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GOP’s New Fake Racist Meme for the Midterms—“Biden is Handing Out Crack Pipes”—Is Upon Us. The Consequences Could be Deadly.
Safe consumption sites and drug toolkits are an unqualified good that will save lives. Liberal media needs to combat the latest right-wing panic with vigor and moral clarity.
The business of politics is often messy, confused, and ethically uncertain. It’s rare that issues are moral chip shots, no-doubters, an unqualified good. But such is the case with safe injection sites and drug tool kits, and their increased usage in the United States. Already proven to be a life-saving public health intervention from Canada to Spain to Australia, safe injection sites, or as they are sometimes called, overdose prevention centers or safe consumption sites, provide medical professionals to observe drug use and supply sanitized delivery systems. They categorically, unquestionably, and demonstrably save lives and lead to positive health outcomes. Similar efforts used in San Francisco and Seattle—like the one funded by the Biden Health and Human Services (HHS)—to hand out “drug paraphernalia” have also radically reduced overdoes and prevented the spread of diseases like HIV and Hepatitis. These safe consumption efforts are the ultimate low hanging fruit in harm reduction. As such, even habitually disappointing former New York City mayor Bill de Blasio pinned his legacy on them, launching two overdose prevention centers in the final months of his mayorship after the Supreme Court refused to take a Trump-era case barring similar injection sites in Philadelphia, a ruling that gave the green light to other municipalities to follow suit.
The results from New York City have been predictably great: In the first three weeks alone, 59 lives were saved. 59 lives that would have otherwise no longer existed: Brothers, daughters, mothers, loved ones who would have died in some obscure homeless encampment or under some anonymous highway were saved and provided resources for recovery. Medical experts across the world almost uniformly support safe injection sites and the distribution of drug tool kits. These policies are a no brainer, an obvious good, an extremely cheap, non-carceral and low-effort intervention from the liberal state to help curb the overdose crisis.
So, naturally, when the Biden administration’s Department of Justice hinted it was open to backing safe consumption sites yesterday, followed by the Department of HHS allocating $30 million for nonprofits to provide drug toolkits, the sleaziest demagogues on earth decided to take the opportunity to launch racist attacks on the plan, hoping to distort the issue and scare confused, old white people:
Feb. 8 - Center Square: Reports of Biden’s taxpayer-funded crack pipes draw scrutiny
Feb. 8 - Dozens of Fox affiliates: Biden administration to fund programs to hand out crack pipes
Feb. 8 - Fox News/Yahoo: Crack pipe distribution funded by HHS, prioritizing 'underserved' communities: report
Feb. 8 - The Independent: GOP outraged at $30m Biden plan to fund ‘crack pipe distribution’ in effort to reduce drug harm
Feb. 8 - Epoch Times: Biden Administration to Fund Distribution of Smoking Kits, Needles to Drug Addicts
Since the right-wing media campaign was launched on Feb. 7, no liberal or centrist media have provided any defense of the programs. MSNBC, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and CNN have all been silent on the issue as it has dominated right-wing media for the past 36 hours. This isn’t to say they haven’t reported on the topic here and there in the past, but now that it’s quickly becoming a right-wing brain worm, there is absolutely no pushback on the merits of the program. No rapid response, no attempt to frame the policy as the life-saving, empirically sound measure it is. All the right needs to do is say, “Biden is handing out crack pipes”—with a not so subtle parenthetical “to black people”—as many times as possible until November, and that’s that.
This is how humane policy dies. A highly sophisticated right-wing media machine, appealing to people’s most base and racist instincts, quickly creates a meme, a line, a viral facebook thingamajig—Obama phones, ACORN helping pimps, the Shirley Sherrod non-scandal—liberal and centrist media largely ignores it, and Democrats in power don’t have the backbone to defend the policy on its merits, afraid of right-wing attacks or being smeared by a conservative machine loading up the issue in real time. Then, like with Shirley Sherrod or ACORN, they sell them out or abandon the policy because they tell themselves it’s not worth the political capital to confront wound up racist mobs.
Given the high stakes of the overdose crisis in the United States, and the potentially tens of thousands of lives widespread safe injection sites and tools could save, caving on this issue could be catastrophic. The party supposedly concerned with “believing science” should get out in front of this issue, combat the smears, defend the policy, and stand up for a constituency that, by definition, has little power or voice in public policy making.
UPDATE 2/9/21 5:33 PM CST: The White House and HHS did indeed cave to the racist panic, denying the toolkits included “pipes” which is almost certainly not true and skirts the central issue of defending harm reduction measures such providing sterilized “paraphernalia.” Which we know for certain radically reduces the transmission of HIV, TB, and Hepatitis. Strangely, the HHS does indicate they will not stop funding groups that distribute syringes because, presumably, these don’t quite have the racist baggage that “Biden hands out crack pipe” does.