Republicans are Reviving the 1980s Crack Panic; People will Die as a ResultBreaking News
tags: George H.W. Bush, 1980s, crack cocaine, Drug War, drug abuse, Harm Reduction
As constant fearmongering about Cuba clearly hasn’t satiated Marco Rubio’s cynical drive to dust off passé political panics, he’s now moved on to crack, teaming up with Build Back Better–killing Democrat Joe Manchin to build back to the 1980s. After The Washington Free Beacon framed a months-old harm-reduction provision from the Cares Act as a measure to “fund crack pipe distribution,” the Florida senator swiftly introduced the Cutting Off Rapid Access to Crack Kits Act to ban federal cash from being used for the purpose. He and Manchin then collaborated on the Preventing Illicit Paraphernalia for Exchange Systems Act, to prevent similar arrangements for syringes and needles. The CRACK Act and the PIPES Act—get it? If the acronyms are any guide, Manchin, Rubio, and their bills’ various co-sponsors have found genuine delight in wringing every last drop of possible cachet from one of the more racist episodes of the “war on drugs.”
Dismayingly, Democrats seem more than happy to enable their aims. Far from vociferously defending an entirely defensible and evidence-based policy, they immediately surrendered to right-wing clickbait. Biden’s health and human services secretary and his White House drug policy adviser rushed into damage-control mode, issuing a joint statement insisting that “no federal funding will be used directly or through subsequent reimbursement of grantees to put pipes in safe smoking kits.” These proclamations were soon echoed by White House press secretary Jen Psaki, who emphasized, “We don’t support federal funding, indirect or direct, for pipes.” Liberal reporters backed them up, largely aghast at the “misinformation” lobbed by the Free Beacon and its aggregating copycats: “The BIDEN HANDS OUT CRACK PIPES thing was the dominant story across Fox News’s primetime programming on Tuesday, and spun as a sign of America’s moral decay,” as Aaron Rupar put it on Twitter. “But here’s the thing—it’s total BS!”
The actual B.S. is that one political party has suddenly started using a landmark public health strategy as disingenuous culture-war fodder, and its opposition has tacitly endorsed those tactics by pinky-swearing that the federal government would never distribute pipes, as if to imply that outrage over doing so would be appropriate. It isn’t: Harm reduction, including the provision of free glass pipes, deserves a wholehearted defense. The right’s opportunistic smearing of a risk-mitigation framework long championed by activists poses a serious threat to vulnerable populations, and it’s not an exaggeration to suggest that people could die as a result.
The maddest moment of the Crack Panic Era came in 1989, when Drug Enforcement Administration agents lured a dealer to Lafayette Park in Washington, D.C., to set up a drug buy so that then-President George H.W. Bush could hold up a bag of crack, obtained “across the street from the White House,” as a prop for his first prime-time televised speech to the nation. But however performative elected officials got with the “public safety” narrative undergirding the “tough on crime” era and its aftermath, the results wrought from all this posturing, overpolicing, and swollen prison populations were never well suited for addressing the impact of drugs. The mainstream has slowly accepted this reality in recent years, this week’s meltdown notwithstanding.
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