Thursday, February 5, 2009

That Old Gang of Mine

Did you even know that the Justice Department had a “National Gang Intelligence Center?” Almost sounds like a contradiction in terms, doesn't it? But yes, indeed, such a “center” exists, and they have come out with a most troubling finding, namely that “criminal gangs in the United States have swelled to an estimated 1 million members responsible for up to 80 percent of crimes in communities across the nation.” And what, pray tell, is the “daily bread” of these gangs? Why, drug dealing, of course! Now, do I have to mention, again, that this situation is the direct result of, not any sort of traditional concept of good vs. bad behavior, but obsessive and Puritanical policies of the government itself? These gangs – as unsavory as they may be – are only in business because of something the government declared illegal. The parallels with Prohibition are nearly perfect. You take something many people want, and which – truth be known – is not all that harmful in the aggregate, or can be made to be much less harmful with the proper supervision and treatment, and make it illegal, which immediately gives rise to a vast industry dedicated to the production and distribution of said thing, which in turn leads to violent confrontations, economic distortions, and... yes, many jobs in law enforcement. Aye, there's the rub! It always boils down to “jobs”, and someone's little (or not so little) bureaucratic empire, and the “War on Drugs” is no exception. And as usual, the drug enforcement “community” huffs and puffs about the “drug problem”, and the “crisis”, never permitting a single voice of dissent to ask what would happen if we just declared the “War on Drugs” a lost cause, and a bad idea to begin with, and gave it up. This, of course, is unthinkable – but so was repealing Prohibition, yet it happened – possibly the only thing FDR ever did right. (Now here's a chance for Obama to really make his mark! Yeah, I know -- forget about it, right?) Now, I'm not claiming that all “drugs” are harmless and benign, or that some of them can't lead to serious addiction and anti-social behavior. In this, they are no different from alcohol... or tobacco... or Big Macs. So re-define the “drug problem” as a public health problem if you like. Then it would be in line with other, similar problems that are at least dealt with in a semi-humane way without filling prisons to overflowing and turning millions of non-prisoners into lawbreakers. (And do I even have to mention the nexus between drugs and terrorism? Wonder if this ever occurred to Dick Cheney?)

Interestingly, the new drug gangs seem to consist largely of Hispanics, which recalls the rise of another low-ranking ethnic group during Prohibition days, namely the Italians. It's always the newest and the lowest who are drawn into these sorts of operations... and I imagine there will always be something for them to do. If it isn't drugs it will be something else. But we could at least reduce the severity of the situation, and stop the madness to some extent at least, by declaring “drugs” no longer a criminal matter.

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