Here we go again. The new year dawned in Hartford a week ago with a double homicide on Francis Avenue in Parkville, normally a pretty quiet street. One of the two suspects, 20-year-old Jose Medina, was caught after a harrowing car chase with a sizable stash of heroin and other drugs in his car.
It's not yet known if the slayings were, in the all-too-common phrase, "drug-related," but lethal violence around illegal drugs has been a scourge of Hartford for more than three decades. Despite the best efforts of two generations of police officers as well as prosecutors and others, it continues.
Although overall crime numbers are down somewhat, the specter of violence inhibits growth and economic development. For example, a New Jersey developer bought and rehabbed 10 handsome apartment buildings on Bedford Street in the North End, spending more than $5 million, but has had all kinds of trouble renting them because of drugs and related gunplay in the area.
The "war on drugs" approach hasn't worked, at staggering cost. Is there another way to stop this insanity?
A couple of days before the Parkville shootings, a once-prominent Hartford crime figure, Anthony "Tony" Volpe, cashed out his chips. In an eloquent obituary, The Courant's Ed Mahony reported that Volpe once presided over illegal gambling and related activities, but "at the end, there was little over which to preside." The mob's illegal gambling business was eviscerated by legal gambling.
Which raises this question — could the same thing happen with drugs?
The author, linguist and political commentator John McWhorter thinks so. In a recent The New Republic blog post (http://bit.ly/eXcs2T and well worth your time), McWhorter, who is African American, argues that ending the war on drugs would improve lives in urban black communities and the country at large.
The crux of his persuasive argument is this: "If there were no way to sell drugs on the street at a markup, then young black men who drift into this route would instead have to get legal work. They would. Those insisting that they would not have about as much faith in human persistence and ingenuity as those who thought women past their five-year welfare cap would wind up freezing on sidewalk grates."
Making drugs available in clinics or by prescription would eliminate in a generation what McWhorter calls the "black problem" or 'black malaise" in America. There would be a new black (in Hartford we might infer Latino as well) community in which all able-bodied men had legal work.
In this community, "young black men, much less likely to wind up in prison cells or caskets, would be a constant presence — and thus stay in the lives of their children. The black male community would no longer include a massive segment of underskilled, drug-addicted ex-cons churning in and out by the thousands year after year, and thus black boys growing up in these communities would not see this life as a norm. They would grow up to get jobs, period."
And these boys would not grow up with a bone-deep sense of the police — and thus whites — as an enemy.
They would stay in school, which "is a prime reason the War on Drugs must end. It tears poor black communities to pieces. Not only by flooding them with police — but by encouraging bright young black people to work the black market and lending it an air of heroism."
If you'd like the same message with a British accent, McWhorter directs us to England's former top drug official, Bob Ainsworth. He recently came out for replacing "our failed war on drugs with a strict system of legal regulation, to make the world a safer, healthier place, especially for our children. We must take the trade away from organized criminals and hand it to the control of doctors and pharmacists."
The illegal drug trade doesn't just cripple American cities. It bankrolls international terrorism and has turned parts of Mexico into war zones. The whole thing is crazy. What other crime has an organization of police officers, judges and prosecutors, such as Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, working for its repeal?
The failed war on drugs has cost Hartford and Connecticut a bloody fortune, and hasn't worked. Well, the city and the state now have extreme budget difficulties. Now is the time to try something different. In mid-March, Leadership Greater Hartford and others will sponsor a forum on this topic, which I will moderate, with the goal of really making a change in drug policy. I'll keep you posted on time and place.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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