Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

American Violet


If there is still a thinking being out there somewhere who believes the so-called “War on Drugs” is a good idea, this movie should disabuse them of that silly notion. As The Onion pointed out years ago, the war is over. Drugs won. Far beyond their ability to destroy lives and families—and I don’t deny that they do, except for marijuana—the war on drugs has so corrupted our society that it has become almost unrecognizable … and its effects here are trivial compared to what it has done to the countries south of our borders. The billions upon billions of dollars created by making drugs illegal has bought off entire police departments. It has corrupted district attorneys and judges, and I’m not speaking just of the obvious corruption of the payoff. Our very legal system has been repeatedly raped by drug warriors and their enablers in Congress. Prosecutors can sue a house or a boat or a car where drugs are found, impounding it until you can prove … I don’t know what, because as far as I can tell nobody has ever been able to get anything back. Your property is guilty until proven innocent. Any stuff they confiscate, they can keep. Would you call that an incentive to steal? I sure would. So all the pressure is to find people using dope, find them guilty of a crime, and steal everything they possess. This sort of outrage was aimed at the big guys, but you and I know the big guys hardly ever get caught. The ones who are prosecuted are the usual suspects: the poor.

This movie tells the based-on-fact story (and I never vouch for the absolute veracity of details in a story like this, but I know the broad strokes are right) of a small town in Texas (and I’ll name real names, not the fictional ones in the film; it was a little shithole called Hearne, in Robertson County) whose DA delighted in rounding up every black person he could get his hands on, based on the testimony of an “undercover source,” in this case a mental patient. The cops beat the shit out of him and dictated a list of names he was to accuse—all black—and then they were rounded up. Some of them, I’m sure, were guilty as charged. Most of them took a plea bargain (another disgrace of our legal system; over 90% of all criminal cases in this country are resolved without trial, by a plea bargain, and in some cases the accused was innocent but could not afford years in jail waiting for trial), and at least one was completely innocent. Probably a lot more, but this movie tells the story of the one who dug in her heels and fought. It is terribly hard to fight a case like this. When you are arrested, your life stops. There is time for nothing else but the case, which can stretch out for years. If you are poor—and almost all defendants in this country are—you will get a public defender. Now, some PDs are dedicated souls, but even they (with a drink or two in them) will admit that almost all their clients are guilty. So why bother? It’s much easier to plead them out than to go to trial. PD offices are universally underfunded, nowhere worse than in Texas, where the scum of the bar are usually selected and paid a pittance. This movie has a more or less happy ending (though the corrupt DA, a piece of shit called John Paschall, is still in office, re-elected by his grateful white constituents), but if it doesn’t make you mad, there is something deeply wrong with you.