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?
i think the reason the ‘drug trade’ appeals to disadvantaged youth is for a couple of reasons.
1. you are your own boss (no answering to a white manager at mcdonalds)
2. work your own hours.
3. quick money.
4. social notoriety (everyone knows who you are)
5. it’s relatively easy, drugs pretty much sell themselves.
with fast money, it’s easy to live the ‘bling bling’ lifestyle that so many of them see on MTV.
The truth is that there is no easy answer to the drug problem that troubles our world. Making it legal would simply put the money into the hands of the corporate world, or the government. It would then make it legal to smoke crack, shoot up heroin, u name it. Kind of a quandry isn’t it?
It is my feeling that legalizing drugs will not necessarily put an end to the black market, or for sure it wouldn’t immediately put an end to it, until the legal drugs proved themselves superior in price and quality. And as much as we accept the apparent fact that all these killings are about drug turf or are somehow drug related (which on one level they most certainly are) I do not think the turf thing or the drugs themselves are at the core of why the kids are killing each other. That said, I don’t know what to do about it, but I have spent many hours thinking about what to do about it. I think to begin with though, it would be beneficial, as hard as it is, to not distance ourselves from the obvious evil that these killings represent, and even though some of these kids truly are write offs, that we don’t in our hearts write them off, and realize that no matter who it is that brings these kids into the world, the kids themselves, at the beginning of their lives, are not evil, and therefore save-able. Perhaps we all need to be more involved in community programs, or start our own. I feel pretty certain that shaking our heads or blaming the parents or blaming anyone or anything, is getting us nowhere. As for my long advocating of bringing in the National Guard to beef up our police force/military presence, I guess we have plenty of evidence to suggest that military solutions to apparent problems create as many problems as they may solve. So tonight anyway, I am against that solution. I don’t know, B, I guess if there were an easy solution we would have long ago fixed it. This rate of homicide has been going on for almost thirty years in New Orleans.
I disagree that it won’t happen. I think that some legalization will happen sooner, rather than later, for the reasons you cite as well as for the fact that eventually the tax revenues that legalization would generate will become impossible to resist. Great post, B.
You’re right. Race does play a big part in the drug issue. When folks outside New Orleans tell me they’d be afraid to live here I tell them that most murders are drug related and I don’t believe violent crime (sometimes related to drugs) is a bigger problem here than in most big cities. However, when those who tend to be racist outside New Orleans hear about such things, they will be less likely to help out this chocolate city.
This weekend, I experienced the strongest feelings of wanting to leave this wonderful place than I’ve ever had. It’s probably due to the violence–interesting Oliver Thomas is having a press conference today…where’s C Ray?– and the fact that it’s too damn hot to really go out and do anything right now.
Black on Black drug related violence is directly related to Southern Baptist (in particular) morality. I’m not referring to everyone who practices adult baptism and lives in the south, but to the hypocrisy of people who can “forgive” a “good man” if he goes “bad” once in a while, but who hate and fear those who cater to the “good” man’s “bad” needs. This is an old, old American institution wherein “we” are decent and God fearing but subject to the occasional slip, while “they” are lazy and vicious and prey upon our weakness. First we corral Black youth into taking care of the day to day running of our drug trade, then we despise them for it. To maintain the appearance of propriety, this relationship must remain illegal.
I can’t pretend to know the root causes of crime, but I do know that New Orleans is a place where failed urban policies let social pathology fester. A failed criminal-justice and public-education system helped perpetuate a large underclass, mostly black, as the city’s productive class, white and black, dwindled.
New Orleans’s poor population includes a sizable underclass. Before Katrina struck, fully 10 percent of New Orleanians lived either in public housing or Section 8 housing, far above the rates in Houston or New York. Only 36 percent of New Orleans’s adults were married and more than half of mothers were unmarried. In some New Orleans neighborhoods, only a quarter of the children lived with married parents. More than two-thirds of female-headed black households lived in poverty. Though many of New Orleans’s underclass had moved from idleness into low-wage, tourist-trade jobs over the past decade, thanks to federal welfare reform and an abundance of such work in the city, their family structures and social skills hadn’t improved along with this fledgling work ethic. The concentration of weak families partly explains why the city endured some of the nation’s highest violent-crime rates.
And now the situation is bleaker than ever. What little social structure existed pre-Katrina has been shattered in the post-K era among the at risk population. The National Guard troops coming to town are just a band aid on a festering wound that will take decades to heal.
The bottom line is that if New Orleans does not get a handle on its crime problem, the city will never recover from Katrina.
I think everything B is writing about could be applied nearly anywhere in the US. Rural Maine is scourged by painkiller addiction, and most of the midwest and south has meth. The amount of violence may differ, but narcotics is the main reason why so many people are jailed. I was in a volunteer group that visited prisoners in a rural Maine jail, and EVERYONE I met over a year there was in there for dwi or drug-related offenses. 98% white.
Depressingly, I cannot see any steps towards legalization happening in most places in the US in my lifetime. Too many groups have too much at stake politically.
– Suburban and rural conservative communities can pin social and economic inequalities on drugs and “cultural” differences alone rather than on, well, social and economic factors. I read a lot of conservative blogs – they often like history when it is Winston Churchill, the Crusades, and the Reformation, but don’t care for reading up on fun recent developments like de-industrialization, civil rights, and white flight.
To understand the blights that face urban communities in the US, you have to understand the dynamics of white flight and the decline of industry in the US. They don’t explain everything, but they do explain an awful lot. Two new books – Kevin Krause “White Flight” (on Atlanta) and Matthew Lassiter “Silent Majority” (on opposition to desegregation in Atlanta and Charlotte) are fascinating, as is Robert Self’s “American Babylon” (on segregation and suburban politics in Oakland). Why is the narcotics trade so violent in urban areas as opposed to the suburbs? Lack of economic options sure seems like one reason…
– Demonizing inner cities and poor rural communities allows fairly well-off people to shove narcotics issues on to working class people without confronting massive narcotics use in their own communities. I can’t back this up, but my gut feeling is that jail rates and violence associated with drugs is much lower in the suburbs and in wealthy areas for the most part, even though narcotics are in my experience as popular in more affluent areas as in poorer ones.
– Its way easier to sell dumping even more money into law enforcement and the booming prison business than it is to push for social policies that may involve even a hint of redistribution (higher taxes). Look at all the hoo-ha about the estate tax – which only affects people with 2 MILLION or more dollars, with tons of loopholes for small and mid-size business owners.
– “You’re surrendering our children to the coke dealer killers.” That’s what someone pushing for drug legalization is going to have jabbed at them as soon as they run for office.
– As many middle and upper class households seek to escape the supposed evils of public schools and the dangers of the government, it is easy for them to clamor for more jails and more law enforcement cash that they believe will protect them than programs that will reach communities that they view as inferior and isolated from themselves. Many seem to want guarded communities free from government interference whose protection is paid for by taxpayers.
– Harsh drug laws bring in lots of cash for law enforcement and local government, too.
There’s way too big a political payoff to keep things as they are for a lot of groups to allow drug legalization to even be seriously considered.
The war on drugs is a war, and war is good for the profiteers.
I authorize $25,000 per year to be withdrawn from my account for incarceration expenses. I will NOT pay for your strategic requirement of institutionalization. This is something YOU require for YOUR positioning and YOU should have to pay for it.
I wonder if their fear of inarceration is borne from their refusal to address black disfavor on a macro level. The ruling species abuse black people so hard, from the crack epiemic to gang membership, black-on-black violence and mass incarceration of their young.
They refuse to address the issue of the prison industrial complex and its wholesale warehousing of young black men.