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I see a different drug war now

By John Humphrey, November Coalition leader

When I first became involved with drug policy reform, it was from a Libertarian, Cognitive Liberty, abstract perspective, and the statistics related to gang violence were just that-statistics-no bearing on my own life whatsoever.

All that changed when I moved to 6th and Broadway in Venice, California. There was a drive-by shooting the first night I moved in. Since then, almost three years ago, there have been probably a dozen drug/gang-related murders within three blocks from where I sleep. At first I was scared. Was I at risk? When I ride my bike home at night, and pass by crack dealers on the corner, am I in danger? I love living by the beach, but it certainly wouldn't be worth risking my life.

I bought a scanner and began to monitor police activity whenever I heard shots fired. Over time I came to understand that all the gun violence was gang/drug related, usually gang on gang or even within one gang. Occasionally a buyer would be killed- once for passing counterfeit hundreds, and another time for not paying off his debt.

Then there was the case of Jim Richards. Jim was a former organizer of the Guardian Angels - a big time Neighborhood Watch type guy with an aggressive 'let's clean up the neighborhood' attitude. He published an e-zine called the Neighborhood News. It was the best source for police type neighborhood info because Jim had friends at Pacific Division.

Because he slept with a scanner turned on next to his bed, Jim was often the first person at the scene of a crime. Somewhere along the way Jim 'stepped over a line,' and about a year and a half ago he was gunned down in his driveway. I heard the shots. Two guns emptied.

A year went by with no arrests, and then I read that over 20 people had been indicted through the Federal system on charges related to Richard's murder. Being familiar with the drug conspiracy laws, I imagined some kind of big time snitch-out was going on and that, yes, justice would be served, whether or not they caught the actual perpetrators. And it seemed the neighborhood breathed a collective sigh of relief, except for the black and brown mothers who wondered why the investigations of their murdered sons were not going anywhere.

The neighborhood did get a little quieter for a while, and the real estate 'sharks' continued their agenda of re-marketing 'the hood' as 'the last chance to own by the beach!' In only a few months business is back all the way (white customers in late model SUVs and BMWs primarily). A load of new dealers 'fresh out of the joint' are on the corner, and the sound of gunfire is once again common.

I was out of town for a weekend, but when I got home my neighbors told me about a shooting on Sunday. They didn't know much more than that someone was killed about a block down our street. Los Angeles' authorities have switched to an all-digital police radio system, and you can't get any info from the scanners anymore. No one can get any information from the police, and the newspapers seldom cover such stories anymore. It's like it's not happening at all.

It's happening for sure. Yesterday, while on my bicycle riding to the post office, a woman called me to the curb and in tears asked me if I knew anything about a shooting last Sunday. She was with another woman and a man. They were probably in their late 50s. It turned out they were the parents and aunt of the man who was shot. They had brought candles and a crucifix and were making a little shrine.

The police had given them the address where the man was killed. As I talked to the aunt, the mother burst into tears when she found daubs of blood on the sidewalk. She sprinkled Holy Water. The father told me that, yes, he thought that his son had had a cocaine problem and used occasionally. I took their address and promised I'd call if I heard anything more. Because the man killed was somehow involved in the drug trade, nobody expects the police to really do anything about it.

This is your War on Drugs, and we shouldn't be getting used to it.

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The Razor Wire is a publication of The November Coalition, a nonprofit organization that advocates drug law reform. Contact information:
795 South Cedar - Colville, Washington 99114 - (509) 684-1550


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