Removing A Cultural Chasm by Legalizing Drugs?

Here’s an op-ed from a local columnist (Paul Carpenter) about the chasm that exists between inner city and suburban youth.   Mr. Carpenter draws our attention to the fact that choices available to either group are disparate; joining gangs is a choice for inner city youth while joining the boy scouts is a choice for suburban youth.  He correctly points out that much of the gang culture is fueled by illegal drugs and suggests that the solution is to end Prohibition II, as he calls it.  In other words, legalize drugs in an effort to  regain control of our streets and break the back of gangs by removing the profit from the illegal drug trade.

Legalizing drugs will not remove the cultural chasm that exists between inner city and suburban youth.  All that will do is eliminate a choice (albeit a bad one) available to inner city youth.  Many will just make another bad choice mainly because bad choices seem to be so plentiful in urban areas.  To be sure, there’s a level of personal responsibility that applies here as well and, yes, there’s needs to be a whole lot more of that across the board in urban areas, but the fact remains that the drugs and gangs are there mainly because there exists an economic vacuum in most inner city areas.

This economic vacuum plays out against the backdrop of what’s occurring in the nation as a whole.   The movement of the nation toward a service economy and the outsourcing of jobs affects all with an aggrandized impact in the inner city.  There are no jobs and scant opportunity which creates a perfect scenario for those seeking  gendarmes to support their illegal drug distribution business.

The lack of economic opportunity is not the end of the story.  Many of us have come to realize how the organs of government failed us miserably in the  unfolding national financial crisis by turning its head away and refusing to investigate obvious abuses and criminal activity.  The same applies here.

Consider this.  World wide sales of illegal drugs is estimated to be about $ 300 billion or roughly about the same as the sales of Big Three automakers.  Imagine for a moment that activities of the Big Three were declared illegal and they were forced underground to sell cars.  Can you imagine them actually “hiding” themselves while illegally producing and selling cars?  It would be impossible for them to hide as they’d leave massive economic footprints.  The economic infrastructure to design and bring a car to market is extensive from the raw material inputs, distribution networks, employees and handling of  money.  All you’d have to do is pick one thing like steel purchases and begin tracing who’s doing the buying to undercover the players.  Sure, you might not catch all of the small time players, but the big guys leave too many economic footprints for them not to be uncovered.  What I’m suggesting is this–the illegal drug industry has a sophisticated economic infrastructure and like any other industry, the main players leave economic footprints.

Our main focus in the joke we call the war on drugs is on the end link of the distribution chain (i.e.  the small players– the kids on the corner).  As a matter of fact, the focus on these guys fuels an  entire economic system of  its own known as the prison industrial complex with privatized jails, judges and police on the take and etc.  Of course, I understand that when someone is getting paid, that means that there’s  someone else on the other end of the transaction who is “paying”.   In the main, those “paying” are the denizens of America’s inner cities as  its youth and communities are destroyed.

Ask yourself these questions:   How is it that the same government that  has constructed a massive Homeland Security bureaucracy and claims to be adept at protecting us from terrorists is so clueless when it comes to the interdiction of illegal drugs?  How is it that the same government that claims it has cut off the financing of terrorists by freezing and seizing accounts seems so outmatched when it comes to draining the swamp of laundered illegal drug profits?  How is it that the same government that has spy satellites arrayed around the globe that can see the license plate on a car while orbiting miles above us somehow can’t train those satellites on those entities responsible for the wholesale importation of drugs into our nation?

You see the questions loom far larger than a cultural chasm between inner city and suburban youth or whether or not we should consider legalizing drugs.    There are real questions on the table about the accountability of our government in the drug war.   There are also questions about our national culture where the global pursuit of profits creates less opportunity and limits choices for us all .

Two teens reflect cultural chasm

Paul Carpenter

November 22, 2009

A part from the silliness surrounding the antagonism of a union boss toward a Boy Scout doing good deeds, a closer look at that young man should bring only joy.

Instead, there is profound sadness, because the Boy Scout story was juxtaposed with a story about another young man of about the same age, and those two lives reflect a cultural chasm that is tragic.

I’ll get to the story about the union boss vs. the Boy Scout shortly, but first there is the case of Brandon Figueroa, who was 17 when he did something that is likely to keep him in prison until he is middle-aged.

He pleaded guilty to shooting to death another young man because a gang leader told him the target was responsible for the earlier slaying of yet another young man, also 17, and also affiliated with a gang.

It was a mistake. Figueroa’s victim was the wrong guy. In fact, the victim also represented a chasm between the culture that nurtures gangs and a civilized culture.

When Jimmy Ortiz was shot in Allentown last year, he was celebrating his brother’s graduation from Moravian College, an environment as foreign to gang members as the moon. Also, Ortiz was about to graduate from a trade school.

Also convicted in the Ortiz slaying was still another gang member, Tariq Bailey, but he is 30 years old, so the elimination of his future is not quite as distressing.

As I have long argued, a gang culture this degenerate does not happen by accident. It must be nurtured by a degenerate government that seeks to regulate the personal behavior of citizens.

The vicious gangs of a few decades ago never could have prospered and grown the way they did without Prohibition. The same thing has happened with the so-called war on drugs, except that it has lasted much longer and thus has spawned a gang culture that is far more vicious and disconnected from the productive elements of our society.

How else could two young men like Brandon Figueroa and Kevin Anderson, the Boy Scout, exist on the same planet, much less in the same Lehigh Valley?

Having wallowed in gloom long enough, let us turn to the more heartening side of the news from the past week.

Anderson, also 17, was also targeted to be bumped off, but only in the sense that Nick Balzano, boss of the local Service Employees International Union, wanted to kill his propensity for doing good deeds.

Balzano attacked Anderson for working to improve an Allentown park, for free, instead of letting taxpayers pay union members to do it. Anderson organized a detail to clear a walking and biking path as part of his quest to become an Eagle Scout.

Happily, decent elements of our culture fell on Balzano like a ton of bricks. He soon skedaddled from his presidency of the SEIU local, which represents city workers.

After The Morning Call’s Jarrett Renshaw dug up the original story about Balzano’s attempt to get the city to take action against Anderson, the story received national attention and his family was inundated with calls.

”The family has been besieged with requests for interviews,” said Don Sachs, an official with the Minsi Trails Council of the Boy Scouts. He told me the family does not seek publicity. ”All they want to do is finish the [park] project.”

Still, Bruce Anderson, Kevin’s father, agreed to give me a call. ”In one sense, it [all the hoopla] is flattering. In another sense, we’re not movie stars,” he said.

There are many requirements for the Eagle rank, including at least 21 merit badges (for first aid, citizenship, personal fitness, etc.). A main requirement is a major service project. Only 5 percent of Scouts ever manage to become Eagles.

Kevin’s service project is that pathway, which is an essential link in the vaunted Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor that goes all the way from Philadelphia to White Haven in Carbon County.

Thus far, he has worked 200 hours on that 1,000-foot pathway and has persuaded other volunteers to help, clearing dozens of trees, poison ivy, tires and trash. His dad told me the debris included a vacuum cleaner, a blender and a car hood — all ignored for years by the city’s union types.

How does a kid wind up doing things like this instead of going down a destructive path? It might help to know that his two older brothers and his father also are Eagle Scouts. Kevin Anderson is growing up in a culture that values positives.

Brandon Figueroa grew up in a culture where Boy Scouts and others who strive to be productive are seen as chumps, and figures of glamor wear Rolex watches and drive luxury cars, thanks to Prohibition II.

According to a story on Friday, lawyers for Figueroa and Bailey said they ”lacked significant male role models,” and Figueroa’s mother sobbed that her son is ”a victim of circumstances.”

Such comments often bring scorn, but think about it. What sort of future would Figueroa be facing today if he had grown up in an environment like Anderson’s?,0,2178859.column


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