Casualties – An Unfiltered Look at America’s 40 Year Drug War

In 1971, President Richard Nixon declared his administration’s “War on Drugs.” Through significant fear mongering and grandstanding he increased the size of his federal drug control agencies and pushed punitive policies that aimed to eliminate drugs, our “public enemy number one,” from the United States. Years later, in 1982, President Ronald Reagan pledged his administration’s commitment to the same war, declaring “illicit drugs to be a threat to U.S. national security.” At the time less than 5% of the country felt that drug use was a top priority for the nation. However, in a very short time, and by using many of the tactics of his predecessor, President Reagan increased his drug war chest, by billions of dollars, and continued the all out war.

Declarations of war, a state of armed conflict, hostile combat and a destructive battle for power are never to be taken lightly. Powerful regimes have crumbled after these prolonged violent clashes.  In the end, the spoil and the story belong to the victor, while the devastation of the people, caught in the middle of the violence, is either minimized or absent. Regardless of where we may stand, an unfiltered look at the families in places like Sudan, Palestine and Iraq are evidence that the people’s suffering is real. Poverty, displacement, children losing parents, high rates of infant mortality and indiscriminate violence have left these, war torn, communities unstable and under a constant threat of collapse.

This is the non-negotiable price of war.

And so, what of this 40 year drug war being waged in communities across the U.S.? Has it followed the same patterns of the other wars we have named? Are there clear victors and casualties here? Has some threatening power been shifted or neutralized?

The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world. A significant number of those who are incarcerated are casualties of the drug war.  We would be hard pressed to find anyone, in this country, who does not agree that this war has almost entirely been waged in poor Black communities. According to Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow- Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, “The drug war has been brutal—complete with SWAT teams, tanks, bazookas, grenade launchers and sweeps of entire neighborhood . . . This war has been waged almost exclusively in poor communities of Color, even though studies consistently show that people of all colors use and sell illegal drugs at remarkably similar rates.” The impact on the families living in these neighborhoods is as real as it is in Sudan, Palestine and Iraq. According to the sentencing project, 1 out of 3 Black males can expect to go to jail or prison in his lifetime and 1 out of 15 Black children have a parent in prison. There are neighborhoods, in this country, where entire families have lost their rights to work, find adequate housing, go to college or to vote for people and policies that can make their lives better. And yet, we continue expecting these communities to thrive.

As we near the conclusion of Black History Month, it is paramount that we take an unfiltered look at the havoc the drug war has wreaked on poor and war torn Black communities. As we lift up the successes of those who’ve beaten the odds we must also uncover the truth about why so many others have not.

This February- April, in Durham NC, SpiritHouse Inc, as part of our Harm Free Zone initiative, is hosting a city-wide study of Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow- Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.” Local churches, community groups, law students and business owners have committed to studying and discussing the book together, and on April 9th we will host a city-wide gathering to continue unraveling the complexity of this issue, and its impact in Durham.

If you are interested in participating in this book study and attending the city-wide gathering please see below or contact  Tia Hall at  for more details. SpiritHouse is proud to be leading this initiative in Durham.

We hope all who are interested will join us!

Get Started

Convene a small group of your leadership/ members  (12-15 people) who commit to reading the book together and using one of the study guides to facilitate at least 4 group conversations over a 2 month period (February – March) *Study guide options will be  provided*

Get Connected

Visit SpiritHouse’s Facebook Page  

· Community members can report on their discoveries

· Simply check out what is happening in other study groups.

Get Together

Attend our city-wide gatherings on April 9th (check back here for more details)

Community Partners/ Endorsers- City Wide Reading of The New Jim Crow  

Action NC

Center for Documentary Studies (Staff)

Democracy North Carolina

Central Park School for Children Equity Team

City Well Church of Durham

Communities in Partnership Old East Durham

Democracy NC

Durham Anti-Racist White Caucus

Durham People’s Alliance

Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship

FADE Coalition

First Presbyterian Church of Durham

Golden Belt Neighborhood

Muhammad Mosque No. 34

North Carolina Central University Black Law Student Association

North Carolina Public Defender Association Committee On Racial Equity

Project TURN

Southern Coalition for Social Justice

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church

St. Philip’s Episcopal Church

Trude Bennett

Delvin Davis

Martin Eakes

O. David Hall

Faith Holsaert

Irv Joyner

Alison Moy

Mary Moore

Vivian Timlic

Diane Standaert

Rafiq Zaidi


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