Al-Jazeera report on the heart-breaking consequences of the drug war in Baltimore (Video)

The election of the first black US president offered hope to millions of African Americans across the country. But have four years of an Obama presidency seen positive change for black communities in the US’ inner cities? Fault Lines’ Sebastian Walker spends time with those on the front lines of the failed drug war to understand some fundamental dynamics of race, poverty, incarceration and economic truths in the US in an election year.
"Don't ever think it's a war on drugs. It's a war on the blacks. It started as a war on the blacks and it's now spread to Hispanics and poor whites… it was designed to take that energy coming out of the civil rights movement and destroy it," says Ed Burns, co creator of The Wire, who is interviewed in the program.

Fault Lines : Baltimore: Anatomy of an American City (Via The Agitator)


  1. Glad to see Neill Franklin from Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) in here, at about 9:25 in.  The fact that cops are speaking out against the failed and harmful drug war is helping to shift the conversation so this is seen as a serious issue up for debate by serious people.

    1. Ed Burns is also a former cop (20 year veteran of Baltimore PD):

  2. Hmmm, I never thought of it (war on drugs) as a war on blacks, certainly not started as such. I thought that was one of the benefits of using prohibition as a war on diverging cultural trends of youth, all devolved from Red Scare and godlessness, that in the same net the civil rights movement could be hampered. Pretty much anything that didn’t fit the mold was apt to be related to drug use by ideologues of the right & their industry. I think the war on marijuana was originally more about resources and who owned them than about the crazed morality claims made.

    1. If you think of everything before crack as the war on drugs and everything after as the war on crack, it’s pretty clear that the war on crack was always impacting blacks disproportionately.

      What I don’t know is where you go on drug policy. Decriminalizing marijuana would supposedly cripple cartels. I have read that weed is by far the largest seller and profit center in illegal drug trades. I don’t think you can decriminalize the sale of crack, meth, heroin, and some other drugs. Maybe the use, but not the sale, and the sales networks seems to be mostly black.

      Also, hearing the same cliches about kids raising kids and the lack of male role models from guys standing on the street getting drunk is tiresome. You know what would be a good first step? Not standing around in the street getting drunk.

      1. Nihilism plays a huge role.  The entire message of the report was “Damn, these people are completely fucked from the very start.”  They realize that, too.  If they have no hope, then hanging around drinking might be the best thing they can realistically envision for themselves.  And with economic collapse hitting hard, they’re not too far off the mark.

        What do you want, they should run for president so the rest of us can preserve our dream of America as the land of opportunity?

        1. Once you conclude that the kids have no positive role models while you stand around getting drunk on the streets, there’s absolutely nothing anyone else can do for you. The problem has been identified, acknowledged, and ignored. Done and done. You don’t have to be a CEO or President to show something better than standing around drinking wine on the streets.

          1. I imagine inner-city black Americans don’t even hear it anymore when yet another clueless outsider preaches at them the Gospel of Personal Responsibility.

          2. @boingboing-2c4ab9b7954f1c0af3fab408b3290a86:disqus I am not preaching it. They did. Did you not watch the video?

            Also, if you have to “imagine” inner-city blacks, I’m not sure you have ANY room to call anyone clueless.

      2. ChicagoD, n case you’re somehow not aware of it, you should know that you’re coming across as more than a little biased. Why do you seem to assume that these guys are trying to get drunk and that they don’t make an effort to be positive role models to young people in their lives?

        What exactly is it about their behaviour that bothers you? a) that they’re drinking alcohol while socializing with friends, b) that they’re drinking/socializing in a place you don’t approve of, c) that they’re talking about a shortage of positive role models for kids while also spending time on camera engaging in an activity other mentoring children, or d) all of the above?

        Does standing outside with your neighbours having a drink and shooting the breeze always invalidate ones opinions on social issues and ones value as a role model? Or is this only the case if you’re a lower-class black man from Baltimore?

    2. Marijuana was legal until the 1930’s and those immediately targeted were blacks and Latinos.  There is lots of evidence to suggest the laws were created specifically to repress these groups.  Blacks remain the group most negatively affected by the drug war.  There was hope four years ago, that the current administration would improve things, but it has been clearly demonstrated to have been misplaced.

      1. Between timber barons and Du Pont there is also ample evidence that a burgeoning fibre industry made the wrong people feel threatened. 

        As for blacks and latinos at that time and after up to the present day, a law against mismatched socks or milk mustaches would generate evidence that the law was specifically for targeting these groups for the simple fact that authorities would, do and will arrest, charge, prosecute and convict blacks and latinos at a greater rate than the equally offending and larger body of offenders, dem white folk.

        1. You and glaborous_immolate make good points.  They also serve to remind me that the motivations for the laws are, ultimately, irrelevant.

          The unjust, destructive nature of the laws and the fact that they are still being vigorously enforced (especially by a beloved President who promised change) are all that matters.  The rest is academic.

      2. To repress them in general, or to repress them from being drugged up? I could see a paternalist repression (that’s not good for you) which is barely more wicked than a straight out ‘we hate you’ repression

      3. I’d always heard that marijuana was originally illegal to get at the Latinos, and that cocaine was illegal to get at the blacks. Blacks may be hardest hit in the U.S., but Latinos are getting killed in numbers south of the border as a direct result of these laws, which now stay in effect (I am convinced) because hippies laughed at Nixon and Reagan, and they’re damned if they’ll do a thing to change them until every one of those long-haired punks is dead or has sold out.

    3. Hmmm, I never thought of it (war on drugs) as a war on blacks

      COINTELPRO distributed heroin in black neighborhoods to undermine resistance to the Vietnam War and destroy the black liberation movement.

  3. On WNYC, public radio in New York, this week is another story of how crimes in the Bronx are the least likely to be prosecuted out of the 5 boroughs, and it seems a lot of it has to do with the cultural differences and attitudes of people living in these neighborhoods.  Add that to this story and it’s an interesting portrait of how complex this is to unravel. 

    I completely agree we like in a caste-system in America that exists beyond the rhetoric of how everyone has some equal opportunity here.  We have systematically criminalized good people in this country, and with that have given huge populations no reason to work with society anymore.

    1. “cultural differences”

      You mean stop snitchin’? I don’t think that being afraid of retaliation is cultural. I think it’s rational.

  4. all these [insert color here]s running around raping our white women, hopped up on [insert drug here].

      1. brown. cannabis.
        worst strain evar.
        white. lies.
        worst ‘biggest game in town’ evar.
        yes that’s sarcasm in there thar hills.

  5. check out more from Al Jazeera English,  especially the Earthrise series. worked on a few of those programs myself.

  6. What is this thing journalism?  Can we get more of this in the USA?  Is this a muzlim conspeericy?

  7. The alleged War On Drugs is a war on the poor, the 99%ers, of whatever color they are.

    If you’re a 1%er, or the scion of a 1%er, you’ll get off.

    If you’re an oligarch or the scion of an oligarch, the police force would have to get permission to enter the compound/estate. The law is what you say it is.

  8. The so-called War on Drugs is indeed a war on the poor, but it’s especially a war on the black poor, and to some extent, the brown poor. If you doubt that, read Michelle Alexander’s absolutely excellent, accessible and mindblowing book, The New Jim Crow. Drugs are not the target; people of color are.

    Thanks for posting this great clip, Mark. It’s real journalism, something we SO rarely see from the U.S. corporate media. 

    1. I’d say it’s more than ‘to some extent’ on brown people. Our war on drugs has destroyed the nation of Mexico and much of Central and South America.

  9. Mark, it would be real interesting to hear how maker culture might play a role in turning around Baltimore. If people do what they are surrounded by, we need to be surrounding our communities with makerspaces. 

    Because the maker movement creates jobs.

    Please consider running a series of Google Hangouts to brainstorm ideas relating to this. A better way is so much within reach.

  10. Short version: drugs in this city impact the poor people of color and no one does anything about it

    Total murders so far  in 2012: 112
    Total white people: 2

    As someone that lives in Baltimore I can say that all pretense to reducing the city’s drug and violence problems has been nearly eroded.  The Mayor’s office (going back for years and years) is as corrupt as one would suspect.  And while the police force would rather spend time on violent offenders, most of the violence is unfortunately tied to drugs. 

    And unfortunately, nearly all murders in the city are african americans. When a non-person of color is murdered it is major news.  Otherwise, it is mostly a 10 second sound bite on the evening news.

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