Actor/activist Danny Glover discusses his new documentary “The House I Live In” and if Americans really understand the true nature of what the “War on Drugs” has done to this country.
MR. MARTIN (VOICEOVER): Ballou High School in Washington, D.C., is where actor Danny Glover showed the new documentary “The House I Live In.”
[BEGIN FILM CLIP.]
VOICEOVER: While following the steps that so many Americans take through the world of the Drug War, I couldn’t help but notice that at every stage, black Americans were disproportionately represented.
MS. MICHELLE ALEXANDER: You know, in any war, you’ve got to have an enemy. And when you think about the impact, particularly on poor people of color, there are more African-Americans under correctional control today – in prison or jail, or probation or parole – than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began. And that’s something we haven’t been willing to look in the mirror and ask ourselves, “What’s really going on?”
VOICEOVER: As it turns out, nearly everyone I talked to knew all about the impact of the Drug War on black America.
JUDGE: There’s no question that the criminal laws impact disproportionately on poor and minorities.
WHITE MAN: Certainly, [a] disproportionate number of black people are prosecuted.
VOICEOVER: Yet, while people could tell me all about their firsthand experience of this, very few had any idea where it came from.
[END OF FILM CLIP.]
MR. MARTIN: It has been more than 30 years since the so-called “War on Drugs” has commenced, and with this film, are you stunned how many people really don’t understand the true nature of what this War on Drugs has done to this country? They really don’t understand how complex the issue is.
MR. GLOVER: Well, that’s one of the things that happens, particularly in this country – is that we never get into the complexity of what the issues are. We feel, or we’re seduced to believe, that there’s one thing that’s done, and that accomplishes something, and we can say all the … people who’ve been arrested and all the people who’re incarcerated are a testimony to the success of what has happened.
But we don’t look at the unintentional … I use that word kindly – the unintentional consequences of something like this – of a policy, you know. And we don’t understand, often, its historic relevance as well. And I think that now, as we look at this beast that’s happening, this complex: private prisons, this complex where men and women are caught up in this perpetual chain of in jail, out of jail, in jail, I think we want to understand something more about it, you know. We want to understand why that, as a result of this, so many African-American males have become disenfranchised. They can’t even vote. They can’t even participate in the political process. Their lives … [possibly] have been [truncated] because of this. We want to understand more about that, you know.
And for those who live within it, you know, you live and watch the passage [of] and propaganda around “three strikes, you’re out,” or the … mandatory sentences. For us, it’s really, for me, a breath of fresh air, you know. I’ve been around from the moment that we were involved with the truce with the Bloods and Crips in L.A., after the Rodney King incident, you know. People like Harry Belafonte and others … and Mike Farrell were involved in that process and began to meet people from Unity One, or people like Nane Alejandrez from Barrios Unidos, and began to now move into their lives and to see what is happening with their lives as they are dealing with projects that have an impact on those men who’re incarcerated, but more importantly, have a[n] impact on maintaining the relationship between community and those men and women who’re incarcerated.
MR. MARTIN: I often say that in America, we are reactionary. Something happens, [and] we react – as opposed to going on the offensive. When you look at many of these drug laws, they were a reaction –
MR. GLOVER: Absolutely.
MR. MARTIN: — to what was taking place.
MR. GLOVER: Yeah.
MR. MARTIN: There were members of the Congressional Black Caucus who would hear from constituents saying, “You’ve got to do something about this crack epidemic.” Then, all of a sudden, laws were put in place. And then it was after the fact when it was, “Wait a minute. 100 to 1 crack cocaine and”
MR. GLOVER: [Crosstalk.]
MR. MARTIN: — “powder cocaine?”
MR. GLOVER: Yeah.
MR. MARTIN: And then, next thing you know, how many were then in prison? And all of a sudden, mandatory minimums. The next thing you know, it was just one after the other, and now we’re left with the remnants of what was supposed to be a good idea.
MR. GLOVER: Yeah, exactly, you know. But the “good ideas” – the impact is not only [what] happens to communities and families within this country, but other countries as well. So, what we often do is that we begin to … initiate what we want to practice here in other places as well.
So, I think that it’s important for us to, now, begin – as I told these young men and women who were here – to begin to have a public dialogue about this, begin to talk about it. It’s on us. Whatever we expect the Administration to do, whatever we expect the places in governance to do, it has to happen in civil society, where men and women come together and discuss the outcome of what has happened. We talk about all the other things that … we want to talk about, but understanding what the outcome [has been], what has happened as a result of this, the damage; and even look deeper than that – what are the reasons … that we’re talking about a war on drugs? The War on Drugs, as the film says, is not a war on drugs itself; it’s really a war on people. And that’s it.
MR. MARTIN: You talked about the role that we play, and what is amazing to me is when you meet folks – whether it was young folks here at Ballou High School, whether it’s everyday folks living in neighborhoods across this country – they assume that they are powerless. They say, “Of course, Danny Glover.” I mean you could call up any political leader you want to. They will take your phone calls.
And so how do we get that everyday person who’s living in Chicago, in New Orleans, in Charlotte, in Oakland, in St. Louis, in Houston, Oklahoma City to understand that “you are not powerless in this battle. You actually can be a difference maker”?
MR. GLOVER: Well, I think there were points in American history where people felt a sense of power, that they had a sense that they were the architects in terms of changing, and that they were a part of the change that was happening. And we were fortunate to have those periods in American history – most recently, certainly, the Civil Rights Movement and other movements that came as a result of the Civil Rights Movement. People felt that their vote was important. People felt that their own self-development and self-transformation were important. All these were part of something that symbolized a kind of vision – a new vision and which – certainly, there were leaders who were proponents of those changes, but they were leaders who were often outside of the system itself. They were the ones who were there, demanding that the system accommodate the changes that were happening, demanding that people listen. Those are the kind[s] of things that are not happening.
I think what we’ve done is abandon certain groups within this society and said that their value, the value of their live is not as important as the value of others, you know. We just had the incident … we had in Connecticut recently, you know. It wasn’t until somebody figured out that – what – 500-and-some-odd gun killings in Chicago just last year.
MR. MARTIN: Right.
MR. GLOVER: So, you’re weighing the 27 people – and there’s no disrespect here – who died in Connecticut. What about the 537 people who died because of gun violence and all that? So, we … compartmentalize things and don’t often understand the enormous ramifications that are on people’s lives.
We have to get involved right now. We have to find – whether Danny Glover runs around the country preaching about our involvement as citizens in our communities – if I run around, then I’m not doing that just to hear myself talk. You know, I’m doing that because I think it’s essential. If we’re going to make the changes that [are] necessary, if we’re going to push governance, we have to build a level of civil society activism that challenges governance and the decisions that are made. And that’s just part of it right now. I mean that’s part of it.
We know that a great deal of how people [are] influence[d] is by various elements in the media, whether it’s social medial, or whether it’s the television, et cetera, et cetera. We know that that’s part of the process, but we’re going to have to find imaginative ways in which we can get to people and talk about our lives. This is what this is about, really.
We’re at a critical moment where we’re going to have to find some sort of way in which we talk about King’s transformation. And when we talk about King – look at King. … that period of 1963 to 1968 – it’s a whole transformation. It’s not night and day, but it’s an evolution of spirit, an evolution of consciousness that occurs there. We have to begin to take the mantle and talk about what is this evolution of consciousness – as Grace Lee Boggs says, how do we “grow our souls”?
MR. MARTIN: A. Philip Randolph – there is a statue … of him, if you will, Union Station in Washington, D.C. And, actually, on that statue it says, “At the banquet table of nature, there are no reserved seats. You get what you can take, and you keep what you can hold. If you can’t take anything, you won’t get anything, and if you can’t hold anything, you won’t keep anything. And you can’t take anything without organization.”
MR. GLOVER: “Without organization” – yeah.
You know, the Tea Party – very well organized. Of course, they had some bad fellas to fund their process, you know. They had some people who basically wanted to – who had marginalized them and used them in part of a process to marginalize others. But that doesn’t keep us from getting the word out.
And that’s always the question they’ve always had. Whether we’re talking about the left, whether we’re talking about liberals, or whatever, there’s some stake that people have in maintaining the status quo. There’s some stake that people have in not questioning — always questioning power and using that questioning as a vehicle to kind of question themselves in the process.
MR. MARTIN (VOICEOVER): When we come back, more of my exclusive conversation with actor Danny Glover. He talks about his lifetime of activism.
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