Term Paper: Gangs Drugs and Violence

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Gangs, Drugs and Violence

Compartmentalized Legalization of Drugs: An Answer to Drug Related Gang Violence

Although there are a number of turbulent issues that plague the streets of inner cities throughout the United States of America, one of the most recurring and prevalent of those problems stems from the intrinsic link between gangs, drugs, and the violence that inevitably erupts with this lethal combination. The true source of this problem, of course, lies with the federal government, which is largely responsible for the importation and the allowance of illegal substances such as cocaine, heroin and angel dust, as well as of the many varieties of high-powered firearms that are used to enforce the trafficking of such product. Regardless of the true origin of this problem, there are a number of sources that can attest to the fact that this is in fact an issue of fairly epidemic proportions within the U.S. By examining various aspects of the nature of this dilemma, this paper will ultimately propose what appears as a highly viable solution in which this illegal trade and the explosion of violence by drug gangs responsible for the dissemination of this product is severely mitigated in the name of peaceful business and that most American of virtues: profit.

The propensity for inner city youth to become involved with gangs associated around the moving of illegal narcotics is virtually beyond dispute. This phenomenon is explored from a fairly personal perspective in "Overachievement in the Underground Economy: The Life Story of a Puerto Rican Stick-Up Artist in East Harlem." This document is primarily a case study in which the criminal activity of Tito Ortega, and his inexorable descent into a violent-fueled gang culture revolving around the usage and the sale of illegal street drugs, is detailed. The innate attraction of such youths to drugs is alluded to within the following quotation.

It was merely a matter of time, however, before the logic of the underground economy's most powerful money-making industry overwhelmed Tito. Being ambitious, he threw his lot in with the only growing equal opportunity employer for males in the U.S. inner city (Bourgois, 1997, p. 25).

That employer, of course, was drugs, and the author's description of these illicit substances is highly important. He terms illegal street drugs as the "only growing" employer of inner city males. This fact explains why gangs form and traffic these illegal substances -- since doing so is a guaranteed way of making money. Yet what Bourgois' quotation alludes to, but does not state, is the fairly routine amounts of violence that accompany employment in the street narcotics trade. Since the trafficking of such drugs is against the law, the laws of competition between competing sources of traffickers -- street gangs -- also utilizes methods that are decidedly countercultural and highly illegal to enforce notions of territory and profits.

Moreover, it is important to note that although street gangs that compete with one another for drug sales do so by violent means, they are merely actuating the different methods of competition that are inherently part of a capitalist society in an unconventional way. Competing with a rival business organization in itself is not illegal or even unheard of -- in fact it is necessary. However, pulling out an automatic weapon and attempting to shoot the head of a business rival is decidedly outside the laws of business and general civil rights. However, these are the means that drug gangs utilize to merely compete in their illicit business ventures "in which the game stands in for the violent and honor-bound world of feudalism…an allegory for life under capitalism" (Read, p.133), largely because those ventures are illicit. If there were a way in which the trafficking of street drugs could gain legal status, so that gangs could compete with one another in typical business measures that do not involve violence and do not break any laws, then this age-old dilemma between the destruction of inner-city people and their neighborhoods due to the confluence of gangs, drugs, and violence could virtually disappear.

In fact, there is a body of evidence that exists and suggests that this theory -- that the prohibition of illicit street drugs and other illegal street activity, such as prostitution, could lessen the impact of crime and reduce criminal activity -- is plausible. A look at comparatively low levels of criminal activity in Amsterdam, in which numerous forms of illegal drugs such as marijuana and hashish, as well as prostitution, is legalized, (Gilderbloom, Hanka, Lasley, 2008) indicates that a similar level of success could be obtained in the U.S. with a similar dissolution of the prohibition of these things. Yet perhaps one of the most compelling pieces of evidence that implies that the legalization of what has traditionally been illegal activities could actually help to dissipate some of the violence and criminal activity related to gangs and the trafficking of drugs is found within Home Box Office's television series the Wire, which aired from 2002 until 2008. Early on in the show's history, the rationale behind a legalization of disputed illegal product such as drugs was unveiled and alluded to, which the following quotation demonstrates.

Detective Jim McNulty… argues "Everything else in this country gets sold without people shooting each other behind it"…Later D'Angelo repeats McNulty's description to his underlings in "the Pit," modifying it slightly: "Shit, everything else in the world gets sold without people taking advantage. Scamming, lying, doing each other dirty. Why does it got to be that way with this?" (Read, p. 125).

But as the television program would go on to demonstrate, things did not have to be "that way" with "this" -- the latter of which was, of course, the illegal drug trade. Due to the willingness of Baltimore's East District Police Major Howard "Bunny" Colvin, the drug gang that was primarily chronicled within the Wire, the Barksdale family is allowed to set-up an area in that part of the city in which the police would monitor the sales of illicit street drugs, yet not make any arrests for the trafficking or purchasing of such substances. In effect, this willful negligence on the part of Colvin was responsible for setting up a Red Light District of sorts within East Baltimore that represented a virtual overturn of the prohibition on the very drugs that gangs have traditionally enacted the most violence against one another for, due to the inherent laws of competition within a capitalist society.

The results of what was nicknamed "Hamsterdam" in the Wire were fairly stunning. Criminal activity was greatly reduced in this particular section of East Baltimore, especially because of the fact that police would severely punish any criminal offenders for violence -- but not for drug trafficking. Overall, the television show depicted a significant decrease in the amount of criminal activity, as various drug gangs were able to peacefully compete with one another since doing so was effectively legal. Another fairly tangible boon was the fact that the decreased criminal activity also helped to facilitate greater access of social services and health services to at-risk populations within the borders of this district. The following quotation attests to the veracity of both of these benefits of the legalization of illicit drugs, and suggests how a nationwide implementation of this model could yield the same effects.

Stringer finds an unlikely ally in Police Major Howard Bunny Colvin. Stringer admires Colvin's "Hamsterdam" experiment not for its effect on the quality of life in West Baltimore or for its effect on crime statistics, but because it emulates the ideal of drugs as business, removing crime for the picture (Read, p.132).

In terms of the implementation of a legalized zone within major urban areas in which traditionally illicit street drugs are no longer unlawful to traffic, purchase or use, the methodology employed in the Wire would serve as a model. Specifically, the areas in which drugs and prostitution would be lawful would only encompass a finite number of city blocks in an effort to circumscribe the area in which such activity is permissible. One of the most eminent reasons for such a restricted section of a particular inner city utilized for the legalization of the sale and usage of drugs has to do with the some of the less controllable circumstances associated with such a policy. On the one hand, areas such as Amsterdam and the designation of "Hamsterdam" in the Wire indicate that the employment of such a policy is sure to positively address the violence associated with gangs trafficking narcotics. What is less certain, and a potential negative consequence of creating "Hamsterdam" within most inner cities is the effect upon the drug users themselves. The following quotation elucidates some of these concerns that would inevitably worsen in the case of the legalization of street narcotics.

"one discerns two distinct battlegrounds for… debate: a philosophy/morality terrain…the former encompasses disparate concerns about the message that legalization would send to children, for example, and the debate over the extent and legitimacy… [END OF PREVIEW]

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