FILM: ‘The House I Live In’ Addresses America’s Drug War

A PRISONER IN THE FILM, THE HOUSE I LIVE IN. PHOTO CREDIT: DEREK HALLQUIST

A PRISONER IN THE FILM, THE HOUSE I LIVE IN.  PHOTO CREDIT: DEREK HALLQUIST

“Over 40 years, the ‘War on Drugs’ has accounted for more than 45 million arrests, made America the world’s largest jailer and damaged poor communities at home and abroad. Yet for all that, drugs are cheaper, purer and more available today than ever before.” _ Web site excerpt, The House I Live In

CRITICALLY-ACCLAIMED, COMPREHENSIVE IN SCOPE

Eugene Jarecki’s The House I Live In won the grand jury prize for U.S. documentary at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, where critics called the work “comprehensive in scope, heart wrenching in its humanity, and brilliant in its thesis … This film is surely destined for the annals of documentary history.” Now available on demand, I finally saw the docu-essay and strongly recommend paying close attention as it examines the effects of drug laws on everyone from the dealer and grieving mother to cops on the street and federal judges. Presented by executive producers Brad Pitt, John Legend, Russell Simmons and Danny Glover, this cinematic journey covers a lot of ground most would prefer to ignore, yet cannot afford to dismiss.

Jarecki, who directed, produced and wrote the film, took on a hefty subject with clarity and compassion. Gripping personal accounts are honest and sobering _ the nation’s drug policies often target poor communities and minorities who get caught in a vicious cycle for generations. Eventually, a society in denial must come to terms with its shortcomings.

“For people to understand the scale and urgency of this crisis, I felt that facts, figures, and expert testimony weren’t enough, so I sought out individuals whose lives were directly and deeply shaped by the War on Drugs, hoping their stories would reveal some of the everyday tragedies left in its wake,” Jarecki says in a press release. “The House I Live In grew into a larger examination of race, class and capitalism in America _ of a tragically misguided system that preys upon the least fortunate among us to sustain itself.”

SHANEQUA BENITEZ IN THE FILM, THE HOUSE I LIVE IN. PHOTO CREDIT: SAMUEL CULLMAN

SHANEQUA BENITEZ SHARES HER STORY IN THE HOUSE I LIVE IN. PHOTO CREDIT: SAMUEL CULLMAN

Some statistical findings discussed in the film:

• Today, there are more people behind bars for nonviolent drug offenses than were incarcerated for all crimes, violent or otherwise, in 1970.
• The U.S. accounts for 5 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of its prison population.
• Marijuana arrests make up more than half of all the drug arrests in the U.S., and nearly 90 percent of those are charges for possession only.
• African-Americans make up roughly 13 percent of the U.S. population and 14 percent of its drug users. Yet, they represent 56 percent of those incarcerated for drug crimes.
• Since 1986, though crack and powder cocaine are chemically the same, there has been a 100 to 1 disparity in the sentencing of crack cocaine versus powder
cocaine offenses. This has accounted for a vast disproportion of crack users going to prison over the past 25 years. In 2010, after decades of protest from judges and activists, this disparity was reduced to 18 to 1.
PHOTO CREDIT: DEREK HALLQUIST

PHOTO CREDIT: DEREK HALLQUIST

Recommended:

The House I Live In: http://www.thehouseilivein.org/

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