This week, rapper T.I. is at his most political, in a revealing discussion centered on the War on Drugs, and its effect on Black communities.
“If you got caught with 10 grams of crack, it was mandatory that the judge sentence you as though you had 1,000 grams of powder, which is a kilo. Now, here we are, two million prisoners later,” he explains in a new video, as reported by Rap-Up. “I grew up on the west side of Atlanta. Late 80s, early 90s…that’s when you started hearing about people that’s when you started experiencing people being gone for a long time. Like, ‘Yo, you heard about such and such? Man, he just got 15, 20 years.’ As a child, it gave you an early understanding of where this environment can take you.”
The crack epidemic, which spread in the late 80s to the early 90s, ravished marginalized communities. In 1971, President Richard Nixon coined the term the “War on Drugs,” advocating for mandatory sentencing and no-knock warrants for arrest. Ronald Reagan followed suit in 1982 by declaring illegal drugs to be a threat to the security of the United States, despite the Iran-Contra scandal that dealt with cocaine later in that decade. During the Clinton administration, the president signed the Crime Bill, creating harsher sentencing for those dealing in crack cocaine on the streets.
“Crack cocaine was introduced to Black neighborhoods. Nobody all of a sudden learned how to put baking soda with water and cocaine to make a cheaper version that was more potent. We ain’t no damn scientists. We didn’t come up with that,” the rapper replied. “The lower-level drug offenders got the most time. It just destroyed the communities. This is how the mass incarceration started.”
He touches on the explosion of prison labor as a harmful additive of mass incarceration. “When you are a prisoner, part of the mandate of your sentence is getting up and working. The product that you are working on is then put on a market for a corporation that makes top dollar for it. If this prisoner wasn’t working for them, they would have to pay someone else far more. That, to me, is incentivized incarceration. Private investors buying prisons for their own profits should not exist….I just don’t believe it’s constitutional.”
While T.I. makes an important point about the exploitation of prison labor, only 8 percent of prisons in the United States are private. Much of the labor that used to be in prisons were shipped overseas in developing countries who make little money and are even easier to exploit. The majority of prisons are public, and still dealing with human rights abuses at the hands of corporal officers and authorities. In the words of prison abolitionist Angela Davis, prisons are not disappearing problems, rather they are disappearing people, particularly for mostly non-violent crimes. Prison labor, is also still incredibly constitutional: the 13th Amendment abolishes slavery, except in the case of prison labor.
The video is timely, as the nation enters into its fourth week of the biggest nationwide prison strike since 1971’s Attica Uprising and the August Rebellion (the largest female prison riot in American history) in 1974.
Watch more of the short interview below: