I was reminded of Eugene Jarecki’s “The House I Live In” while driving home to Pasadena recently. The latest film by the New York-based author and documentary filmmaker, whose works include “Why We Fight,” “The Trials of Henry Kissinger,” “Reagan” and “Freakonomics,” is a condemnation of America’s failed “War on Drugs.”
Jarecki’s criticism comes not because the war hasn’t led to arrests and incarcerations — it has, especially for disproportionate numbers of people of color. Rather, it stems from the fact that, while the nation has become so successful at jailing, the demand for and the trade of drugs has continued to grow.
From where I sit as a black woman, it’s not hard to understand how we’ve gotten to the place where the country has a trail of stories of young blacks killed by cops or those in authority. The deaths of Kendric McDade, Treyvon Martin, Derek Williams and Chavis Carter are just the latest in this sad story.
Traditionally, Jarecki is known for asking tough questions, and his latest film is no exception. As the film aptly states, “40 years, $1 trillion, 45 million arrests.”
“How did we get here?” says Jarecki, when asked about the driving question behind making this film. “The problem I face is people don’t know [the issue] — so few people have it on their radar.”
It’s a phenomenon that civil rights litigator Michelle Alexander, among many experts quoted in the film, refers to as the “New Jim Crow,” a situation in which those caught in the system for minor drug offenses can find themselves stripped of their rights, experience troubles seeking employment and be labeled as second-class citizens.
When I met with Jarecki, he referred to the drug war as “immoral,” something that “yielded no public good.” It’s an ironic turn of phrase, given this nation’s historical preoccupation with morality. Prohibition, for example was deeply rooted in moral concerns. Similarly, the War on Drugs has connections to a moral impulse. President Richard Nixon, after all, declared a war on drug abuse in the early 1970s. There was a concern for those plagued by addiction in that statement, even if that concern eventually went haywire.