I’ve been thinking a lot about crime and violence lately, because it’s clear that it’s coming back to New Orleans. This point was made in dramatic fashion Saturday morning, when five teenage boys were murdered. The story is making international news but it’s indicative of a problem that’s been plaguing urban America for decades. It’s in all our cities, but in New Orleans it has been just about the worst.
Sometimes a mugging will get violent, and that’s always big news here, but the vast majority of our violent crimes are related to the drug trade, and were so frequent pre-Katrina that they often didn’t make the front page.
When I mention “drug trade” it might conjure images of deranged addicts, so let me be clear: These slayings are about drug money and drug “turf” and the blood feuds that arise from these issues.
If you live in the inner city, this is an undeniable truth: The black market for drugs is lucrative, violent and unstoppable — and attractive to disadvantaged youth.
I know in my heart that the vast majority of violent crime would go away if we got rid of the black market in drugs. Anyone who lives in New Orleans could tell you that.
People have always done drugs and prohibition doesn’t work. The only way to end this reign of terror is to legalize drugs and destroy the black market.
But we can’t do that, because it’s a matter of federal law. People outside of the inner cities tend to have a different perspective on the drug trade. I’m afraid racism raises its ugly head here: Too many suburbanites regard violence as the curse of racial and ethnic minorities. It’s something that happens to “those people” in the inner city, and it’s tragic, but that’s their lot in life.
If we legalized drugs, I do believe drug abuse would escalate somewhat, for a while. But I also believe violent crime would plummet. In the long term, relatively benign “soft” drugs would become more popular than the more harmful “hard” drugs which are so lucrative for criminals now. Ultimately, society would be better off.
I never could have understood this so clearly if I hadn’t moved to the inner city. The rest of the country, non-urban America, will never let us end prohibition. They certainly don’t want their sons and daughters having easier access to illicit drugs.
So what can we do to end this madness?