Fear of a Wack Planet

Jonathan Levine's new film The Wackness is great. It really is. It's depressing. No doubt. But it's a good movie.

Josh Peck, as recently graduated- prep school- drug dealer- hip hop enthusiast- virgin- depressive- bored Luke Shapiro and Sir Ben Kingsley as lost- frustrated- depressive- addicted- bored- tired Dr. Squires are excellent together. Their relationship gives the movie an uncompromising reality that infiltrates every moment of the New York City Hip-Hopped bildungsroman. All the actors have a great understanding for their characters and the director really gets you into the protagonists head. So much so, that your emotions twist and squeeze along with Luke's as he suffers through heartbreak, insecurity and a drugged out emptiness that pervades each frame.

As to the movie's authenticity: A+. Heck, I know kids from my New York City high school of whom this movie could very well be a biography. The film stays true to its location, its music and the complexity of each of its characters and the real life teens whose lives this story replicates. So, what about the drugs?

How come, people ask, Luke was never arrested for dealing drugs, even though in the movie he was often doing so in public, out in the open, using a converted Italian Ice cart? Why was there never the slightest fear of repercussions of his actions. Even though 1994 was right when Rudy Giuliani stepped up his anti-drug enforcement? Simple answer: HE'S WHITE.

The Drug Policy Alliance Network, an organization dedicated to promoting drug policies "grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights," lists many reasons why the war on drugs as currently executed in the United States is completely unjust. One of the key reasons they list is the outrageous racial disparity in drug arrests and convictions.

While African Americans represent "only 13% of drug users," a stat that anyone who watches the Wackness will easily recognize, "they make up 38 percent of those arrested for drug offenses and 59 percent of those convicted of drug offenses." Huh? How could this be? According to DPAN, these higher rates reflect the war's enforcement of laws in inner city areas "where drug use and sales are more likely to take place in open-air drug markets where treatment resources are scarce."

Thus, even though Luke deals in open air areas such as Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village, the law enforcement resources aren't directed at such a well-to-do, white, neighborhood.

Other examples of this institutionalized racism include the disparity in sentencing among those convicted of using or selling crack cocaine and powder cocaine, two drugs made from the same active ingredient but the first used more often by lower income minorities and the second by more wealthy whites. Guess who gets the stricter sentence?

The Drug War also ends giving lower level dealers and runners more time than mid-level dealers because the mid-level dealers can usually give the police more information, and in doing so get around the mandatory minimums faced by almost all of the lower lever dealers.

As DPAN says:

Everyone has a stake in ending the war on drugs. Whether you’re a parent concerned about protecting children from drug-related harm, a social justice advocate worried about racially disproportionate incarceration rates, an environmentalist seeking to protect the Amazon rainforest or a fiscally conservative taxpayer you have a stake in ending the drug war. U.S. federal, state and local governments have spent hundreds of billions of dollars trying to make America “drug-free.” Yet heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and other illicit drugs are cheaper, purer and easier to get than ever before... The war on drugs has become a war on families, a war on public health and a war on our constitutional rights.