By: Brianna Grant
It has been denoted as “one of the most bizarre alliances in modern history, the union of a U.S. backed attempt to overthrow a revolutionary socialist government and the Uzi toting ‘gangsters’ of Compton and South-Central Los Angeles.” The aforementioned quote is in reference to accusations brought forth by investigative journalist Gary Webb against the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and its role in smuggling illegal contraband to fund an army named, ironically enough, the Contras. Several presidential administrations would later wage a war on drugs, and despite the proclaimed purpose, seemed to only adversely affect the very same African American community it knowingly allowed the filtration of drugs into. These were all very serious allegations, but largely ridiculed because the public led astray by mass media’s campaign to defame of Webb, as well as of the black race. Despite the ridicule investigations have made evidently clear that not only did the CIA facilitate and profit off the infiltration of illegal contraband through Los Angeles inner neighborhoods, the American government then purported a “war on drugs” that further diminished the black residents of the country with the assistance of mass media.
In the summer of 1996, a journalist Webb first broke the story that for the better part of a decade the CIA had been essentially responsible for the influx of crack/cocaine into predominantly African Americans neighborhoods of Los Angeles. When the story came out, major media outlets launched a massive attack campaign meant to discredit Webb, who ultimately committed suicide. It wasn’t until 10 years after Webb’s passing did key figures come forward to exonerate the journalist who first exposed legitimate claims of the United States dishonest dealings. During the time in question, the CIA had been overseeing an army known as the Contras, an operation in Nicaragua meant to dismantle the new socialist government that had overthrown U.S.-backed dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979. However, when funding was cut by Congress for this covert operation, the CIA turned to smuggling drugs into America to further finance the Contra effort. This accusation became reality through the narrative of Coral Boca, a confidante of Nicaraguan dealer Rafael Cornejo. Baca would be present for the frequent meetings between Cornejo and Contra leader Adolfo Calero, who would “personally pick up duffel bags full of drug money.” The Contra’s financiers delivered cocaine through a drug dealer by the name of Ricky Donnell Ross who would purchase the cocaine, unaware of his supplier’s military and political connections, turn the cocaine powder into crack, and wholesale it to gangs across the country. The cash Ross paid for the cocaine, court records show, was then used to buy weapons and equipment to fund the Contras. These accusations sparked a congressional investigation led by then Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts and in 1989, “Kerry released a detailed report claiming that not only was there considerable evidence linking the Contra effort to trafficking drugs and weapons, but that the government knew about it.”2 CIA contract pilot William Robert Plumlee would later corroborate these claims, asserting that he “flew cocaine back to the bases with Uncle Sam’s approval.” If crack was never intended to damage minority communities as publications such as The Huffingtonpost suggests, it leaves one to wonder why the U.S. justice system meted out severe sentencing to a mostly minority population, while one of the country’s highest divisions of intelligence responsible for opening the first pipeline between Columbia’s cocaine cartels and the black neighborhoods of Los Angeles were largely let off the hook. 2
In the summer of 1971 President Nixon declared his war on drugs, proclaiming that America’s public enemy number one was drug abuse. The following administrations, Reagan and Clinton respectively, would further facilitate the efforts and “while the professed enemies of the war on drugs were drug cartels in drug source countries, those most affected were people of color in inner city neighborhoods, chiefly African Americans and Hispanics.” This attack on poorer communities was achieved in multiple ways, including mass incarceration, disproportionate arrests, and sentencing disparities. Since the declaration of the war on drugs prison populations have more than tripled, and at only 12 percent of the United States population, African Americans compromise 46 percent of those incarcerated in state and federal prisons with black males being 7.7 times more likely to be incarcerated than white males4. Despite the 1992 findings of The U.S. Public Health Service Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration that 76 percent of drug users were white, 14 percent African American, and 8 percent Hispanic, and drug arrests are a principle reason these proportions of blacks in prison exist.4 Furthermore, those charged with possession of just 1 gram of crack are given the same sentence as those found in possession of 18 grams of cocaine, an improvement from the previous 100:1 sentencing disparity which was alleviated only recently by the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010. Given that “crack and cocaine are nearly identical on a molecular level,”-the only plausible explanation for the sentencing disparity unfairly targeting crack users is because they are more likely to be black.
There might be those who might claim that the above allegation of a purposeful attack on the black community is paranoia, but proof of this conspiracy was supplied by one of the highest members of the Nixon White House. In the spring of 2016, a 22-year-old interview surfaced from a domestic policy chief and top advisor in the Nixon campaign by the name of John Ehrlichman, who asserted that the Nixon administration deliberately associated blacks with drugs as a “political assault designed to help Nixon win, and keep, the White House.” Ehrlichman reasoned that by associating blacks with drugs and then criminalizing them heavily “we could disrupt those communities, arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of Course we did.”6
It is time the public wakes up to just how perverted the drug narrative has become and how media bias in creating it “is more significant, complex and pernicious than people realize” . Perhaps one of the most powerful tools in influencing public belief is through the use of various media outlets. Individuals may be particularly susceptible to a given message if they have no prior knowledge or experience pertaining to the message at hand. For example, an individual who has never interacted with a black family in their community will easily embrace the medias depiction of the minority individual. The narrative that mass media has often used to portray African Americans has not only been grossly exaggerated, often to the point of inaccuracy, but damaging to all those involved. Overwhelming evidence exists of embellished associations of African American men to drug related crime, a hyped view coupled with criminality and violence yielding a lack of empathy for and fear of black men and boys. The most negative impact is upon black individuals themselves, for the derogatory portrayals can demoralize and reduce self-esteem. According to Author Leigh Donaldson, “in worst case scenarios, black men and boys internalize biases and stereotypes and through their behavior reinforce and even perpetuate the misrepresentations,” becoming victims of perception.8 Common positive role models depicted by the media include hip-hop stars and pro athletes however this implies limited life choices. A pivotal way to combat these negative narratives would be to feature more African Americans in positive positions, such as in luxury item print ads, as reliable and relatable characters in TV shows, or featuring a black professionals to sell a product.
How is it that such truths may be revealed and no one is held accountable? Instead, we overzealously villainize the victims, or purveyors of truth in the case of Webb, by waging war on their character through defamation on major media outlets, or by ignoring the truth all together. Furthermore, handing out extensive sentences to those who fell prey to the addictive drug being pushed through their cities at “bargain basement prices” by one of the country’s highest divisions of intelligence.2 Those in informative and executive positons such as media and government owe it to the country to seek the truth in every situation and, upon gathering the facts, act accordingly. Those who do wrong must be held accountable at every level and rehabilitative measures established, instead of excessively punishing an entire race. If America fails to do these things, then how different are we from the socialist effort we sought drug money to disband?