On Tuesday, 35 police officers were arrested by members of the Mexican armed forces and are suspected of being linked with the Zetas, one of Mexico’s largest and most influential drug cartels, according to an article by the BBC. This is merely one example of the organized crime that runs rampant not only in Mexico, but throughout the world.
The questions become: how do we, as a society, cope with this crime? What is the best way to address the issue?
If we take a look at U.S. history, we’ll find a number of half-baked solutions, including the crusade that helped make Reagan famous: his “War on Drugs.”
I do not support the War on Drugs. I think that it is institutional racism at its finest. This policy leads to 50,000 arrests for low-level pot possession per year in New York City, with one out of every seven cases turning up in criminal courts. The majority of those arrested are black and Hispanic men, according to a statistical survey compiled by a columnist at the New York Times, Charles Blow and author of “The New Jim Crow,” Michelle Alexander.
“Since 1971, there have been more than 40 million arrests for drug-related offenses. Even though blacks and whites have similar levels of drug use, blacks are ten times as likely to be incarcerated for drug crimes,” Blow and Alexander said in their analysis (articles.businessinsider.com/2012-01-16/home/30631016_1_drug-arrests-drug-money-drug-trade).
The laws that we have in place in the U.S. are flawed on a fundamental level and intervention can easily be taken too far. But where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and with drug cartels like the Zetas comes violence. This violence is manifested in brutal massacres, which are a result of bitter struggles over territory. With the bloodshed, it is understandable for the government to feel the need to step in.
El Salvador is world-renowned for its gang violence, but this summer, it saw about a 40 percent decrease in gang violence. This decline in crime was allegedly due to a “truce” struck between the country’s two most formidable gangs, Barrio 18 and Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13).
The gangs, known for keeping the country shrouded in cocaine and cordite, struck a “peace agreement.” This truce called off all “death warrants” for members of the opposing gang and bought incarcerated leaders better conditions within the prisons. Though the government denies involvement, the sharp drop in violence and the relocation of the gang leaders suggests something else.
Leaders of Barrio 18 and MS-13 also flatly deny striking a deal with the government, but admit to the active involvement of the Catholic Church in the cease-fire. The Catholic Church is involved with the prison, regularly seeking out a change of heart within the inmates.
After the initial decrease in gang violence, it has slowly begun to rise again. I was fortunate enough to be able to discuss this very issue with Salvadorans while participating in a literacy brigade over the summer, and the response was overwhelmingly the same: enjoy it while it lasts.
Violence will go back up. The drug cartel will survive the arrest of 35 members. On college campuses all over the world students are procrastinating on their homework while they smoke a joint; there is no escaping drug culture regardless of where you live.
Drugs and violence are pervasive. There is no Band-Aid to slap over the problem and proclaim it healed. The incarcerated leaders of Barrio 18 and MS-13 can kiss and make up, but how much control do they still have over their territory? How long can a cease-fire realistically last? Bribing drug lords isn’t a solution, or at least not a long-term one. But then again, neither is the War on Drugs.