Columns / Discourse / September 26, 2012

New-age ‘War on Drugs’ fails to offer solutions

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 (

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.

Samantha Paul
Samantha Paul is a senior double majoring in creative writing and Spanish. She previously served as both a news reporter and a copy editor for TKS. During the summer of 2012, Sam served as press chair of a literacy brigade in El Salvador. She has also interned with both Bloom Magazine and The Galesburg Register-Mail. At Knox, Sam is an organizational editor for Catch magazine.

Tags:  drugs El Salvador gang heroin mara Mexico Reagan U.S. war

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1 Comment

Sep 27, 2012

Prohibition has finally run its course: Our prisons are full, our economy is in ruins, the lives and livelihoods of tens of millions of Americans have been destroyed or severely disrupted, and what was once a shining beacon of liberty and prosperity has become a toxic, repressive, smoldering heap of hypocrisy and a gross affront to fundamental human decency.

If you sincerely believe that prohibition is a dangerous and counter-productive policy then you can stop helping to enforce it. You are entitled—required even—to act according to your conscience!

* It only takes one juror to prevent a guilty verdict.
* You are not lawfully required to disclose your voting intention before taking your seat on a jury.
* You are also not required to give a reason to the other jurors on your position when voting. Simply state that you find the accused not guilty!
* Jurors must understand that it is their opinion, their vote. If the Judge and the other jurors disapprove, too bad. There is no punishment for having a dissenting opinion.

“It is not only [the juror’s] right, but his duty … to find the verdict according to his own best understanding, judgment, and conscience, though in direct opposition to the direction of the court.” —John Adams

We must create what we can no longer afford to wait for: PLEASE VOTE TO ACQUIT!

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