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Even after it became apparent that heterosexuals could contract the disease through blood transfusions and heterosexual intercourse, HIV/AIDS continued to be associated primarily with the gay community, especially by political and religious conservatives. Indeed, the Religious Right regarded it as a form of divine retribution meant to punish gay men for their “immoral” lifestyle. President Reagan, always politically careful, was reluctant to speak openly about the developing crisis even as thousands faced certain death from the disease.

With little help coming from the government, the gay community quickly began to organize its own response. In 1982, New York City men formed the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), a volunteer organization that operated an information hotline, provided counseling and legal assistance, and raised money for people with HIV/AIDS. Larry Kramer, one of the original members, left in 1983 and formed his own organization, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), in 1987. ACT UP took a more militant approach, holding demonstrations on Wall Street, outside the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and inside the New York Stock Exchange to call attention and shame the government into action. One of the images adopted by the group, a pink triangle paired with the phrase “Silence = Death,” captured media attention and quickly became the symbol of the AIDS crisis ( [link] ).

A graphic features a pink triangle on a black background. At the bottom are the words “SILENCE = DEATH.”
The pink triangle was originally used in Nazi concentration camps to identify those there for acts of homosexuality. Reclaimed by gay activists in New York as a symbol of resistance and solidarity during the 1970s, it was further transformed as a symbol of governmental inaction in the face of the AIDS epidemic during the 1980s.

The war on drugs and the road to mass incarceration

As Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, violent crime in the United States was reaching an all-time high. While there were different reasons for the spike, the most important one was demographics: The primary category of offenders, males between the ages of sixteen and thirty-six, reached an all-time peak as the baby-boomer generation came of age. But the phenomenon that most politicians honed in on as a cause for violent crime was the abuse of a new, cheap drug dealt illegally on city streets. Crack cocaine, a smokable type of cocaine popular with poorer addicts, was hitting the streets in the 1980s, frightening middle-class Americans. Reagan and other conservatives led a campaign to “get tough on crime” and promised the nation a “ war on drugs    .” Initiatives like the “Just Say No” campaign led by First Lady Nancy Reagan implied that drug addiction and drug-related crime reflected personal morality.

Nixon had first used the term in 1971, but in the 1980s the “war on drugs” took on an ominous dimension, as politicians scrambled over each other to enact harsher sentences for drug offenses so they could market themselves as tough on crime. State after state switched from variable to mandatory minimum sentences that were exceedingly long and particularly harsh for street drug crimes. The federal government supported the trend with federal sentencing guidelines and additional funds for local law enforcement agencies. This law-and-order movement peaked in the 1990s, when California introduced a “three strikes” law that mandated life imprisonment without parole for any third felony conviction—even nonviolent ones. As a result, prisons became crowded, and states went deep into debt to build more. By the end of the century, the war began to die down as the public lost interest in the problem, the costs of the punishment binge became politically burdensome, and scholars and politicians began to advocate the decriminalization of drug use. By this time, however, hundreds of thousands of people had been incarcerated for drug offenses and the total number of prisoners in the nation had grown four-fold in the last quarter of the century. Particularly glaring were the racial inequities of the new age of mass incarceration, with African Americans being seven times more likely to be in prison ( [link] ).

A graph labeled “Incarcerated Americans, 1920–2012” shows, in millions, the numbers of people incarcerated in prison, jail, or juvenile detention facilities. The numbers trend slightly upward from 1920–1980 and then climb steeply.
This graph of the number of people in jail, prison, and juvenile detention by decade in the United States shows the huge increase in incarceration during the war on drugs that began in the 1980s, during the Reagan administration. (Prisons are long-term state or federal facilities; jails are local, short-term facilities.)

Section summary

The political conservatism of the 1980s and 1990s was matched by the social conservatism of the period. Conservative politicians wished to limit the size and curb the power of the federal government. Conservative think tanks flourished, the Christian Right defeated the ERA, and bipartisan efforts to add warning labels to explicit music lyrics were the subject of Congressional hearings. HIV/AIDS, which became chiefly and inaccurately associated with the gay community, grew to crisis proportions, as heterosexuals and the federal government failed to act. In response, gay men organized advocacy groups to fight for research on HIV/AIDS. Meanwhile, the so-called war on drugs began a get-tough trend in law enforcement that mandated lengthy sentences for drug-related offenses and hugely increased the American prison population.

Questions & Answers

Which plan resolved the issue of representation for the U.S. Constitution?
Nichole Reply
Which of the primary features of grassroots Progressivism was the most essential to the continued growth
Ren Reply
who invented the comedy movie without soun
Sami Reply
Comedy in film ad early as 1895 in film by Louis Lumier. Utilized slapstick.
Victor
which of the following is not one of the tasks women performed during the revolution?
Donna Reply
Women were gen not involved in politics or combat
Victor
Which country etablished the first colonies in the americas
Alex Reply
which part of the America's? what year?
Kyle
Jamestown = England. if I had to guess that's the one you are looking for
Kyle
Spain. area of new Mexico I think.
Christie
the first encounter with Americans in this te Indian was Christopher Columbus from spain bt he not establish a colony and the first colony was Britain in Jamestown I think
Bernard
Spain, first settlement was La Navidad est on Columbus' first voyage and which was destroyed by natives by 1493. on subsequent voyages of Columbus and others, Spain colonized Carribean islands such as Cuba.
Victor
in what ways did westward expansion provide new opportunities for women and african americans?\
cavausier Reply
Women were involved in establishing communities. They did a lot of work in turning roughboomtowns into more civilized places that had all the benefits of such. The West was characterized by greater freedom for women e.g. women were first granted suffrage in Wyoming and other Western states.
Victor
What source did the Roman Catholic church have
robbie Reply
Please clarify: do you mean what sources do they made their authority on?
Victor
impact of coming of Portuguese in kenya
Brian Reply
impact of coming of portuguese
Brian
impact of coming of portuguese
Brian
introduced new crops, disrupted local trade and communication, introduced Christianity but had limited success converting locals
Victor
What was the first problem that Franklin Roosevelt dealt with during his "First Hundred Days"?
Bryan Reply
The Great Depression
wy
worst cover up! they should feel dumb! they we're trapped in, on both sides of the East and West borders of the Islamic forces, Columbus was desperate and started voyage due to the events of his time!
Abdul
The Banking Crisis
Victor
a better word for Columbus is "determined" not "desperate."
Victor
Which of the following protests was directly related to federal policies, and thus had the biggest impact in creating a negative public perception of Hoover presidency
Steven Reply
the Bonus Army
Victor
what mistakes did Britain mak the lost them the colonies
Victor Reply
tax without representation
JOE'S
they did not give the colinies any representation
Victor
they also imposed taxes ,such as the stamp Act, on those it is unwise to offend; lawyers, business men and other men of influence
Victor
the american revolution
Angelica Reply
what started the American revolution
Futuremfan
immediate cause: British tried to seize weapons stored by local militia which led to a confrontation
Victor
the British handling of the situation was quite inept and they allowed things to escalate out of control.
Victor
hi...can you state benefit of U.S constitution
Chimi Reply
bill of rights
Tom
it provided a political framework which provifed stability while at the same time permitting freedoms which allowed the American people to flourish
Victor
bill spelled out rights so there wpuld be no confusion
Victor
Among the major cause of American civil war, can I have a brief account on social cause?
Rinchen Reply
The issue of slavery between South America and North America that lead to the American Civil War
Sanusi
not sure what you mean by "social" causes. Do you mean things like differences between Northern ers & southerners?
Victor
The N & S developed very differently. This led to clashing outlooks and agendas. Slavery was the "irepressible conflict" that made compromise impossible.
Victor
what was the purpose of Operation Valkyrie?
Matthew Reply
I have no idea
Sanusi
that was the WWII attempt by German officers to overthrow Hitler.
Victor

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Source:  OpenStax, U.s. history. OpenStax CNX. Jan 12, 2015 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11740/1.3
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