I informed my readers yesterday that I grew up in a gang-banging neighborhood. This particular neighborhood, Humboldt Park, was notorious for its gang-banging culture. Most high-poverty areas around the city had a couple gangs vying for turf, or if it was within a high-density poverty area (such as the projects) maybe factions within a certain gang (each building within Cabrini Green was administered by a different tribe within the Gangster Disciples gang). My neighborhood had about a dozen or so gangs, always at war or uneasy peace with each other.
They fought for pride, for turf, for money to be made from selling illicit drugs. On my block the Spanish Cobras were selling weed. They were hanging out on our front porch, though we hardly knew any of them. There was little chance to get to know them. The cops would come by weekly, pick them up and scatter them, and then the replacements would come in. The next stage of low-paid, low-skilled cog-workers in a big ol' machine. (They were also on the verge of hanging on for dear life - but they weren't aware of it at the time.) It seemed like every time I walked home from school, some newbie on the corner was asking me if I wanted Bo (mary jane).
Me, I never tried it. Never liked any forms of drugs. Haven't had my first drink until I turned 30 and just about finished my first (hell-ish) year of school. Never been drunk; rarely had two beers in a day, and usually only drink once a week. That's how much I hate drugs. I really wanted to burn down much of my town in high school because I saw what drugs were doing to my neighborhood and alcohol (a legal drug with far worse repercussions) was doing to my dad.
So, I - an Evangelical Christian, furthermore - say this with a lot of thought put into it. We need to decriminalize marijuana and rethink our approach to other drugs (here I'm thinking specifically of heroin and heroin treatment).
I don't think - unlike Ron Paulian libertarians and other smoke-infested conservatives - that it will be an economic engine for the US, nor that it'll free minorities from the lingering effects of racism.
In fact, the same systemic racism that is imprisoning more black men now than were slaves at the high point of US slavery will still be in effect - it just won't be as devastating.
I've been thinking about this recently in response to the altpaper Chicago Reader's series of articles on decriminalization and racial disparity. From the first, The Grass Gap:
Marijuana is illegal. Yet studies show—and come on, everybody knows—that it's widely used by all racial groups. By and large, however, black people are disproportionately getting busted for it.
The ratio of black to white arrests for marijuana possession in Chicago is 15 to 1, according to a Reader analysis of police and court data. And by the time the cases make their way through the court system, the gap widens even further: the ratio among those who plead or are found guilty is 40 to 1.
Here's another way to look at it: almost nine of every ten people who end up guilty of possessing marijuana in Chicago—86 percent, to be precise—are black men.
The racial gap has become so glaring that Cook County Board president Toni Preckwinkle says something has to change, if only because taxpayers can't afford to continue arresting, detaining, and prosecuting low-level marijuana offenders. In an interview last week, Preckwinkle, for the first time, said what no other high-ranking local official has dared: "I think we should decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, that's for sure."
"You fit the description." My friends joke about this, but that's because it's how we face the ugly realities of injustice sometimes.
"Got pulled over for a DWB."
That may decrease. It won't end. There will be other excuses. Broken windows, after all... (Which is the theory the current mayor says he believes in. That cracking down on the littlest signs of a broken system will prevent crime. That's, of course, bass-ackwards.) But it will help.