Recently Rolling Stone magazine had an article titled “War On Drugs” or “How America Lost the War on Drugs”. The article went through the usual statistics showing how our tactics aren’t working and that we have “lost” this war. As proof, they cite that the number of Americans behind bars on drug charges has increased from 41,000 in 1980 to 493,800 in 2003 (and presumably more in 2007).
The point of this post isn’t whether or not you are “for” or “against” the war on drugs – that is done to death at a million other places. The purpose is to look at the situation from an entirely different angle…
Out of these 493,800 offenders behind bars, how many were “casual users” caught in a net of enforcement (run a red light, get stopped for having drug paraphernalia, go to jail) and how many were gang members selling or transporting drugs for resale? Um… while Rolling Stone is definitely catering to the casual user and happily points out those (relatively) few individuals caught in the dragnet I would estimate that the vast, vast majority of these almost 500,000 in jail are actually gang members trafficking or selling drugs.
To Rolling Stone magazine, these offenders are “lost souls” who took some sort of wrong turn and are just languishing in prison due to our society’s rigid and unrealistic moralistic stance. But for our “drug wars”, these would be fine, upstanding individuals presumably designing rockets somewhere and volunteering in schools.
Not so. The key elements are KNOWLEDGE and INTENT. Everyone of these individuals in jail, whether they thought they’d be convicted or not, knew that selling drugs was against the law. Even on the talk shows no one ever says “but I didn’t know it was against the law…”. The second element is intent – they consciously went down the criminal path to make money, choosing this route instead of some legitimate path (i.e. getting a job).
If you look at it that way, we have 493,000 (I dropped the 800 or so casual users caught in a net) criminals in jail that would have been doing some sort of other criminal act if not for our “war on drugs”. What sort of criminal act? Well, something to make money, so that would likely be armed robbery, home invasion, car theft, or even murder for hire.
Instead of having them break down doors and hold up innocent citizens, we have them selling drugs to people choosing to risk their necks in bad neighborhoods who are basically hurting only themselves. They do terrorize citizens in their battles for territory but they’d be doing this anyways, but instead of fighting over drug corners they’d be fighting for the ability to extort, rob and terrorize in their geographic area.
And how is this all chronicled? In hip hop, of course. Listen to one of a million songs about hustlin’ and you never hear “I didn’t know it was illegal” or “I didn’t mean to sell drugs” – they know and intend to break the law and if it wasn’t this it would be something else. As it has been most memorably summarized, “Get rich or die trying”.
These criminals in jail are just that; criminals. If not for drugs, they’d be doing something else illegal to raise cash. They aren’t “victims of circumstance”; they in fact are taking advantage of our society’s moral position on drugs (vs. alcohol, for instance) to make money illicitly.
Posted at LIGTM