Fentanyl Policies Repeat America’s Racist Drug Past

We can solve issues when we want to

Jeffrey Kass
Momentum
Published in
5 min readJan 30, 2024

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Handcuffs, drug syringe and drug powder
Image: Shutterstock/mnimage

When the John Singleton-created show “Snowfall” first aired on Hulu in 2017, it reminded me of my teenage years when crack cocaine was raging through some of America’s Black communities.

The year was 1983, and I was a freshman at Walnut Ridge, an inner-city high school in Columbus, Ohio. The topic of crack was regularly on the news and in our faces.

The president at the time, Ronald Reagan, made drug policy a cornerstone of his presidency. First Lady Nancy Reagan even produced ads telling people to:

“Just Say No!”

We can set aside how absurd it was to think that people surrounded by and then addicted to drugs can all just say “No.” We made fun of the ads as teenagers. There were even rap songs that mixed in the ridiculous ads.

However, President Reagan’s strategy was worse than his star charts following his wife’s strategy.

In June 1986, two premier Black athletes died of crack cocaine overdoses—one at the University of Maryland, just a 30-minute drive from the White House.

This led to Reagan proposing new anti-drug legislation in September 1986. The Anti-Drug Abuse Act, whose main thrust was to significantly increase punishment for people selling and using the drug.

But what the act did was reveal deeply embedded racism in our legal system when it came to drugs.

It did little to help people addicted to the drug. It had zero programs to divert people to treatment instead of prison. And it didn’t stop the flow of drugs from U.S.-aligned groups in Central America that were sending the drugs here.

Instead, it focused on punishment.

For crack, which was an epidemic in the Black community, the punishment was 100 times more severe than that for powdered cocaine, which was used primarily by white folks on Wall Street.

In Singleton’s “Snowfall,” the back story involved CIA operative “Teddy,” who ran an off-book drug operation to fund the Nicaraguan Contras against communism in Central America.

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Jeffrey Kass
Momentum

A Medium Top Writer on Racism, Diversity, Education, History and Parenting | Speaker | Award-Winning Author | Latest Book: Black Batwoman V. White Jesus | Dad