City of Pittsburgh Bureau of Police Commander Rashall M. Brackney (Photo by Gail Manker)
According to David Simon, creator of the television show “The Wire,” which portrayed drug culture in Baltimore, the War on Drugs is “a holocaust in slow motion.” This claim makes up part of the premise behind “The House I Live In,” a 2012 documentary film depicting how America’s drug policy has had a disproportionate impact on the poor and people of color.
This year marks the 42nd anniversary of the Declaration of the War on Drugs by President Richard Nixon. Since that time, the documentary claims the War on Drugs has accounted for 45 million arrests and cost more than $1 trillion.
The film was screened at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture on May 29 as part of an event hosted by the Pittsburgh Justice Collaborative.
“We’re firmly convinced that we’re at a point in history where the horrors of the past 40 years can be reversed,” said Rick Adams, co-convener of the Western Pennsylvania Black Political Assembly, one of 20 local organizations in the collaborative. “We’re really committed not just to educating, but we really want to move public policy.”
Following the screening, there was a panel discussion with experts in the criminal justice system.
While most of the discussion focused on reducing recidivism for people sent to jail for drug-related offenses, some panelists shared solutions for keeping African-Americans out of the criminal justice system. Zone 1 Police Commander Rashall Brackney shared how she works with youth who commit minor drug offenses.
“How do we keep them from getting in the system in the first place,” she said “Instead of arresting teenagers for a small amount of marijuana, why not set up some kind of probation.”
According to the nation’s three-strike policy, which sentences people to life in prison after three convictions, there are people serving life without parole in prison for non-violent drug offenses.
“Tell the stories. Tell your children what can happen if they get involved in this,” said Duquesne University Law Professor Tracey McCants Lewis. “There were somethings in this film I didn’t know.”
Echoing the film, several panelists highlighted the correlation between drug culture and poverty. They said the rampant unemployment in the Black community is the reason many turn to selling drugs.