Movie review: 'House I Live In' questions the war on drugs


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Editor's note: "The House I Live In," the Harris Theater audience award winner from the 2012 Three Rivers Film Festival, returns Friday to the Harris. This review first appeared Nov. 1, during the festival.

Eugene Jarecki's documentary, "The House I Live In" (3 stars, no MPAA rating), advances the notion that the war on drugs has never been about drugs.

It's about sidelining immigrants and minorities, a White House initiative that seesawed from treatment to law enforcement, mandatory minimum sentences even some judges consider unfair (crack cocaine carries harsher penalties than powder cocaine), families torn asunder, the way the pursuit of drugs and drug money has changed how police officers do their jobs, and how dealers win friends and influence future sellers.

Longtime journalist David Simon, known for creating HBO's "The Wire," calls the drug war a "holocaust in slow motion" with destruction of human life that is class, not race, based. Yet he gets why people sell drugs.

"To go down to a drug corner in the inner city is the rational act of somebody going to work for the only company that exists in a company town. That is the only economy that's functioning" in some parts of the country.

Mr. Jarecki puts many faces on the war on drugs, from his family's onetime housekeeper whose addict-son died of AIDS and the chief of security at an Oklahoma corrections center to an expert on the history of drug laws and the author of "The New Jim Crow."

Whatever the reasons, Mr. Jarecki reports that since 1971, the war on drugs has cost more than a trillion dollars and produced more than 45 million arrests. And yet, illegal drug use remains unchanged.

What might have been a shrill screed is, instead, thoughtful, even-measured and a call to action although with no quick or easy fixes in immediate sight.

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