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Laramie Movie Scope:
The House I Live In

The War on Drugs, slavery and the Holocaust

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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December 7, 2012 -- This documentary about the war on drugs makes a number of unusual historical connections, to slavery, the Holocaust (Prohibition is mentioned only in passing) the practice of “redlining” housing, racial profiling, mandatory sentencing and immigration among other things.

The wide ranging argument presented by this film is that the purpose of the “War on Drugs” (a phrase coined by the Nixon Administration) and drug laws in general, is to target racial and ethnic minorities who compete with white people for jobs. For example, drugs like opium and its various derivatives used to be legal to use without a prescription in the U.S. The first place they became illegal was in California. The effect of the law there was to jail Chinese immigrants who were very successfully competing for jobs.

Another example of drug laws specifically targeted against minorities are the mandatory sentencing laws against crack cocaine, which are much more harsh than the laws against regular powder cocaine, even though crack is made from powder cocaine. The upshot of this set of laws is that it targets poor blacks in ghetto areas, even though they are a small percentage of cocaine users. Blacks make up 13 percent of drug users, but 90 percent of the total number of drug users in the national prison population, according to the film.

This sort of racial profiling has been turned on its head, according to the film, because similar mandatory sentencing laws are now imposed for methamphetamine possession. Meth addiction and sales take place in very different geographic areas than crack sales and addiction. These are areas where poor white people live, including rural areas. The film has interviews with white people serving life in prison for possessing small amounts of meth. One man, Kevin Ott, tells how he became a meth dealer after losing his job. The guy looks like he could be anyone's suburban neighbor.

What emerges in this film is the idea that drugs do a lot of damage, but drug enforcement also does a lot of damage, particularly the way it is done today, with mandatory sentences and the lucrative business of police being able to legally seize money and property. One person in the movie claims that the police can legally seize your car and money if you happen to be driving down the road with a lot of cash in the car, even if there are no drugs in the vehicle. This is pretty hard to believe, and no proof is offered to support this, but research indicates improper seizures do happen, particularly when the people involved are poor and don't know their rights.

The film has an interesting segment on a small town police force near the Mexican border which seems to be conducting searches for drugs in order to raise money to support the police force. The officer admits on camera to making stops based on racial profiling. The argument being made here is that these kinds of seizures have a corrupting influence on police and they erode the public's trust in police.

So how does this all relate to the Holocaust? According to the film, drug laws are being used to round up large numbers of racial minorities. According to the film there are now more black people in prison than were held in slavery in 1850, before the civil war.

The step-by-step progression leading to the gas chambers is this, according to the film. First, you identify a group, like blacks, that you identify as separate and apart from the rest of society, a group which is allegedly causing problems for society. Step two is to isolate that group geographically and identify them as dangerous and make them hated, despised and feared. The third step is to change the laws in order to make it easier to arrest these people, and to confiscate the money and property of this group. The fourth step is to imprison these people and take away their rights, their children, their families and their right to vote. The final step is to annihilate the group, either by killing them, withholding medical care or food, preventing them from having children, etc.

The disquieting thing about these steps, when viewed in the context of the war on drugs, is how many of these steps have already been taken. Indeed, for some people, all of these steps have already been taken. As far as proof goes, this film isn't all that well documented. But this film will sure spark a lot of thought and debate. After all, anyone who has done even minimal research on the war on drugs and given much thought to it knows it has been a total failure. What this film argues, pretty convincingly, that it is much worse than a failure. It argues that the war on drugs is tearing our society apart. This film rates a B+.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2012 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)