The Lost War on Drugs: What Next?

The Lost War on Drugs: What Next?

war-on-drugs

Newsflash: we have lost the war on drugs.

Yes, we have made a lot of arrests.  Yes, drugs were seized and destroyed. But we have not stopped or stemmed the tide of illegal drugs into the United States.

As a prosecutor, I start to think about failed policies, and what to do next.

Instead of a war on poverty, they have a war on drugs so that the police can bother me.

This line was immortalized by the rapper Tupac. It was in his song “Changes” that he discussed the current conditions of his neighborhood in the 1990’s . He was defining the issues that were present in the African-American community. Sadly, in the years since that song, those who reside in lower income areas have not seen any changes.

It has recently come to light in an interview with Nixon aide, that the war on drugs truly was a farce. The idea purportedly was to “equate the hippies with marijuana, and the blacks with heroin” in an attempt to prevent the groundswell of political change that was occurring in the 1970’s.

In reality, the way to fix all that ails our society is really simple. We need to attack the demand, not the supply. The war on drugs was targeting the suppliers. But for every drug dealer and Pablo Escobar that was taken off the street, ten more rose to assume their place.

Why?

Because it is lucrative. Because there is a demand for drugs. Until we end the demand, we will never win the war on drugs.

So how do we end the demand? It is a bit more than Nancy Reagan’s “just say no“, –while simplistic, we need to educate the youth. We truly need to invest in addiction remedies. We need to invest in rehabilitation, making it widespread and easily affordable. If you do not have the money to go to Betty Ford, you should still be able to fight your addiction at a licensed rehabilitation center so that you can get your life on the right track. Once we have less addicts, then the drug dealers will have to find something else to do because selling drugs is no longer profitable.

Of course, this plan requires money. It requires the government to invest in such programs or private entities to subsidize these programs for those who are financially unable, or whose insurance does not cover it. But this is the only way we can truly move forward and truly win this “war on drugs”. Incarcerating masses of people is not the answer.

I was reading an interesting article regarding the relationship between the Clintons and the African-American community. Many view the widespread support Secretary Clinton enjoys as blind faith; however, many in the African-American community, frustrated at the violence that they saw in the streets, welcomed the aggressive policing tactics and hoped that this would alleviate the problems. So while President Bill Clinton’s 1994 crime bill is looked upon as one of the main catalysts of the mass incarceration problem we see today, it was something that was originally sanctioned, even fought for, by the Congressional Black Caucus, the African-American faith based community, and many African-Americans at large. However, the unintended consequence was that an entire generation of young African-American men were lost to the prison system, and even more African-Americans remained mired in addiction and poverty. Check out another interesting article on the relationship between African Americans and the war on drugs here.

So now that we know better, we must do better. If we look at the response to the heroin epidemic in white communities, the focus is on treatment as well as looking at novel ways to enforce the law. The same must be done in all communities, especially communities of color who have suffered for too long.

At the end of the day, if there is a demand, the supply will follow. It’s simple economics; it’s simply business. So it is good business for us to invest in rehabilitation as well as mental health, because in some instances, addictions co-occur with mental illness as a way of self-medicating.

Bottom line: min mans solve nothing, they deter nothing. End the demand, and you kill the supply.

Give a listen to an interview I did on this topic with NPR and the article I wrote for the Miami Herald.

As always, please share your thoughts!

M.

 

 

Is Helping the Homeless a Crime?

Is Helping the Homeless a Crime?

arnold abbottThe Bible tells us to love thy neighbor. Even if you don’t subscribe to a particular religious belief, most people have a basic need to help others.

Arnold Abbott has spent the last 23 years of his life doing just that. He runs an organization called “Love Thy Neighbor Fund”, which feeds the hungry in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. The organization was created in the memory of his late wife; he dedicated his life to aiding the homeless upon his retirement from the jewelry business.

Last Wednesday, he was arrested and cited for doing what he and his volunteers had been doing on a regular basis.

Not only was that shocking…what made it worse was that he is 90 years old.

abbott citeedSo, one can imagine the media frenzy, as the police handcuffed this elderly man in his white coat, as well as his volunteers, and cited him for doing good works. The news went viral…even Jon Stewart weighed in on his show.

The Mayor of Ft. Lauderdale, Jack Seiler, had stated this was part of the enforcement of a new city ordinance. He further explained this past Sunday on WPLG Channel 10 South Florida’s This Week in South Florida the reasoning behind the ordinance.

Bottom line? Hygiene. The area in which Mr. Abbott conducted the feeding was near the actual beach. Mr. Abbott believes that the homeless has the right to eat their food while enjoying the natural beauty of South Florida’s beaches. Mayor Seiler states that under the ordinance, all feeding of the homeless needs to be done close to restroom facilities (standing or a portable toilets), and with other hygiene restrictions. Mr. Abbott states that he met all of those requirements….but the interesting compromise that came from that on air roundtable interview was that there would be no further issues if he moved his feedings to a local church.

Both gentlemen discussed the effect the feeding of the homeless had on the tourists. Mr. Abbott said that the tourists he encountered would commend him for his actions, and would often offer to assist (a request he quickly grants); Mayor Seiler states that the tourists are horrified and claim they would NOT return to Ft. Lauderdale Beach until this horrible homeless problem is solved.

And now, we have arrived at the true struggle between views on the homeless. “Oh how sad, yes I’ll donate, but don’t come near my car, stay away from me you stinky person, hide the problem from me so I can enjoy my vacation” vs. “There but for the grace of God/luck/a good family go I”.

There are so many misconceptions about the homeless. They did not all get there from alcoholism, drug addiction or some form of laziness/irresponsibility. In this latest economic downturn, it could be as simple as the unemployment benefits ran out and the person had nowhere to go. It could have been a terrible turn of life events, and the person did not have the friends/family support to get back on their feet.

And, on this Veteran’s Day, think about those wounded warriors who came back from war suffering from PTSD, and could not get back on their feet. Some of the homeless are veterans who volunteered, risked their lives for us in various wars, and we have forgotten them – abandoning them to live on the streets.

Yet, we subject those who assist the homeless to possible fines and jail time rather than working with those who have the passion for change to find real solutions.

There’s this lady called Karma. And she does not like to be trifled with.

To learn more about Arnold Abbott and his organization, see Love Thy Neighbor.

M.