Friday, May 4, 2007

The Occupation Of America

America’s urban centers are under siege. They have been for a number of years. They are just as much under siege as any other occupied city in the world. Our cities are war zones complete with their own sectarian violence. There is another war we are losing, but this war no one talks about.

In 1971, a war was declared by then President Richard Nixon. The war was the “War on Drugs”. The goal of this war was “to interfere with the production and distribution of a substance to the extent that the cost to the end user exceeds the value of the product, resulting in a widespread discontinuation of use”. This sounds pretty straight forward and seems a worthy goal. In other words, we want to make using drugs so expensive that few if anyone will want to use them. Every President since Nixon has signed on to the theory that the “abuse of illicit substances is America’s public enemy number one.” We now even have a “Drug Czar” to prosecute this war.

When this war was declared I was in high school and at that time most drugs were either too difficult or too expensive to get save marijuana. The cost of an eighth of an ounce of cocaine (better known as an eight ball) was between $300-$350. Today after 36 years of the “war on drugs” that same eight ball is available on most corners in America for less than $100. Not only has the price gone down, but the purity has gone up. This price phenomenon is true for all the most prevalent drugs being used today, except of course those being sold to Medicaid. No one will admit it, but the war on drugs has had the reverse of its intended effect. So rather than lowering drug usage, it has in fact increased drug usage.

The cost of carrying on this war has been astronomical in terms of financial and human cost. The federal government estimated that the cost in the year 2005 alone was 12 billion dollars to wage this war. This does not include the cost to incarcerate the offenders (which averages about 1 million Americans a year), more than a quarter of whom are for simple marijuana possession at a cost of 30 billion dollars. It also does not include the cost of police protection (9.1 billion), the court costs (4.5 billion), and the cost of federal and state corrections (11 billion). For the year of 1995, the estimated cost was about 45 billion dollars for these other factors.

Then of course there is the human cost. The United States has a higher proportion of its citizens incarcerated than any other country in the world. Think about that for a minute, the country that is to represent freedom and democracy in the world has more people locked up than any other. The majority of whom are for drug arrests and the majority of them are people of color. There have been untold millions of families who have been torn apart or destroyed because of a simple drug possession charge. Many of those arrested are young men of color, who then become convicted felons which will greatly reduce any chance they may have for a productive life. Our current drug policy is creating a permanent underclass. To make matters worse these drug laws are not being written or prosecuted equally across racial lines.

In a war you must have an army to carry out the operations against the enemy. We have militarized our police forces. They no longer police our streets they are now like occupying armies complete with armored vehicles, helicopters, and assault weapons and tactics. As a result there is no longer policing of our neighborhoods; instead we have paramilitary operations aimed at the under-class of our society. We have, due to the feelings of alienation from being occupied and oppressed, people who no longer trust or appreciate those sworn to protect them. We now have young men killing indiscriminately not only one another, but anyone unfortunate enough to get caught in the crossfire. In an effort to get quick results we have targeted the symptom and not the problems for drug abuse.

Drug usage is a problem in human nature. People have always used drugs and always will; no government at any time or place has ever been able to control human nature. All we have to do is look at alcohol and tobacco consumption and how the government’s efforts to control them have worked. What is the answer to the drug problem? I don’t know, but I know if this were the war in Iraq we would be discussing a redeployment strategy.

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