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November 28, 2005 - San Bernardino Sun (CA)

War On Drugs Intensifies Gang Violence

Did Illegal Drugs Help Kill Mynesha Crenshaw?

By Conor Fridersdorf, Staff Writer

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

In a town where gangs finance their operations through the drug trade, a business where territorial wars and deals gone bad are settled at gunpoint, can illegal drugs ever be ruled out when innocents are slain by wayward bullets?

Every lengthy discussion about violent crime eventually includes an argument about the War on Drugs, for better or worse the most consequential law enforcement effort in America.

On The Sun's crime blog, some San Bernardino residents have said the police must prosecute the War on Drugs more vigorously to protect innocents trapped in neighborhoods with drug-running gangs, marijuana sales at school and abusive addict parents and spouses plaguing home life.

Other residents have suggested that the War on Drugs is itself part of the problem. Make narcotics legal, they say, and the violence associated with their illicit purchase will vanish much like the repeal of prohibition ended the violent trade in alcohol.

I cannot say whether we'd be better off if we legalized drugs.

I think many who favor legalization underestimate its potential for damage.

Rather than asking how poorly educated people who lack good decision-making skills will react to legalization, they imagine everyone in their own image: a rational actor with middle-class values and a middle-class support network to bail them out if things get out of hand.

No matter how carefully we plan and anticipate, legalization would bring significant surprises, unintended consequences and irreversible effects that would ripple through society indefinitely. It is a step not to be taken lightly.

But the status quo on our current policy of prohibition is a catastrophic failure that any society would be foolish to leave in place.

If I had an answer to this dilemma, I'd be asking for your vote as a candidate for the U.S. Senate rather than penning a column you'll hopefully read before lining the bird cage.

In the space I have left, however, I'd like to offer one seldom-heard argument for legalization that I find quite persuasive.

Here it goes: If drugs were made legal, the people who might be hurt are those who only tried them because they could. As compassionate humans, we would mourn these victims and regret their suffering.

However, having warned them, we'd also acknowledge their culpability. Having made the wrong choice, they'd bear the consequences and have no one but themselves to blame.

Unfortunately, many victims of our current drug policy are not so fortunate. Drug prohibition might have saved a kid somewhere who won't die overdosing on heroine.

On the other hand, it helped to kill Mynesha Crenshaw, a little girl who bears no culpability for the drug war. Without street gangs supported by the illicit drug trade, she would probably be alive.

South American coffee farmers are losing crops to coca-killing pesticides. Elderly homeowners' neighborhoods are being overrun by drug dealers. And innocent children are being killed in wars over drug territory.

No matter how you look at it, drug prohibition shifts many of the costs of illegal drugs onto those who never chose to use, produce or sell them in order to protect people from using drugs.

The price paid by innocent people is even more staggering when you consider all the lives that could be saved if all the resources from the War on Drugs were instead used for a war on violent crime, or heart-disease research, or protection from terrorists.

If lives must be destroyed by drugs -- and they will be no matter how fervently we wish it to be otherwise -- isn't it fairer if those whose lives are destroyed are those who made their own poor decisions? Isn't that at least fairer than a policy that saves those people by waging a war that hurts and even kills so many innocents

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