Thursday, 2 May 2013

The House I Live In (Documentary) (2012)

America is currently engaged in it's longest war to date. This isn't a war born of ideology. It's not a war being fought in a desert. There aren't any army troops even fighting in the war. Shit, the war isn't even in another country.

The "War on Drugs" was declared by President Richard Nixon over 40 years ago now and Eugene Jarecki's film aims to display how mismanaged, misdirected, ineffective and outright harmful the entire endeavour has been. It reports in the opening that there has been an estimate $1 TRILLION spent on the war and over 45m arrests made directly under War on Drugs legislation, yet drug use rates haven't dropped one bit and have in many cases actually increased.

Although the overall selection may be a bit biased in terms of Jarecki's message, the interviewees come from a wide range of people involved and affected by the war and present a number of arguments that show just how bad and ineffective the war has been. From prisoners to judges, police officers to low-level dealers and activists to TV writers (namely David Simon, journalist turned creator of The Wire) the perspectives come thick and fast and fill out the 108 minutes to the brim.

Born initially of hate and fear, the war has become one that's even colder than hatred. With the privatised prison system in the US, the massive amounts of prisoners, the monetary incentives for police to target drug users above everyone else and systemic discrimination against huge groups of people, it's a recipe for a war on the lower classes that just perpetuates such class traps and essentially locks out the lower classes from ever lifting themselves out of terrible circumstances. When there is absolutely no other opportunity to make money, when you literally cannot put food on the table for yourself and your family, it's understandable that anyone will turn to drugs whether it's dealing them to get by or just to take you away from the miserable existence that you're systematically trapped in for an hour or two.

It's not a war on drugs it's the war on these people, the innercity ghetto apparent blocks populated by the African American working class and the trailer parks populated by the so called "white trash", that's being waged. Issues such as the incredibly harsh sentences on cheaper but equally harmful drugs highlight this perfectly. Specifically, Jarecki makes a point to cover the disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine mandatory sentences. It was put into law that possession of crack (the cheaper, typically "poor" version of the drug) was to be handled with sentences literally 100x harsher than those of the powdered drug (which is needed to make crack, and is usually associated with wealthy types such as bankers and high level professionals).

The House I Live In takes you through a crash course of the history of drug laws in the US, and why and how they were enforced. It paints a picture of a situation that's been carried out, in truth, for over a century. It was an effort that went unchecked and felt no sympathy for the specific groups it was targeting, and they weren't being targeted for drugs but because of race and social class to begin with (hence the film's tagline: "The war on drugs has never been about drugs"). Drugs have always been the excuse, not the reason, to imprison, persecute and discriminate specific and ever-expanding groups of people.

It's no doubt that America has a serious problem with drugs like meth, cocaine, heroin crack and other destructive hard drugs. But the way the country has gone about tackling it is completely wrong from the top down. Instead of helping people with problems it is just simply rounding up anyone that it can and throwing away the key. Rehabilitation and proper education are left on the backburner and forgotten about. And that's disgusting.

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