By Andre Jones
The New York Times along with Hip Hop superstar Jay-Z and illustrator Molly Crabapple, released an op-ed video last Thursday, calling the War on Drugs an “epic fail.”
The video, written and narrated by Jay Z himself is entitled “A History on the War on Drugs: From Prohibition to the Gold Rush” and lauded by the New York Times as “part history lesson about the war on drugs and part vision statement.”
The four minute video features, not actual people, but time-lapsed watercolor animations that were specially designed for the narrative. Offering substantial historic perspective, Jay-Z wastes no time getting to the heart of the matter. The video begins with Jay-Z stating, “In 1986, when I was coming of age, Ronald Reagan doubled down on the war on drugs that had been started by Richard Nixon in 1971. Drugs were bad, fried your brain and drug dealers were monsters – the sole reason neighborhoods and major cities were failing”
Jay-Z went on to point out how no one wanted to talk about Reaganomics and the ending of social safety nets, and how young men like him who “hustled” (a slang term for selling drugs) were vilified and thrown in jail in record numbers. He also deftly pointed out how the U.S. imprisoned more of its citizens than any other country in the world including China, Russia, Iran, and Cuba – countries widely touted as “repressive” and “autocratic”.
However, not everyone agrees with what was stated in the video. German Lopez of Vox.com wrote, “The video is well argued and beautifully drawn. It’s also completely wrong”. Lopez argues that an increase in violent crimes, not drug sentencing, led to a massive increase in state prison population growth, also calling Michelle Alexander’s now iconic book, The New Jim Crow a myth. However, Lopez provided no statistical information that could shed light on what percentage of those violent crimes were committed as a direct result of association with the drug industry. Some would argue that attempting to divorce violence from the drug industry in a punitive context is disingenuous.
The idea for the project was proposed in 2015 by Dream Hampton, filmmaker and co-author of Jay-Z’s book, “Decoded”. The New York Times wrote, “Ms. Hampton wanted to tackle the contradiction raised by Michelle Alexander, the author of “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” in 2014: Why were white men poised to get rich doing the very same thing that African-American boys and men had long been going to prison for?”
That’s a question that Jay-Z clearly felt a need to answer.