Prisons

How the "Black Silent Majority" Kicked the Drug War into High Gear

Harlem activists called for federal troops to "clean up" the streets, demanded life sentences for drug dealers.

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There was a spiritual predecessor to the Nixonian "silent majority," the white middle-class who weren't particulary political by nature, but who quietly supported crackdowns on crime in the wake of the social upheaval of the 1960s. They helped launch the War on Drugs and by extension, the era of mass incarceration and increasingly militarized police which continues to this day.

And they were black.

They didn't make Harlem great again.
Prisontime.org

In his new book, "Black Silent Majority: The Rockefeller Drug Laws and the Politics of Punishment," Michael Fortner lays out the efforts of community activists, mostly centered in Harlem and other parts of New York City in the 1950s and 1960s, who used rhetoric so violent it would make Donald Trump blush (e.g. "Take the junkies off the streets and put them in camps," "Kill the pushers," "We (call) for federal troops, state and law enforcement forces to move into the streets of Harlem and New York City now and clean it up").

Fortner's book is profiled by Jesse Singal in New York magazine, where residents of Harlem are said to have endured "a heightened sense of anger, fear, and despair greatly attenuated the appeal of the so-called "old penology" favored by white liberals (as well as a lingering minority of black voices), which emphasized treatment and rehabilitation over punishment" during a "a devastating, drug-fueled increase in crime in the 1960s that peaked around 1971 — one that included countless grisly murders, muggings, and burglaries."

Seeking respite, these advocates pushed for increased punitive reactions to drug-related crime. They found their greatest ally in New York's liberal Republican (remember those?) Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who's ambitions for national office and an electorate clambering for "law and order," pushed him to support a series of laws that would become notorious while bearing his name:

Passed in 1973, they imposed harsh penalties on those convicted of drug-related offenses, including mandatory life sentences for the sale of many hard drugs and harsh sentences for possessions of small quantities. Between their enactment and 2009 repeal, they were responsible for a massive wave of incarceration over minor drug convictions — one that disproportionately targeted black and Latino New Yorkers.

Even after the laws were passed, "71 percent of black respondents [in New York City] favored life sentences without parole for pushers." Though they were repealed in 2009, in great part because of the efforts of black activists, Fortner bristles at the prevailing wisdom which paints the laws' passage as strictly a black-white issue, which he says "robs African-Americans of their agency."

It's an important point. Laws passed as emotional reactions to societal ills frequently backfire (see: anti-pedophilia laws which inadvertently turn teenage lovers into lifelong sex offenders), but rewriting history to conform with a politically convenient narrative that the Rockefeller Laws were the result of purely racist and discriminatory motivations inhibits present-day conversations about how sweeping policies can ultimately exacerbate the problem they were designed to alleviate. 

NEXT: The one-state solution and the brutal honesty of Edward Said

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  1. All one needs to do is replace certain words Mad-Libs style and you have the story for the draconian firearms restrictions in urban municipalities throughout both coasts and the Rust Belt.

    1. Really, any group that demands the government find a solution to their problem of interest. They will end up creating a market for authority that’s too enticing to ever give up.

    2. There was a spiritual bagel to the Nixonian “flabby majority”?

  2. Bloomberg caught shit for “stop’n’frisk” but he and his flock at The Post and City Journal always claimed it had widespread support in black communities.

    1. public polling showed it to be wildly popular among white NYers, opposite among black NYers.

  3. “”Black Silent Majority: The Rockefeller Drug Laws and the Politics of Punishment”‘

    I am going to take a wild guess that there will be no review forthcoming from Ta Nehisi Coates

    1. They wanted Them to clean-up Our streets, but We didn’t want Us to cooperate with Them, which became yet another way for Them to control Us in Our neighborhood.

    2. Don’t even talk about Ta Nahesi Coates.

      I hate that guy so much. So very very much.

      I don’t know what about him is worse – saying he was glad firefighters died on 9/11 and not really seeming ashamed of that or how he won’t stop comparing the time some asshole in New York shoved his kid to slavery and Jim Crow.

      1. How ’bout the Macarthur grant he just received?

        1. I know. Everything about that drooling oaf makes me want to just murder babies.

          1. Easy there Irish. It’s a line you might not want to cross. Trust me.

            1. You know from experience?

              1. That Veronica Vauhn is one fine peice of ashhh.

        2. Man… really? I guess Ahmed has to wait until next year to collect his.

      2. I kind of what to read his book…but it just destroys me that it’s a letter to his son. You think things are terrible! Why the FUCK did you have a kid?!? It just makes me think that in his own internal system he’s a horrific child abuser.

        1. I kind of what

          I don’t think we as a society can let this go.

          1. Right. Ima go get the paddle. It’s the only way she’ll learn.

            1. OMG. The way you make her learn is by not getting the paddle.

              1. Quiet you! Or you’ll be the next to feel my lash!

                1. Not with that attitude you’re sportin.

          2. I was distracted by the horror…the horror…

        2. Every successful artist needs a schtick.
          His is a twisted racialist nihilism.
          He’s still pushing the reparations? I’m sure all those Asian and Latino immigrants and their children want to pay for sins of the White Supremacists.

          1. The weird thing about American slavery is all the talk about liberty in the constitution. I can’t exactly be too hard of the Egyptians. I mean slavery was the norm at that point in history.

        3. I’ve been wanting to bring this up for a while: trolling progressives with an anti-natalist solution for racial strife.

          If you really think black lives* don’t matter, stop having children. Do not have kids until you can be sure that their lives will be respected. I wonder how many people you could get on board with this idea, and how far you could push it towards old racist arguments.

          *sorry, Black lives

          1. There is a lot of pressure to have kids. People give me shit all the time for self sterilization in my 20’s, but I really don’t want to bring anyone else into this mad house. My wife gets it worse than me, because you aren’t a real woman until you’re a mother. No offense meant to those who have and love their kids.

            1. “Florida Man self sterilizes.” Highlights at eleven.

              1. Crap. Forgot to add “Hold my beer, and watch this.”

                  1. Which Floridian method of self-sterilization did you use – a firearm, an exotic animal, or some sort of homebrew street-illegal vehicle?

        4. I want to read his book because every review of it (including the good ones) make it sound like the worst thing ever written.

          Every excerpt of his prose is hilariously bad and overwritten. It’s like he thinks jamming pseudo-poetic words together into ridiculously ornate sentences makes up in beauty what it lacks in clarity or coherence, but he’s not nearly a good enough writer to pull off that poetic nonsense.

          Ta Nahesi Coates is the kind of writer who is popular right this moment with a certain group of people because he confirms all their biases. No one will care about him in 10 years because society will have moved on to some other obsession and he’s a sloppy thinker and a bad writer who will be ignored once he is no longer helping white liberals with their masochistic desire to be flayed for the sins of their great great great great grandparents.

          1. Example: He wrote this shit about dead firefighters on 9/11

            “They were not human to me. Black, white, or whatever, they were menaces of nature; they were the fire, the comet, the storm, which could ? with no justification ? shatter my body.”

            There are so many things wrong with this paragraph – the outright racist dehumanization, the ridiculous metaphors he uses (really? White people are ‘a comet’), or the fact that he ludicrously thinks firefighters apparently go around beating up black people.

            1. He is describing his feelings as blind prejudice that he recognizes. You know, sort of how most people here also treat all cops all the time.

              The main criticism of Coates is not his emphasis on the damage done to black humans by white people over centuries–that is indisputable; it’s his pessimism and downplaying of progress that has been made.

              The more white assholes bitch about how much he’s playing the victim and how the real problem is white guilt and black laziness, the more he’s proven correct, of course.

              1. Dipshit sockpuppet loves dipshit writer, Film at 11

                1. I’m gonna guess you’ve not read a single essay by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

                  1. I’m gonna guess you’ve not read a single essay by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

                    I’ve read a number of them, including the time he shit the bed over reparations.

                    The reparations article was actually a hilarious example of just what I’m talking about. At no point did he actually make an argument for how reparations would actually help black people or how it was morally justified to steal from people today to pay for the sins of the past and he completely handwaved away the fact that huge numbers of white people in this country don’t even have ancestors that were responsible for slavery or Jim Crow. Or the fact that a large number of black people moved her from Haiti/Africa in the last 40 years and therefore don’t have any ancestors that experienced American prejudice.

                    Instead, Coates did what he always does – he told anecdotes about long dead white people doing bad things and relied on emotional manipulation to get gullible idiots to agree with his irrational thesis.

                    1. Oh, then there’s also the time Ta Nahesi Coates said he supported freeing ALL CRIMINALS including violent ones.

                      I’m not joking.

                      Goldberg asked what he would do if he were in Landrieu’s position ? surely there was something, “I don’t know what I’d do if I were mayor, but I could tell you what I’d do if I was king.” He’d let criminals out of prison, he said. “And, by the way, I include violent criminals in that.” Goldberg asked what he meant by “violent.” “Gun crime, too,” Coates said.

                      Coates’ ideas would destroy black communities by sending violent murderers back onto the streets of every city in America. Tony, have you actually read any of Coates’ work, or do you just think you need to reflexively defend an idiot because this particular idiot happens to be a black liberal so hating him for his idiocy must be racist or something?

                    2. That think about releasing even violent criminals is what got me interested in Coates in the first place, and I largely agree with him. I’m usually firmly on the libertarian side on this issue. People aren’t violent, people do violent things. There’s no evidence that locking them up for decades helps society.

                      Yeah it’s a “provocative” opinion, but it jolted me into an awareness of the brutality of our system I hadn’t given much thought to before. Reflexively defending the most draconian criminal justice system in the civilize world does not come with automatic virtue. I think that’s the radical position.

                    3. Well, it’s very kind of you to want to release brutally violent gang members back onto the streets of black neighborhoods you don’t live in. Tell you what Tony – you can release people arrested for drive by shootings if you agree to live next door to them in Oklahoma. I’m sure nothing bad will happen to you since all you’d have to do is say ‘Hey, don’t mug me, I’m a good white liberal with good intentions!’

                    4. So the guy wants to let murderers, rapists (and he’s a self proclaimed feminist!), and other violent criminals loose on the streets, but wants to punish white people for what their ancestors may or may not have done.

                      You’re right, he’s a genius.

                  2. I’ve read enough. Including his blog posts in which he immediately shuts down any sort of debate so he can essentially live in an echo chamber with his sycophantic readers

              2. ” black humans, white people”

                People aren’t humans and humans aren’t people?

                This is the kind of dumb shit Coates uses as his rhetorical currency.

                1. White people haven’t been tested with the Gom Jabbar.

              3. The main criticism of Coates is not his emphasis on the damage done to black humans by white people over centuries–that is indisputable; it’s his pessimism and downplaying of progress that has been made.

                No, the main issue with Coates is that he is incapable of looking at actual facts and evidence and prefers to wildly emote without anything resembling a factual argument because he is an immensely unintelligent human being.

                Which explains why you defend him because you’re kindred spirits.

                He is describing his feelings as blind prejudice that he recognizes. You know, sort of how most people here also treat all cops all the time.

                No he wasn’t. At no point does he actually make amends for this opinion he had and, furthermore, he exhibits the exact same sort of blind prejudice in all his other writings and does not seem to care about what a self-evident bigot he is. When one random asshole New Yorker shoved his kid (which asshole New Yorkers are prone to do), he turned this into a hilarious diatribe about how this is proof that all white people think they own all black people’s bodies and can do with them as they please.

                That’s so nonsensical it almost beggars belief. Coates will take random anecdotes that have nothing to do with race, and will shoehorn them into a ridiculous racial narrative no intelligent human being could possibly buy into. That’s why I don’t like Coates, idiot.

                1. Just read these quotes and try to make heads or tails out of them.

                  http://www.goodreads.com/autho…..isi_Coates

                  1. Oh man, this is just hilarious:

                    The point of this language of “intention” and “personal responsibility” is broad exoneration. Mistakes were made. Bodies were broken. People were enslaved. We meant well. We tried our best. “Good intention” is a hall pass through history, a sleeping pill that ensures the Dream.

                    There are so many things wrong with this paragraph. First of all, no one says slavers had ‘good intentions’ which completely annihilates his entire argument. Secondly, “we” did not do anything, since to my knowledge neither myself nor Ta Nahesi Coates ever owned slaves. Thirdly, Coates has the self-awareness of a fucking sponge since a progressive arguing that ‘good intentions’ aren’t enough if your intentions yield bad results is ridiculously hypocritical.

                    1. “First of all, no one says slavers had ‘good intentions’ which completely annihilates his entire argument. ”

                      Ding, ding, ding! Unlike our friend, you can spot blatantly obvious strawman arguments.

                      McWhorter nailed it perfectly. Its taken on a religious fervor, in which white folks racism is original sin, and constant reminders of said sin and self flagellation are the only way to atone.

                    2. In all fairness, some ante-bellum southerners did try to justify the morality of slavery by claiming that the slaves were better off being converted to Christianity and learning western culture. Not sure if the actual slavers, the Arabs who captured/bought Africans and transported them to the ports had any sort of moral justification. Interesting to note that many of the enslaved were fellow Muslims (fellows to the Arabs, that is).

                  2. Which ones are you struggling with?

                    1. Which ones are you struggling with?

                      Which ones do you think are well written and not functionally retarded?

                      I notice that I’ve actually quoted Coates and explained why his positions are idiotic and can be easily refuted, but you have yet to quote Coates in order to explain why he is right. It’s interesting that all the textual analysis of Coates’ arguments is coming from my side.

                      That almost makes me think you can’t actually defend Coates’ ridiculous philosophy so you just cry racism and fail to defend him at all.

                    2. Irish – the Don Quixote of H&R, tilting at the chimera that is Tony.

                    3. Irish:

                      I notice that I’ve actually quoted Coates and explained why his positions are idiotic and can be easily refuted, but you have yet to quote Coates in order to explain why he is right. It’s interesting that all the textual analysis of Coates’ arguments is coming from my side.

                      That almost makes me think you can’t actually defend Coates’ ridiculous philosophy so you just cry racism and fail to defend him at all.

                      Ding ding. We have a winner.

                      One person is actually addressing the issue with critical thinking, references, and arguments, while the other spends his time smugly question begging and patting himself on the back for a job well done.

                2. Coates will take random anecdotes that have nothing to do with race, and will shoehorn them into a ridiculous racial narrative no intelligent human being could possibly buy into.

                  Intelligence got nothing to do with it, homes. He appeals to mendacious twits pushing their actual bigotry as legitimate debate.

              4. Great circular logic, Tony. Literary and philosophical criticism really is just crypto-racism dressed in the garb of academics.

                1. Do you people even acknowledge racism against black, or is the only real racism the kind white people suffer when black people write mean stuff about them?

                  1. Who are you calling, “you people”?

                    1. Do you people even acknowledge racism against black, or is the only real racism the kind white people suffer when black people write mean stuff about them?

                      Who are you calling, “you people”?

                      you people = reason’s 100% Republican titanium white conservative ultrasupremecist commentariat, duh, you fucking racist. i mean, for fuck’s sake gilmore, how white are you that you think it’s funny to turn that question around in this context? MIGHTY WHITE OF YOU WHITEYWHITECOCK.

                      Also I’d to congratulate tony on topping the list of Stupidest Shit Tony Has Said 2015.

                  2. Tony:

                    Do you people even acknowledge racism against black, or is the only real racism the kind white people suffer when black people write mean stuff about them?

                    LOL!

                    Lets change the subject: racism. It’s there. It’s bad. Are you onboard?

                    How brave and intellectual.

          2. This a thousand times. I have no hope for this country when he’s being trotted out as a serious thinker and writer. He started with a conclusion and instead of questioning it, forced the evidence to fit it. And his writing is comically bad. “Look at all the pretty, big words!”

            1. “Look at all the pretty, big words!”

              At the risk of the standard accusations and name calling, I would point out that I’ve had this experience in the business world since I started working in middle and upper management more than 30 years ago. Black men who pepper their conversation like this only you soon realize they know the words but don’t understand what they mean.

              Of course, white guilt and PC keep one from calling them out on it.

              I’ve found it so sad that such great potential was wasted on acting a part rather than learning enough to fill the role.

          3. I just do not get why people think they have to infuse these kinds of books with turgid writing. I would think that simple, direct language is more effective (if the goal is to convince others) and appropriate. But no, they have to load it up with snark, thinking that will make ‘readable,’ or come up with awful metaphors and over-the-top prose, thinking that will make it ‘respectable’ and ‘mature.’

            If you’re naturally witty and can tell a story deftly and with some humor, that’s great. If you’re not, that’s fine too; you don’t need to try hard like you’re some grand writer. Assuming you have something interesting to say, that is.

            1. says the person who just used “turgid”

              1. MJ possess quite the tumescent writing style.

              2. I like those -id words they all are vaguely unpleasant, except splendid. Torpid, turbid, lipid, umm….flaccid.

          4. “every review of it (including the good ones) make it sound like the worst thing ever written

            Look out, James Howard Kunstler! Someone wants your crown

          5. Soul on Ice – Eldridge Cleaver in my day. Hip profs made you read it in English Lit classes.

            You were a cool white kid if you carried around a copy with you on campus at the time.

      3. As a child, Coates enjoyed comic books and Dungeons & Dragons.

        I regret that we meet in this way. You and I are of a kind. In a different reality, I could have called you friend.

            1. Ok, i got really bored about 2 mins in. Does something happen?

  4. an electorate clambering for “law and order,”

    Right over the bodies of drug users, amirite?

    1. Shut up, Nicole, we don’t talk about Reason’s editing.

      1. But it was a funny one!

      2. I thought that it was LUCY we didn’t talk about?

        1. Because of the EDITING!

          1. Lucy was an Editor.

  5. Wanted more government.

    More Government.

  6. Churches grease government cocks which rape the quivering bloody butt hole of common sense while she lies chained and fractured under the grinding footsteps of moral effervescence.

    1. *snaps fingers repeatedly*

    2. “quivering bloody butt hole of common sense”

      I think I just found my new handle!

      1. Sounds like one of the strip titles for “Red Meat”

  7. The sign in that photo is interesting:

    “Dope Gangsters Are Lynching Addicts With Overdoses – 1200 Dead Since January”

    The drug war is always hyped as the solution to the problem of the moment.

    I remember when buying drugs was the same as supporting Al Qaeda.

    It’s funny how fighting the war on drugs and keeping prices artificially high somehow is never the same as supporting Al Qaeda, lynching addicts with overdoses, supporting street gangs, etc.

    1. “The black market in drugs is a blight on our society! We must ensure that there is a black market for drugs!”

      1. *black* market? Racist!

  8. They were trying to put this in the memory hole. That will be more difficult now.

  9. “…but rewriting history to conform with a politically convenient narrative that the Rockefeller Laws were the result of purely racist and discriminatory motivations inhibits present-day conversations about how sweeping policies can ultimately exacerbate the problem they were designed to alleviate.”

    Feature, not bug.

    1. ” Castro “provided information leading to a 23-ton cocaine seizure, other seizures related to” various drug trafficking organizations”

      Instead of handing bags of cash directly to law enforcement agents and politicians, instead they can hand them information that allows them to seize cash, drugs, and tout their Successes to the general public, helping get re-elected.

      Direct bribes don’t generally work as well, optically.

      No one wants to “stop” the drug trade. It generates billions and billions for people in Authority who simply look the other way and collect their benefits. They want to make sure the drug trade is “managed” smoothly.

      ” Operation Fast and Furious was part of an agreement to finance and arm the cartel in exchange for information used to take down its rivals. (If true, that re-raises the issue regarding what Attorney General Eric Holder knew about the gun-running arrangements.)”

      Well, I’m sure the new AG will get right on that investigation posthaste.

      1. “USAG teams with FDA in unprecedented toothpaste investigation, more at ’11.”

  10. Is that Jesse Jackson in the picture?

  11. who’s ambitions for national office and an electorate clambering for

    Whose, clamoring. There are other mistakes, but that passage is egregious.

  12. You’re not supposed to talk about this. Narrative is racism. Everything is racism.

  13. The whole crack vs cocaine sentencing disparities were the result of the exact same thing. Black people demanding a crack down on the crack epidemic in their neighborhoods. 20 years later the claim was that it was because of racism.

  14. Down is up and up is down.

    Welcome to my world.

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