Guest Article on Violence and Safety
End the Drug War, Make the World Safer
We are pleased to present this thoughtful end-of-year message from our friends at drcnet.org
by David BordenAs we approach the end of a year scarred by violence, it is good to reflect on what steps can be taken, short-term and long, global and local, to make the world a safer place. There are doubtless many answers to that question, many pieces to that puzzle. All of them should be debated and discussed, and with urgency.
Executive Director of DRCNet
My organization has since our outset espoused the seemingly radical, yet in reality purely logical and entirely sensible, idea that ending criminal prohibition of drugs would make a major difference in reducing violence and promoting social well-being. Replacing the dangerous and chaotic illicit street trade in drugs with a regulated, legal market; and stemming the hundreds of billions of dollars flowing every year to the criminal underground and its frequently unsavory, sometimes terroristic participants; these are only two of the many ways that ending prohibition will make the world a safer, healthier place.
A tragic shooting in Austin, Texas last week illustrates a third type of violence engendered by drug prohibition, a violence wrought by the government itself -- unintentionally, in most cases, but utterly expectedly, again and again. Antonio Martinez, age 19, was sleeping on the couch in his friends' trailer home when a 12-person SWAT team stormed the trailer full of adults and children, setting off a flash grenade and battering down the door without warning. The unarmed Martinez woke only momentarily and sat up before a sheriff's deputy shot him in the chest.
Martinez is a victim of our government's drug war. Doubtless the deputy who shot him didn't go there intending to commit murder. But Martinez died just as suddenly as the people working on certain floors of the World Trade Center when the planes hit. And though some drugs were found -- not Martinez's -- there were none of the weapons that police claimed to be present when they obtained their no-knock search warrant to enter the trailer.
Equally important, no net reduction of the drug supply in Austin or anywhere else was achieved. That's just not how markets work. Illicit drug suppliers, like grocery suppliers, anticipate that some of their goods will be lost -- seized in the case of drugs, spoiled in the case of fruits or vegetables -- so they grow or manufacture or ship a quantity equal to their estimated total of consumer demand plus lost product. The drug traffickers, in fact, have better information with which to make such calculations than anyone else can perform about the drug trade. And unlike fruits or vegetables, illegal drugs have an enormous profit margin, and their vendors can afford to absorb their losses without raising prices if doing so would adversely affect their profits.
In the aggregate, then, the modest amount of cocaine and methamphetamine seized from the trailer, along with all other seizures, had been anticipated, and thus effectively neutralized, weeks if not months before the police arrived, by simple business planning. There's no particular shipment or stash that you can point to as its replacement, but rather the certainty that the consumers or middlemen who would have used it have subsequently purchased their drugs from other suppliers. Which means that the government killed Antonio Martinez for nothing, a fate perpetrated upon numerous such drug war victims since our bloody prohibition began early last century.
So what, in the drug policy sphere, can be done in the short- and long-term, globally and locally, to make our neighborhoods, our cities, our world and nation safer? It's too late to expect prohibition to end in 2001 (though one can dream), and obviously the struggle we face is a lengthy one. For the long-term, we must continue to raise awareness of the consequences of prohibition, to advocate this logical, sensible, humane idea that prohibition should be ended, in our communities, in our social and professional circles, with legislators and in the media.
In the short-term, we must chip away at the drug war edifice from all sides. Ending no-knock drug raids in the great majority of cases, as Texan civil liberties advocates are suggesting in the wake of the Martinez tragedy, would be one good reform to drug war policing, and the morality and common sense of such a measure would be clear to many. There are many other partial steps for which to fight:
Reducing the draconian drug sentences; opening up medical use of medical marijuana and rationalizing controls over prescription pain relievers; permitting needle exchange programs and over-the-counter syringe sales; deregulating methadone maintenance and instituting heroin and other drug maintenance; ending the ridiculous and destructive international coca and opium eradication programs; repealing the drug offender financial aid ban; reining in out-of-control zero-tolerance drug policies; limiting asset forfeiture and restoring weakened constitutional rights; and many more.
And we can keep alive the names and stories of Antonio Martinez -- and Andres Dorismond, and Accelyne Williams, and Peter McWilliams, and countless others -- in the coming year and for years to come, so that they won't have died for naught, but for the lives and safety and freedom of others. And when that time comes, and the world awakes to its foolishness and ends its drug war, we will know that we did our part.
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