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March 31, 2006 - DrugSense Weekly (DSW)

Fortress America - 2006

By Bob Owens, Retired Chief of Police

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

Organized crime gangs now rule across our borders at Nueva Laredo, Juarez, Tijuana and any significant oasis of civilization in between. Bodies are regularly being unearthed along the length of the border, daylight shootings are common, and it was reported earlier this year that a drug gang's "military styled vehicles" have been driven across the border into U.S. territory.

A January editorial in the San Antonio Express-News comments on a video reportedly produced by Mexican Federal drug agents. In it are four young men who had apparently been beaten and tortured. A gloved hand appeared, placed a revolver to the head of one of them and fired.

The point of the editorial is summed up: "While U.S. officials argue about the evils of undocumented workers, the real threat to national security is the carnage caused by the drug wars. When will both countries wise up?"

Increasing numbers of news reports over the past year tell us that "hundreds" have been killed in recent months by the Zetas gang, headed by the reputed drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman. These slaying have occurred on both sides of the border and are frequently intended to secure a monopoly on drug smuggling.

U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Tony Garza has been quoted as saying "drug cartels ....are destroying the economic and social fabric of our communities." The continuing violence led him to shutting down a consulate for a week following another, particularly violent outburst.

Where are the cops, one might ask. An example from Nuevo Laredo is in order. In June 2005 the Mexican government suspended the entire 750 officer force, replacing it with the army. Prompting this move was the murder of the new police chief six hours after he took office, adding to the dozen police officer deaths during the year and the departments reputation for aiding drug smugglers and routinely accepting bribes. In an effort to restore public confidence, the entire force was required to submit to polygraph exams and drug testing.

Yet, for the most part, the casual stateside observer might think that the major issue on our southern border is the influx of illegal immigrants, our inability to curb this flow and the presumed adverse influence on the labor market. Obviously this is a safer, politically, than the volatile, violent and highly dynamic drug problem whether here or along the border.

Our elected officials can find safe ground from which to allocate funds for walls, threaten sanctions against employers who hire illegal immigrants, and promise hundreds of additional Border Patrol Agents. Posed against such a backdrop of responses, the imagery of Nero playing on his fiddle while Rome burns behind him is hard to avoid.

The world is in terrible shape, many Americans say, with all these corrupted outsiders threatening our pristine landscape. Perhaps a little wake up call is in order. Who, pray tell, is paying for these drugs that penetrate our borders? Perhaps the largest segment of our population that chooses to support the drug merchants are our 18 to 35 year olds, the age group most frequently arrested for drug use.

This includes those who may not be encumbered with children and a mortgage and thereby have significant discretionary income. They are also the segment of our population susceptible to the negative influences of the seamy side of the entertainment world and their flirtation with drugs.

There is no simple answer to this complex and disagreeable social problem which has been developing for nearly a century other than to look to another social experiment that had similar negative results -- the Prohibition Act of 1929. Recognizing its failure, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) formed in 2002.

This international education organization comprised of former law enforcement, corrections and judicial officers with long experience working the front lines of the so-called "War on Drugs" advocates the legalization of drugs combined with a comprehensive system of regulation such as is now done with alcoholic beverages.

A perfect solution? Certainly not, but at least a mechanism that can be adjusted and refined to reduce the prohibitive costs and social damage that is now a consequence of our misguided efforts to "just make drugs go away."

Bob Owens spent 38 years in active law enforcement and last year joined the Speakers Bureau of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. He wrote this column in cooperation with MAP's Drug Policy Writer's Group project. For more information on the DPWG; how to submit columns and also how to get DPWG columns printed in your local media, visit the MAP Media Activism Center at

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