Friday, November 11, 2005

Those Bright Red Footprints...

...will always give you away.

I am warning you, gentle reader, that what I am about to say is far from my usual fare. No genteel strolls through the green and rolling hills of Naka-ku will be recounted in this entry. My mind is on darker things. I am about to talk about the "War on Drugs", and what I think about it. I am about to say some things that might bother you. I am about to accuse myself, and probably you too, of crimes against humanity. If you would rather not read this stuff, I will think no less of you. Hell, this isn't what you signed up for. But if you want to know what is on my mind, and are willing to pardon a little anger and probably some strong language, if you are willing to listen to what I have to say before forming your conclusions, by all means, read on.

You have been warned. The shit-storm begins now:

The WireI am nearing the end of Season One of "The Wire", an HBO police drama set in Baltimore. For readers of this blog who have not yet seen it, I advise you to check your local Blockbuster,, your public library, or my employer,

"The Wire" is gritty, violent, and profane; i.e. "The Wire" is real. I was lucky enough not to grow up in the P.J.s, but I spent one short summer in a bad neighbourhood in Charlottesville. I know the life depicted in "The Wire", not intimately (thank goodness), but I know that life. And knowing that life is the only way to understand how things cannot be done. In the words of a great poet, "they got a war on drugs / so the police can bother me". The "War on Drugs" is a joke, albeit an expensive one. Even some of the police are admitting this, and suggesting changes. But I think the best change is the one suggested by "The Wire": follow the money. If you follow the drugs, you get drug dealers and drug addicts. If you follow the money, you get dirty politicians, dirty cops, dirty judges: the pillars of the communities. And those are the people who are perpetuating this pointless war. Those are the people whose pockets are being lined while crackheads die, unlamented.

In short, those people are The Man that is holding us down. And when I say us, I mean all of us. Humanity. Because when some addict takes his last hit in some filthy alley in the part of town that no respectable member of society will even acknowledge the existence of, that is on me. And that is on you. Why do we let our brothers die like this, saying that they are criminals and not worthy of our compassion? Why, when we are living relatively high on the hog, why then do we feel that we can pass judgement on them? I think that the reason "thou shalt not judge" was put forth is that no man can understand all the reasons someone has for doing something. If we do understand everything, we might have more compassion.

I am not saying that criminals should not be punished. But for drug-related charges, I think we as a people need to acknowledge that drug abuse is a social problem as well as a crime. And when I say it is a social problem, I am not just talking about the addicts. I am talking about the dealers too. While I have a hard time being sympathetic, I understand that the drug game is the only game in town for some of these people. If you dropped out of high school because you were going to a impoverished school where everyone treated you with disdain, if you got tired of working at Burger King eight hours a day just to make ends meet on a minimum wage salary, if you were treated like a criminal by the cops anyway, and if you saw your friends rolling by in Mercedes SUVs with rims that don't stop spinnin' while your broke ass is peddling your bike to work, are you saying you would not be tempted? Social problem. We have a culture that perpetuates this bullshit, and that is what Tupac meant when he said that "[i]t's time for us as a people to start makin' some changes". He might have been talking to his people, but I warrant that we are all his people. It is time for all of us, from the shorties in the projects to the CEOs in the corner offices on the 50th floor of glass-and-steel office towers, to make some changes.

How? That is complicated. Start by just cutting people some slack, giving them the benefit of the doubt. Don't look down on people for how they choose to live their life, because maybe, just maybe, they were not given a choice. And that is not how it is supposed to go in the United States of America. Everybody is supposed to be able to make a choice.

And that is what I get from "The Wire". Entertainment it may be, but it is also something better. It is a stimulus, a wake-up call. It paints a picture, and challenges the viewer to decide who is good and bad. What right and wrong mean in a world that is decidedly not black and white. "The Shield" does the same thing, but to a lesser extent; it shows the problem, it shows who is mixed up in it, it shows how politics inform good police work, and it shows that "good" and "evil" are subjective concepts. "The Wire", however, offers us a way forward. Not a solution, but a direction: follow the money. Forget the drugs. Follow the money, and do something about where it leads. Even flawed men can take this direction.

1 comment:

Sean said...

Couldn't agree more, Josh. The "War on Drugs" is not a "war". It can't be "won". There is no "enemy" except addiction, poverty, and desperation. There are "casualties", for sure, and they include nearly every non-violent drug offender that has been incarcerated, every addict, every cop involved in the endless cycle of busts, and ultimately every taxpayer footing the bill for a stupendously ill-conceived and poorly-reasoned political white elephant.

Leaglize it (or as Josh would say in pseudo-BritSpeak "legalise it"). Commercialize it. Tax it. Regulate it. Monitor it.

Treat it no differently than alcohol, because at the heart of it, drugs are no different from one another, or from alcohol, in their psycho-social impact. In fact, I'd hazard to say alcohol is and has been many times more destructive and harmful to the general populace than all other "hard drugs" combined.

The "War on Drugs" is a travesty and needs to end. Now.