The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) sparked outrage on social media after it posted a photo of former President Richard Nixon receiving an honor for his role in launching the war on drugs, which has disproportionately harmed Black communities and other people of color.
DEA’s controversial post
The DEA’s post, which was part of its Throwback Thursday series, featured a photo of Nixon being presented with a “certificate of special honor” by the International Narcotic Enforcement Officers’ Association in 1970. The post claimed that the certificate was given “in recognition of the outstanding loyalty and contribution to support narcotic law enforcement.”
The post coincided with the first day of Black History Month, a time to celebrate the achievements and contributions of African Americans in the history and culture of the United States. Many users on social media criticized the DEA for being insensitive and tone-deaf, as Nixon’s drug war policies have been widely denounced as racist and oppressive.
Nixon’s drug war legacy
Nixon is widely credited with initiating the war on drugs, a set of policies and practices that aimed to reduce the production, distribution, and consumption of illegal drugs. Nixon declared drug abuse as “public enemy number one” and signed the Controlled Substances Act in 1970, which created a system of drug scheduling and criminal penalties. He also established the DEA in 1973, giving it the authority to enforce federal drug laws and coordinate with other agencies.
However, Nixon’s drug war has been exposed as a political strategy to target and undermine his perceived enemies, namely the anti-war left and the Black community. In a 1994 interview, Nixon’s former domestic policy chief John Ehrlichman admitted that the drug war was designed to “disrupt those communities” by associating them with marijuana and heroin, and then criminalizing them heavily.
The drug war has had devastating consequences for millions of Americans, especially people of color, who have been disproportionately arrested, incarcerated, and stigmatized for drug-related offenses. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, Black people are 3.6 times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession, despite similar rates of use. The drug war has also fueled mass incarceration, police brutality, and health disparities, among other social ills.
Calls for reform and accountability
Many advocates and activists have called for an end to the drug war and a shift to a more humane and evidence-based approach to drug policy. They have also demanded that the DEA and other federal agencies acknowledge and address the harms they have caused to communities of color and other marginalized groups.
Some of the recent reforms that have been proposed or implemented include decriminalizing or legalizing marijuana and other drugs, expunging past drug convictions, investing in drug treatment and harm reduction services, and reducing the role and power of law enforcement in drug policy.
The DEA, however, has been resistant to change and has continued to defend and enforce the drug war. The agency has also been accused of corruption, misconduct, and human rights violations in its domestic and international operations. The DEA’s post honoring Nixon’s drug war legacy is seen by many as a sign of its detachment from reality and its disregard for the people it is supposed to serve.