the White House. Here is a secret service agent who is getting his picture taken by tourists? Can we take our picture with you
The needless to say there, a a police presence because of where the park is Michael S, cough walked through Lafayette call, the time back in nineteen eighty nine. He worked a few blocks away at the Washington post. He was a reporter there when he covered the president's speech about them. I gave crack. I was watching it on tv and reporting because I was the drug rapporteur from my knowing what he knew about Lafayette Park, the constant police presence, the tourists he kept. Coming back to this question. How did that crack come to be there? That's not a natural place where you would dumb expect to see drug dealer MIKE started digging. One of the first calls he made was to the: U S park: police who patrolled Lafayette Park. He asked them. Have you I have a lot of cracked, alien and Lafayette Park and the answer I was no.
You dont consider that a problem area there's too much activity going on there for drug dealers there always a uniform police presence there. In fact, the com, under of criminal investigations told MIKE their hadn't been any crack arrests in Lafayette Park ever until this one that led to the crack. That was in the president's speech and that and that got my attention so MIKE starts calling his sources de eight. He talks to Willie. Mc Mullen the assistant specially in charge of the Washington Dc Field Office, who told me this remarkable story and the store. They make Molin told him. Was this a few days before the President's speech Macmillan had gotten a call from the executive assistant to the head of the d, a who told them that the White House speech
writers had ridden this line in to the president's speech and came up with the idea of using a bag of crack. As a proper and could d a obliged by doing a drug, asked around the White House and Macmillan says there isn't really a lotta cracked dealing around the White House. Macmillan explained there were plenty of other parts of DC where there was a lot of crack. Dealing going on the drug seem to be flooding The cities poorest neighborhoods at the time, de, I was setting up. Some undercover buys several blocks away would he got was any possibility of you moving down to the White House. But is going through your mind as you are hearing these these pieces of the story. Wow so this was all set up.
Is what I'm thinking and in fact it once the details set up that make us a cough proceeded to dig up the intricate choreography involved. They was pretty bonkers an undercover de agent reached out to an informant he'd been working with saying he was trying to set up Crack deal with someone in Lafayette Park. The informant suggested an acquaintance of his this kid nature who lived in another part of Washington Northeast Washington. Miles away from the White House, the kid got a call was told someone wanted to buy. Some crack from him and wanted to make the by in Lafayette Park across from the White House, and the kid was like where the fuck is the White House make as a cough says, William Mullen the DE agent. He spoke to sounded kind of proud of the links they ve gone to, to get the kid to the White House
quote: we had to manipulate him to get him down there. It wasn't easy. It was late September, a couple weeks after the president had delivered, The speech that the Washington Post ran MIKE is accosts article, exposing the back story of the baggy of crack. It was on the front page headline drug by set up for Bush speed, de lured seller to Lafayette Park from there the meat it was all over the story of a president caught manufacture in reality to the strange story about bag of crack. Mr Bush held up during whose anti drug speech stimulation earlier this month. The sale was real, but the location was a faint. Mr Bush and staff wanted to buy. Some data story came out. President Bush was doing a press up at a family tree fire in can a bunk maybe he seemed to be blissfully unaware of the media blow back? He was about to get
to say about the drug versus the engineer for your problem without a beat President Bush answers. I figure was great because it sent a message to the United States even across from the White House, their sell. They can sell drugs. Candle and reporters jump threatened. Save it for the part the police say, there's usually no drug activity. There's a lot for your part have no problem with those. What did you mean? He laid the american people into thinking. There was a serious problem in front of the White House. Did you ask for the bag of crack for the speech and Bush owns it? I said I'd like to have something from that vicinity to show that it can happen any absolutely. And that's what happened? That's what they gave me and they could tell me where they parked a week after the story broke about the choreographed cracked by in front of the White House comedian, Dana
was on the stage of Saturday night live with a parody of it and the drug problem bigger than ever. This is called, can crack terrorism. This crack was bought right here, in the White House three feet from this as if this definitely was not the way it was supposed to go. You might wonder who came up with the idea of the president using a baggy of crack as a problem in the first place? Well, it was a speechwriter named Mark Davis. We felt that it would bring it home to every American has been a tourist and walk by the White House. To think that this is,
happening right here: nations capital that can happen. There can happen anywhere, but he says the plan was never to have the d a set up a special drug by near the White House. Just for the speech he says the White House told the d: don't do anything. Special force do not do anything on our behalf. Take the side of inventory. Of course, that's not what happened and when the story became public Whitehouse officials from that time tell me they were trade. It would undermine the whole message they were trying to get across to spend a little time talking about that message. I want you to understand the full weight of it, which means in it understand how America was thinking about drugs. When President Bush gave that speech, it's very different from where we are today. By September nineteen, eighty nine. It had been almost two decades since Richard Nixon first declared a war on drugs, public enemy,
number one in the United States is drug abuse And yet, despite Nixon's hawkish rhetoric, the seventies were over all actually a pretty dervish time for federal drug policy in fact, Nixon put more money into drug treatment than arresting drug dealers at the seams on Congress, lowered federal penalties for drug trafficking and Jimmy Carter talked about Dick criminalizing marijuana by the early. Tina eighties, though the pendulum swinging the other wake the mood door. Drugs is cheap, aging in this country, and the momentum is with us present Reagan relaunched the war on drugs. While he was in office, we taken down the surrender flag and run up the battle flag, and we're going to win the war on drugs, he was much We focused on international cocaine cartels. Crack was even mentioned in the national media, until nineteen eighty five, but by they Ladys. The news was full of stories like these
it's more than every five minutes, a baby in the United Kingdom exposed to crack hours on primary. It could be anybody. It was a scary time in the national poet, periodically asks Americans what they see as the most important problem facing the country by the spring of clean eighty nine, the top response was not job not the economy, not beer, you but drug abuse. Is innovation leading overall concern right now, so George W Bush sat at his desk in the oval office in September of nineteen. Eighty nine to make his first live addressed to the nation. Drug seemed like an issue worth stating a claim building in a reputation and so the point of his speech. The big message he was trying to convey to the country was that under his leaders,
the war on drugs, especially on crack, was gonna get even tougher than it had ever been tough on drug criminals. Much tougher than we are, and tougher federal long upper penalty. If a law enforcement have been sentenced to build new prison space differ Bayonne for the drug king pins, the death penalty, I should point out it wasn't just Publicans, like Bush, who are gung ho on the war on drugs. Back then, by this moment in the eighties Republicans and Democrats or in the middle of a kind of arms race in the war on drugs? Each party wanted to be the toughest party a few years before and up to the mid term elections of nineteen. Eighty six. It was Democrats in Congress, white and black ones, whose spearheaded weeping, anti drug legislation, laws that established- who mandatory minimum penalties for drugs, major funding for prisons Eric Sterling was a democratic state
For the? U S house of representatives at the time he was involved in writing key parts of the Anti Drug Abuse ACT of nineteen. Eighty six intimately. It came out of my word processor and room to O seven in the Cannon House Office building Eric says one of the things that prompted Democrats to draft the anti drug log with The death of a basketball star named lend bias he had of all he had spent. His grace was acrobatic. It was drafted this week by the champion, Boston Celtics. He had at all until this morning, when his heart gave out- and he does There are reports that traces of cocaine were found and biased system soon, new stories came out same. It wasn't just cocaine but crack cocaine that had killed, lend bias. It turned out. Those new stories were wrong by us: had used powder, cocaine, not crack, but Eric Sterling says the crack rumours took hold and
all helped fuel the fear around drugs in general and crack in particular. In the nine years I worked for the Congress. I'd never been involved in such a hasty half baked legislative process This is when the notorious sentencing, disparity between powder and crack cocaine got written into law and the racial disparity. They came along with it. Since people convicted of crack cocaine, offences were mostly black, while people who were busted for powder, cocaine were mostly white, and if you got caught with five grams of crack a little more than a teaspoons worth, it would automatically get you the same sentence as getting caught with one hundred times that amount of powder cocaine in both cases, the sentence be five years in prison. Eric says the push to get a tough sounding bill at the door was so rushed that in retrospect, he's actually embarrassed
by the numbers and measurements he helped. Congress come up with members of Congress, like many of us are not particularly fluid in the metric system. If it says five grams. In always, she's a gram is that it is a kilogram bigger than a milligram were a bit. You know how many milligrams like what does it matter? No sense. What is just what are? These quantities is with slight huh. What yeah? Ok, when then done don't bother is when the details, and then free election by the time. The legislation passed Eric says the process had left him with a growing sense of disgust pretty soon afterward. He left government started an organization focused on undoing the harsh war on drugs policies he helped make. But that was a lonely effort at first, almost everyone was pushing in the same direction: tougher stiffer harsher the calculus of the town
was that you could earn serious political points by reassuring the average american voter that you were protecting them from the terrifying threat of crack. By holding up that baggy of crack president could whip up more fear and the public fear that he couldn't then get credit for address No one among us is out of harm's way, but there was a problem with the bigger point. Bush was trying to make care because by the time he got, his speech in September of nineteen eighty nine. It was becoming clear that the crack problem was not that widespread and it was not growing the idea that that is a plague sweeping all sectors mighty. This was never true. Craig Reiner men is a professor emeritus of sociology and legal studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz and one of the It is of the book crack in America. Hold me in the eightys. There was very little evidence to suggest crack. Addiction was spreading to every corner of Amerika
by nineteen. Eighty nine crack use had already peaked and was on the decline. The percentage of household survey, respondents who report did you seem crack in the past year was just half of one percent for context in twenty. Sixteen, the percentage who reported abusing opium aids in the past year was almost ten times. That rate four point, four percent Craig says compared to that half of one per cent reporting they used crack. That was tiny flourish more than shingly small percentage of the population- and you know the mists- were spread about it being instantly and inevitably addicting, leaving it the time they knew that eighty plus per cent closer to ninety percent of people who had ever tried it hadn't continued to use it, and the people using weren't really everywhere. People who smoked crack were more likely to be poor, unemployed, less educated
The rate of crack use among black Americans was three times the rate among whites. That's who crack was hurting the most to say that there could be some random kid from picket fence. Family gets caught up in all this that that happens, certainly, but it didn't spread to Westchester. DE as the New York Times confidently predicted. It was doing it just didn't happen. If it is drug and a high that appeals to those who have virtually nothing left lose and not too many other people. If you look at the aggregates mistakes. Overwhelmingly, it's the most impoverished and vulnerable parts of the population, all this information was available by the time Bush gave his baggy of crack speech. In fact, I looked through the Bush archives and I found many of these two. Sticks on crack use and how it was overall, on the decline in the briefing emma- was that the National Institute on drug abuse gave the White House, so the White House
had those memos. As the president's speech writers were working on the speech where the president held up a bag full of drugs and told Americans that crack was a growing menace and a danger to everyone. In the end, Congress gave President Bush what he wanted. And then Sir he's administration went on to spend more on anti drug efforts. The Nixon Ford Carter and Reagan, combined over two thirds of that money went to law enforcement, whatever happened to their teenager, who sold crap across the street from the White House. I could see my teammates huddled around.
And conversing about something, and I was I was up something besides you heard about Keith Keith Jackson. Next, on reveal from the centre for investigative reporting, MP or x from the centre for investigative reporting in p or ex. This is reveal an hour later today. We're bringing you stories from the pod cast the uncertain. Now from our colleagues over marketplace, this season there looking at the war on drugs and how we got to where we are today in America, drug laws have historically been about race. The very first one past was aimed at chinese opium. Smokes and cocaine. It was legal until the early Twentyth century Rucker system,
are, you done emerge said that changed when it started to be associated with black men. You have these wild circulation of rumours about African American, cocaine, consumption that it made black men. Or violent s, marijuana it was legal until the great depression when it was tied to mexican immigrants The We would its roots in in in eighteen. Seventy three basing was popular among why people that's another would smoke came, but when black people start smoking, crack cocaine. Politicians led by President George H, W Bush went on pensive tough on drug criminals, much tougher than we aren't tougher federal law, tougher penalties for law enforcement have been sentenced to build new prison space for twenty four thousand Chrissy clerk, the hosted the uncertain our tells us how their crackdown played out. We're gonna take a ride. Will you wanna on the ground, rational game,
of old friends is leaning in arms intertwined, posing for a picture racism. Special many school reunion, a little backyard cookout I demand a handful of people are here former students and teachers from spin garden high school, a public school in the northeast part of Washington DC. It's been closed for a few years now, but it was a titan school when most of the people at this many reunion passed through its halls in the late eighties and early nineties, the driver more than most
we're at spin darn right around the time that a student, a senior an eighteen year old, named Keith Jackson, just didn't show up for class one day. David Magruder was a junior getting ready for basketball practice when he heard something had happened, see my teammate huddled, allow and convert. Thing about something- and I was I was so suddenly decide you heard about Keith keep Jackson David was close to Keith's brother he's, always liked. Keith, so his ears pricked up immediately. I thought the worse unfortunate, her worse bade his
The mice yeah yeah, so someone pessimists, but his teammates we're like now. No no he's not he's not dead, he was caught overlapping apart. You know the president. Did this drug sale yeah that drug sale by all accounts Keith was a quiet guy people? I talk to you. Remember him as a fiddler. Pencils, a lover of basketball, usually wearing a sweat suit. His mom work to jobs for office, cleaning companies. His dad was out of the picture. He lived mostly with his grandparents, he was known to be sweet, unassuming loki and then one day on cept twenty six nineteen, eighty nine Keith Jackson disappeared from school and he never came back he's so drugs who why house carry
because in my government class everyone was, I keep got arrested. He saw drugs how's carry bridges, was in the same grade as Keith. It's been garden, they'd been school together, since junior high she's when she and her classmates heard the news about Keith Plurality? Do that not? Why would he cell drugs curious, as that was actually pretty common at their school, but the big question for carry and gotta kids at the time was: why would he saw drugs in front of the White House in doubt? how, in Washington Dc Fancy and for the most part white, sea miles away from where any of them lived. That was the location, and we would like you idiot
at the end- and I wasn't a drug dealer by any stretch of the imagination, but I'm like. I don't think I knew any one. Who would do that in that location. The spin garden student body was almost entirely black. Most kids lived in neighborhoods, where the poverty rate. Do that in that location, the spin garden student body was almost entirely black. Most kids lived in neighborhoods, where the poverty rate was double or triple the national average. These were places, unlike the blocks around the White House, where crack really did seem to leave no one out of harm's way in one way or another. At my mother at the time was on drugs, which is why carry lived with her grandmother, one of carries uncle struggled with drugs to
one of my favorite uncles he had for when I was told, smoked so much crack. He passed away behind the wheel of the car we were surrounded by just You said the selling you saw pretty consistently David Magruder again keeps friend who played on the spin garden basketball team. You would if someone warning to do crazy, intense labour for miniscule payment. You knew what it was they just want to hit. You know and some very salacious things would take place there were mind boggling to us. His kids very very, are rated hard core. Our readers stuff, but I mean you saw sexual things
you heard of sexual propositions at the time a lot of people believed crack was causing decay in neighborhoods like the one David and Keith lived in the Bush admin, Creation released a policy brief. The same day he gave his speech. That said, quote. Crack is responsible for the fact that vast patch of the american urban landscape are rapidly detour. We are waiting historian Don emerged says the drugs were getting the blame for economic problems that were already there. The nineteen eightys as a period and you have serious recession that are suffered in the cities. Social welfare programmes are being cut and use. Alternatively, had the loss of manufacturing jobs, it was just a really Billy devastating time. It was in that setting that crack came on the scene in neighborhoods, like Keith Jackson's essentially occur. Cain, marketing innovation, pre packaged in a cheap, easy to use form with a quicker, more powerful hi. It's an a smoker before
You know versus snorting powder cocaine. Smoking was something that was familiar to people so becomes an easier to consume. Initially these rocks were twenty five dollars and then they drop to fifty. And ten and even five. So It was a way to market a product to a lower income population and lower income. People have a much higher risk of drug abuse and addiction and wealthier people. Research shows Recreational drug use cuts across all classes. But if you look at frequent hard core drug use, its moral equally among people who live in places with high unemployment rates, lower wages more de industrialization, more income inequality. That's true! Now the opium epidemic- and it was true, back in the nineteen eightys with crack. So people are suffering real economic display
Smith and divestment and that that in turn creates the conditions for drug use. When you talk to former students at Keith, Jackson's high school spin, guarding students who went there around the time he did and the Ladys the shadow of crack never far away in their stories, not just the using but the Sally at the many high school reunion I went to everyone I talk to who grew up alongside Keith Jackson, told me about people they knew who sold crack Don shots It has been garden in the late areas at the same time as Keith. He explained that the demand for crack was high and their neighborhoods economic opportunities were scarce, and so the appeal of selling was hard to resist jobs. Soldier myself, you know some of you know affair. Some do. Making money fast, money by clothes and cars,
then again get involved with rules when his warriors lowly ready. I talked to another guy who sought crack in the eightys as a kid Reginald Murray he's from the other side of the country, in LOS Angeles, one region I was a teenager. An older guy from the neighborhood said: he'd pay him up to five hundred dollars a week to stand on a corner and sell cracked customers. Reginald did the math and it was exhilarating. Mom was getting seven hundred dollars a month to raise a family of four five hours a week. Just for me, where I could pay. We can get a cable back on clean up. My wardrobe so This seems like a blessing, but Reginald says from there. The calculations would get blurry. You know what you do in his bed, the cannibals you. Why do you look? It was being generated from it in color on payments in this light deals with groceries in abundance. Groceries now you knows not winning, close it in a mighty refrigerators like bears addresses all these things.
Changing n. You know the sun was wrong when it, but that's what you're looking is so right and crack cocaine made that animal, but when people get caught selling crack the criminal justice system the drop a hammer on them. The war on drugs was never really the war on drugs. It was the war on us. Their part of the story next on reveal send for investigative reporting and p r exe, from the centre for investigative reporting in p r ex this is reveal a melody today, we're bringing stories from the war on crack from the path Caspian, certain our at marketplace, the teenager, who sold the crack in front of the White House, Keith
when, on trial in December of nineteen, eighty nine I've never forgotten tracing Thompson was Rapporteur for the Washington Post, who covered the trap. That was almost thirty years ago, but she says she still thinks about Keith. I wonder what happened to him. I think about what a farce that trial was and how unfair that hold situation was the hosted the answer now. Chrissy Clark picks up the story from here. In the end, Keith Jackson did not get convicted for the crack sail in front of the White House, but the jury did convict Keith of selling crack three other time two undercover agents. In the months leading up to the White House, deal too of the charges were for selling at least five grams of crack a little more than a teaspoons, The third was for selling at least fifty grams of crack about three and a half. Tablespoons Keefe had no prior criminal record,
Tracy, says watching Keith during the trial. He looked like a scared kid. He looked like a scared kid but the judge didn't have much choice when it came time to sentence Keith the Federal Mandatory minimum sentencing laws that Republicans and Democrats in Congress had passed a few years before and nineteen eighty six. They set up strict formulas for how much time Keith based on the amount of crack he saw. His sentence came out to ten years in prison when the judge handed down the sentence, told Keith. He seemed like a nice young man who had been out of control for a period of time. He also told Keith. He thought a ten year sentence was too harsh, he apologized to him, and I told him I dont have any discretion here. This is what the law
I says I have to do. The judge actually suggested, but Keith make a personal appeal to President Bush. He used to you in the sense of making a big drug speech. The judge said but he's a decent man. Maybe he can find Waiter reduce at least some of that sentence, there's no good anything came of the judges suggestion the only public common Bush ever made about the teenager. The d, a Lord to the park in front of the White House to buy crack for his speech, was back at that tree farm and main right after you. Given his speech, and he said this was busted turn of the White House, and I cannot feel sorry for him. I'm sorry they ought not to be peddling these insidious, drugs it ruined the children of this country, and I don't care-
I am glad that the ba and everybody else is going after him with renewed vigour when Bush was pressed further. He said I dont understand: does someone have some advocates here for this drug guy Tracy Thompson says the de key. Was sentenced later on. I heard that when they put him back in the holding cell, that he just completely lost it and he was crying and hysterical and throw myself on the floor of the cell and they were worried. He was going to hurt himself and they eventually had to come in and put him in. A straitjacket keeps arrest his trial is set. And seen they got national media attention because of the crazy circumstances that happen to surround keeps case. The bazaars or behind bushes baggy of crack speech the set up, but what might be more important
about Keith Jackson Story are the ordinary parts young man of color from a poor neighbourhood was convicted of a non violent, low level drunk offence. He was put in prison for a long time. He was put their because things like mandatory minimums and a zero tolerance policy towards drugs that focused on law enforcement, here is some numbers to consider since nineteen eighty Six, when Congress established mandatory minimum sentences for drugs, the number of people in federal prison has almost quadrupled. I should point out that federal prison is just a small slice of the overall: U S prison population, but when it comes to federal prison, nearly half of all inmates are in for drug crimes and about seventy. Five percent of them are black or hispanic the most common drug charge is a federal prison. These days are for low level sales and a report from a few years ago, by the. U S, department of Justice found that in twenty twelve, the Missouri
if people who were in federal prison for crack, like Keith Jackson, got at least ten years in prison. Tracy Thomson says varying the federal courts. Thirty years ago, during Keith Jackson's trial, when these even tougher on drugs policies had only recently been put in place, you can just start to see the shape of things to come at that time. They were just following a million of these things through the federal courts. You weren't hearing about these cases in terms of here's somebody who got caught with a little bitty bag of crack. You know something the size of your left molar. They went to prison for ten years and if we keep this up, we're going to put a generation of young black men in prison. Keep Jackson was released from prison in nineteen. Ninety eight I spent months
and to reach him to see. What's happened since I tried old numbers, I sent him letters eventually. I did talk to some of his family found out. He hasn't in an office, but that was about it and then Keefe called me one night to say he didn't wanna be interviewed. He wants to move on with his life understand but there are so many Keith Jackson's out there, or I should say in there so many young men of color, charged with low level drug sales and put behind bars for a very long time. You guys from spices, gracious immersive forward, Thank you for this day for this gathering for this mini reunion of spring on family and friends. Lord now we asked you a blessing,
at the mini reunion of students and teachers of spin garden high school, where keep Jackson went, people bowed their heads and said grace before they dug into the potluck everyone I talk to over the Turkey burgers and devils eggs had a story about how zero tolerance, drug policies and mandatory minimum sentences had affected them. One form it takes is in the people: that are missing from their reunions and many reunions keep Jackson and lots of others typical to see someone neighbourhood and then the next week, you're lying hey. What happened such inside? That's David. Router again keep Jackson's classmate on the basketball team. He says when some disappeared odds were good. They gonna prison. A study of police records in DC from the late eighties showed that about twenty percent young black men in the district ages. Eighteen to twenty two had been charged with drug crime.
Carry bridges, remembers that suddenly people were getting. Serious present time for those crimes. We like where's this coming from care, says when she found out her classmate Keith Jackson had gotten ten years in prison. She felt like he was a scheme, in the war on drugs. Why keep you still a kid and you? pretty much want his life. Was it worth it? Was it worth it The war on drugs, was never really the war on drugs. It was the war on us that's Leroy Louis, he taught gum meant in journalism. When keep Jackson was a student at spin garden high, better, mainly people fell doing that speech and doing it's a little hard farmer with the bag of crack and even with There are other restive Keith Jackson, it was just a betrayal and it was just a signal. Lookout were coming Do you remember coming in your communities, and
we're going to Chasse destiny. You, the first time I taught till he Roy. I mention that I was also gonna, be talking to some of the men who worked in the Bush administration, who worked on the baggy of crack speech that Keith Jackson indirectly got caught up in and I was gonna be talking to one of them later that day, just wondering is there anything you'd like me to ask him I knew I mean. Maybe maybe you should ask: how fair did he thing that that situation was to keep Jackson until all of the other young people? There were directly affected negatively by the consequences of what the president did and said. I put that question to Bush speech. Writer Mark Davis he's the guy who came up with the idea of using the bag of care. As a prop. I was talking actually to a former teacher of Keith Jackson's. He was angry with with you.
With with the speech, writers, hoo, hoo sort of began. All of this, and he said you know you guys were part of the problem and he wanted to ask you how fair do you think that situation was to someone like Keith Jackson. Why don't take it was fair at all and it wasn't the situation that the speech, writers and vision, but I do agree, we do have doing what we're doing. We ve done it for three decades now it's not working, but other people from the Bush administration see it differently Edward make now. He worked on the bag of crack speech to he says: bs mandate a led to unfair sentences for some people. But he made this analogy between the war on drugs and other kinds of wars. I don't think there's been a war yet where we ve been able to avoid any Americans dying from friendly fire. So it's a really tragic, unacceptable and
welcome reality. I dont think collateral damage is acceptable, but maybe unavoidable such like you're saying that may be a reality as well. But if Keith Jackson and better sleep, hundreds of thousands of others, became as at Mcnally, called it collateral damage caught friendly fire in the war on drugs, and also one to me sure, to point out in his mind. It was but all in vain. He reminded me of how bad things where, when crack was at its height, it destroyed whole communities. It was block after block and whole neighborhoods taken over by corrupt crack. Thanks. A lot of those realities have changed and told me, and he credits the kinds of tough on drug crimes, policies that came out of the Bush administration, who worked for
There are many key elements of the so called war on drugs that were successful in bringing about that result. Things have gotten better when it comes to crack and the violence that surrounded it but the real question right is whether the war on drugs, the steep sentences, the tougher punishments, whether that was what made things better turns out. There is no good evidence showing that it dead that there's no evidence arranged to take away good there's no evidence Peter Reuter. As an economist and a professor of criminology at the University of Maryland- and he explained to me, law enforcement has basically, two main goals when it comes to drugs, one is about morality, punishing p, for doing things that we as a society see as bad, but the other goal of long
this meant Peter says, is much more practical and economic and it all comes back to thinking about markets for drugs like any other kind of market, that is, old by the forces of supply and demand law enforcement. Peter says, is an effort to constrict supply constrict the supply of drugs to make drug prices go up because more expensive drugs should resume. We reduce demand if the probability getting arrest and going to prison goes up. Then, in the standard economic model, they'll be some people who will decide not to sell drugs at the current price, because the compensation they get is not worth that additional risk that may lead to an increase in price and in its simplest form, this model seems to work just outlying. Any given drug does likely
do sit supply and increase its price, but Peter says as much as he loves the supply and demand theories that drive this model. There's just not thence to show that in the real world, stiffer and stiffer law enforcement or sentencing makes much more evident in reducing the drug supply or increasing the price. I have you this model over a very long career, and I would very much like it if there was some evidence that it was correct. Ah, in fact what is striking is how little evidence there is full it and, in fact, there's some very striking evidence against this model. The drug policy region measures have been bringing their heads against for the last few years, namely that if you look at the Eightys and Ninetys, The war on drugs was ramping up and deep. Were more likely to get locked up. The price of crack was falling. More intense law enforcement did not seem to deter p.
From selling or using drugs. Peter has a lot of theory about why that might be. For one drug sellers are very poorly informed of the census they face or as Don shots? The spin garren grad, who used to sell drugs, put it to me, Jodi doing crime. You don't look at old. I might get a lot of time. If I sell these rocks, he wasn't looking at that. You know cuz. It's alright
very bite thing being navigate court. I know buying or study the law say: ok, ok, I'm was look at these clumsy homage it carries out. If I do this, nobody does that you know. So. If tougher and tougher laws don't work what dies? I asked Peter writer that question concerned as pedestrian as a public health person, but I believe that we can, by expanding and improving treatment, substantially reduce the demand for the drugs that causes the most problem: heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine treatment, even not very good treatment, which is the treatment. This generally available makes a difference and we can manage this problem, which is all we have Ado with social problems. We can manage this problem better by
focusing on the demand side. It occurred to me that this is pretty much. What carry bridges keep Jackson's classmate, whose family struggled with crack has been thinking all her life about how to handle drunk epidemics. My focus was never to be on the people that are selling drugs it wished it spoke. It should have been on the people that were using, because if there is no demand is no means of supply It was always a more we need to do with it. But we need to do to get people off of drugs and carry says for people like her. Mom and her uncle. There were many options there wasn't any. We're, gonna sing you away to rehab in in go to California and stay at this luxury, the place without teach you how to meditate. No, they didn't have that. She compares that to the way she hears people talk about the opium crisis. Now there
it is a disease, and we need to get them smell won't go away. They need to give them any help. Hears about. Ok, so as a black woman may be I did state like what were you doing twenty thirty years ago when it was when it was a problem then, but it wasn't a problem because they can identify it wasn't so it stretched over different demographics differs socio economic class and limit. It became a problem, but it's always going problem so like right now we're like of that's been a problem like you're you're new to this work helping drug users rather than locking up small time dealers, These are lessons about how to deal with a drug epidemic that someone like carry bridges has come to know in her bones after she watched so many of her peers. Friends and family turn into the collateral damage of the war on drugs, their conclusions. Drug researchers like Peter Reuter have come to after study.
The data for over thirty years, but it still worth asking whether we as country have really learned anything from the war on crack. What's chain and what has it as we do? with a new drug epidemic, the biggest one we ve ever faced thanks to Chrissy Clerk, the whole team at the uncertain our from marketplace for bringing us today shall be sure to subscribe to their pockets to hear how they tackle the opium epidemic. We also want to tell you about a new pot gas market place called. This is uncomfortable. They dive into life, how money messes with it you can subscribe to. This is uncomfortable wherever you get your pockets check it out. Today show is produced by Chrissy Clerk and Caitlin S, along with associate producer, Peter Balin and rosy. We had help from Lyra Smith Production assistant. Any reason
digital producer? Tony Wagner, Catherine Winter edited the show special thanks to marketplaces needs, Four golly Setoc Nieves Endeavour Clark our production man There's the g, the meaning mixing in sound designed from Jake Gorsky within us This from reveal sounded canteen J Breezy, his Jim Briggs, Fernando my man, your router our sea, yours, Crystal Sharpsburg met Thompson is our editor in chief executive producer is Kevin Sullivan Earthy music is Colorado, lightning. Support for reveals, provided by the Raven David Logan Foundation. The John Dene CAP N T Macarthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation Afford foundation the housing, Simons Foundation, the democracy fund and the ethics and excellence in journalism founded. Reveal is a co production of the centre for investigative reporting and p r x amount lesson and remember: there is always more to the story.
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Transcript generated on 2019-12-19.