Heroin Hell in the Suburbs... Genocide in the Ghetto...

February 1, 2016 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


A wave of heroin addiction is sweeping broad sections of the population of the United States. Rates for drug-poisoning deaths involving heroin doubled for Black and Latino people from 2000 to 2013. In that same period, heroin deaths for 18 to 44-year-old white people increased six-fold, including in suburbs and small towns.

Why this explosion of heroin use, including particularly among white youth? Early in the HBO documentary Heroin: Cape Cod, a young white person in that Massachusetts resort community describes what drove them to heroin addiction: “There’s really nothing to do, like at all. Like you either work and you’re normal, or you do drugs.” The documentary depicts how women are driven to prostitution and other awful, degrading things to pay for their habit. Parents of addicts are at their resources and wits ends. And people are dying in record numbers.

In an article in the New Yorker, Mark Sullivan, a professor of psychiatry, describes what one of his colleagues calls “terribly-sad-life syndrome”: “These patients are at a dead end, life has stymied them, they are hurting,” he said. “They want to be numb.”

This horrible explosion of heroin addiction and death, and what it says about life in America, is a searing indictment of this society and the whole system that underlies it.

Now, ruling class representatives who have long championed criminalizing drug addiction and a draconian “war on drugs,” like Chris Christie are talking about “we need to start talking about [drug addiction] like an illness, not like some moral failure.” (Washington Post 6/3/15) Donald Trump took a quick pause from non-stop fascist rants against every exploited, victimized and oppressed section of people here and around the world to say about people using drugs, “We are going to help the people that have the problem and try to get them off.”

These crocodile tears and promises of “help” won’t, and couldn’t, speak to the profound despair among huge sections of people in this society that drive them to numb the pain of daily life with drugs.

And... as meaningless as these promises of “concern” from the powers-that-be are, they are also in night-and-day contrast to the genocidal ways this system historically, and today seizes on the horror of drug addiction to demonize, terrorize, and systematically kill Black and Brown people in the guise of a “war on drugs.”

* * *

Until 2010, mandatory prison sentences for possession of one gram of crack cocaine were the same as for possession of one hundred grams of powder cocaine—a disparity of 100-to-1. There has never been any evidence that crack is more harmful than powdered coke, but crack cocaine is distributed mainly among impoverished Black and Latino people. The horrific disproportionality in sentencing laws has been a vehicle to channel Black and Latino people into prison, tear apart families, ruin lives, and permanently stamp people with the brand of “ex-cons.” And for all the hype from the Obama administration about addressing this outrage, today the federal sentencing disparity is still 18-to-1.

Mass incarceration—over two million people locked up in America’s prisons—vastly disproportionally wreaks havoc and misery among Black people. Black people comprise 13 percent of the U.S. population, and are consistently documented by the U.S. government studies to use drugs at similar rates to the population as a whole. But Black people comprise nearly 40 percent of those incarcerated in state or federal prisons for drug law violations.

The crack cocaine epidemic has been used to demonize Black people. Crack cocaine users are portrayed as “super-predators.” Children of women suffering from crack addiction are dehumanized as “crack babies” (despite studies that determined there are no statistically significant differences in the long-term health and life outcomes between full-term babies exposed to cocaine as fetuses, and those who were not).

For decades, a so-called “war on drugs” has sent an occupying army into Black and Latino communities. Scenes like the one early in the movie Straight Outta Compton—where a tank-like battering ram tears the front off a house, terrorizing an entire neighborhood—were everyday life.

In 1998, President Bill Clinton decided to continue a ban on federal funds for needle-exchange programs (this was an administration in which Hillary Clinton was very involved in setting domestic policies). Clinton did this in the face of numerous studies that determined that those programs prevent the spread of horrific diseases like AIDS and hepatitis C while not increasing drug use. The federal ban was overturned in 2009, but needle exchanges are still illegal in over a dozen states, and there are killing inequalities in who does and does not have access to them. A 2011 study revealed that needle exchange programs serving people of color are more than three times as likely to report frequent client arrest traveling to or from the exchange, and almost four times more likely to report illegal syringe confiscation by police. [See “The roles of law, client race and program visibility in shaping police interference with the operation of U.S. syringe exchange programs,” 2011.]

These are government policies that purposely and consciously condemn people to die from secondary diseases spread through shared needles—including HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C. This is really nothing more than biological warfare—nothing more than withholding life-saving measures from people with the most obscene excuses.

And so lives are ruined and people die terrible deaths—people from among sections of society who had been enslaved, bought and sold to build up the great wealth of the United States, viciously exploited, and for whom this system now has no use. People who, in the twisted values of capitalism, are seen thru the warped lens of “if they die, so much the better.”

* * *

Demonizing Black and Latino victims of drug addition... Sending them to jail with sentences many times harsher than those given to white people using a slightly different form of the same drug... using the plague of drug addiction to unleash a reign of terror and death by police to rampage through these communities like U.S. troops in Vietnam or Iraq... Purposely denying life-saving needle exchanges and other resources with the knowledge this was sentencing people to horrible deaths by AIDs and hep C.

This not just racism or discrimination—it goes way beyond that, into using government policy to incarcerate, infect with disease and kill people of a dis-favored group. In other words, genocide.

* * *

The GENOCIDAL implications of all the differential policies towards victims of drug addiction highlight the need for this rotten system to be brought down at the earliest possible moment and replaced with a society on the road to eliminating all oppression, and overcoming the terrible legacy of oppression and savage inequalities as a key part of the work in doing that— creating a society in which people will NOT need to make themselves numb just to survive.

The whole way millions and millions of people in this “greatest country in the world” have been ground up and had their lives ruined through the one-two punch of drug addiction and the vicious persecution for being victims of drug addiction—among all sections of people—is a damning indictment of the nature of this system.



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