Since the drug war started, there’s been a very sharp increase in incarceration rates; the U.S.’s incarceration rate is way beyond maybe five, ten times as high as comparable countries, and its target is primarily black males, Hispanic males, some women, some whites — very disproportionately to the population. After all, think of the history of this country. After the Emancipation Proclamation, there were about 10 years in which blacks were formally sort of free, and then slavery was reintroduced by incarceration. By the 1870s the states had passed laws, and federal government approved them, in which essentially black life was criminalized. If a black man was found standing on a street corner, he could be arrested for vagrancy. If somebody claimed he looked the wrong way at a white woman, he’d be incarcerated for attempted rape. Pretty soon, you had the black male population mostly in jail, and they were a slave labor force. A lot of the American industrial revolution was based on slave labor from leased prisoners in U.S. steel, the mines.
This went on until the Second World War, when there was a need for labor. There was a post-war boom, and during that period black men could begin to integrate into the work force and get a job in an auto plant — a fairly decent job with wages — buy a house, send their kids to school, and so on. Well, by the ’70s it was over. The economy was being financialized, production was being exported, there was a rust belt developing where the manufacturing jobs were essentially no longer available. So what do you do with the black population? Well, the answer was throw them back in jail under the pretext of the drug war. That’s the consequence, and it’s pretty well understood. So we have policies that are carried out that have essentially no impact on the stated goal, there are measures available which could have an impact and are not used. The consequences of the policies happen to be significant for power centers — carry out counterinsurgency operations in Colombia and elsewhere, and you can carry out social cleansing in effect, in a traditional American way."