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The Knotted Line

Evan Bissell, Author

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1973: The War at Home

1973: New York's Rockefeller Drug Laws require mandatory minimum sentences for “hard” drugs. The legacy of the drug laws leads to million-dollar blocks and, in 2010, an arrest every 19 seconds every day of the year for drug abuse violations.* The laws pull from the 1951 Boggs Act which sets mandatory sentences for drug offenses.

1986: Led by Speaker of the House "Tip" O'Neill, Democrats push for "tough on crime/drugs" legislation in the lead up to November elections.  The resulting Anti Drug Abuse Act expands mandatory minimums for drug offenses to a federal level and gives longer sentences for possession of crack cocaine than cocaine.  The only way a convicted person can avoid mandatory minimums is through "substantial assistance," otherwise known as acting as an informant.

Actions for Self-Determination:

  • 1970-1976: White Lightning, a group of white ex-drug addicts from the South Bronx committed to revolutionary politics form out of the therapeutic community Spirit of Logos, an offshoot of Logos. The group provides services for people struggling with drug addiction, distribute thousands of newspapers connecting addictive drugs with profit and offering community alternatives, create legal aid clinics (particularly related to poor housing conditions), and organize to overturn the Rockefeller drug laws.
  • 1971: A gang truce is organized by the Ghetto Brothers among the gangs of the South Bronx. At the meeting is Afrika Bambaataa, a warlord of one of New York's largest gangs. Inspired by Zulu resistance to European colonization and a trip that he won to travel to Africa, Bambaataa begins throwing massively popular parties across turf lines and using the universal appeal of music to promote solidarity, respect, celebration and peace.  His Universal Zulu Nation (1973) quickly becomes popular and serves to integrate much of the Bronx and move hip-hop culture out into the world. 
  • 1996: Sista II Sista forms as a group for young and adult women of color to create community power and alternative systems of accountability. The group includes a school and community circles.

Discussion Questions:
  • Discuss the impacts of someone leaving a small community for prison. What happens when they return having had no treatment or rehabilitation? What are the potential impacts when this is a large proportion of the community?
  • How might increased incarceration of men (especially for drug offenses) destabilize a community? How might it help?
  • When was a time you dealt with violence or conflict without calling in an authority? What happened, and how was it resolved?
  • Discuss: Drug dealers and users will stop using drugs after long periods of incarceration.
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