The Reagan’s served two terms in the White House from 1981 to 1989, but the 2nd term is where things begin to pick up. In 1986, Reagan signed the National Crusade for a Drug-Free America, an anti-drug abuse bill that took a zero-tolerance approach to drug use and distribution. It caused America’s incarceration rate to skyrocket. Tough sentencing remained the weapon of choice in the fight against drugs for decades. In an effort to support her husband, Nancy began going into schools across the country telling children about the dangers of drug abuse. And in a weird twist of fate, First Lady Reagan was asked what should someone say if they’re offered drugs. Her answer was, “Just Say No.” and like that, history was made. However, the effectiveness of the “Just Say No” campaign has been a subject of debate, because the numbers say that cocaine use among high school students dropped from 6% down to 4% in 1987, but that doesn’t factor in the way that the Crack Epidemic hit the country in 1986.
Mrs. Reagan is actually quoted as saying, “Drug criminals are ingenious.” Then she added. “They work every day to plot a new and better way to steal children’s lives, just as they’ve done by creating crack.” Now, here’s where the irony comes into play. Because on the direct orders of her husband, President Ronald Reagan, the CIA paid the Nicaraguan Contras for bringing cocaine into America, even saying that the reasoning for the deal being made was because the people of Nicaragua were “particularly hard pressed for financial support” because aid from the U.S. had recently ceased. Think about that for a second; the United States paid for, handsomely by the way, the transporting of cocaine into their own country because someone else was struggling financially.
But, the biggest price of all was the lives of young Black people that were lost to this epidemic. Between the years of 1984 to 1989, the homicide rate for Black males between the ages of 14-24 more than doubled. More times than not, the crimes that were committed were from a direct result of this war that the U.S. government had people of African decent wage against their own kind. Once crack became embedded into the communities, it became all about survival of the fittest. Dealers would protect their corner at all costs, even if that meant killing their own brother. Also during this time, our community was hit with a huge increase in fetal deaths, “crack babies”, and many of our babies funneling through the foster care system. On top of that, many crack users were young and unemployed school dropouts who were socially disorganized and lack family support systems.
The death rate wasn’t the only thing that climbed. During this stretch of the mid to late 80’s, the incarceration of Black males also skyrocketed. The prison system had been transformed into a POW camp for America’s “War on Drugs”, which led to an era of tough-on-crime rhetoric and draconian policies that swelled the United States prison population with young Black males in particular. From 1985 to 1988, the American prison population of drug offenders increased from 38,900 to 224,900 with African American males at the top. Imprisonment rates for Black males were 3.8 to 10.5 times greater at each age group than white males and 1.4 to 3.1 times greater than rates for Hispanic males, the 2nd highest group.
It’s statistics like this that make Nancy Reagan’s message (as seen in the video below) seem even more absurd.