When I first became involved with drug policy reform it was from a Libertarian, Cognitive Liberty, perspective and the statistics related to gang violence were just that- statistics- no bearing on my own life whatsoever. All that changed when I moved to 6th and Broadway in Venice, CA. There was a drive-by the first night I moved in. Since then, almost 3 years ago, there have been probably a dozen drug/gang related murders within 3 blocks of where I sleep. At first I was scared. Was I at risk? When I ride my bike home at night and pass up crack dealers on the corner, am I in danger? I love living by the beach but it certainly wouldn't be worth risking my life. I bought a scanner and began to monitor police activity whenever I heard shots fired. Over time I came to understand that all the gun violence was gang/drug related. Usually gang on gang or even within one gang. Occasionally a buyer would be killed- once for passing counterfeit hundreds, and another time for not paying off his debt.
And then there was the case of Jim Richards. Jim was a former organizer of the Guardian Angels- a big time Neighborhood Watch type with an aggressive 'let's clean up the neighborhood' attitude. He published an e-zine called the Neighborhood News, and it was the best source for police type neighborhood info because Jim had friends at Pacific Division and- because he slept with a scanner on next to his bed- Jim was often the first person at the scene of a crime. Somewhere along Jim stepped over a line and about a year and a half ago he was gunned down in his driveway. I heard the shots. Two guns emptied.
A year went by with no arrests and then I read that over 20 people had been indicted through the Federal system on charges related to Jim's murder. Being familiar with the drug conspiracy laws, I imagine some kind of big time Snitch out was going on and that yes, justice would be served, whether or not they caught the actual perpetrators. And the neighborhood breathed a collective sigh of relief (except for the black and brown mothers who wondered why the investigations of their murdered sons were not going anywhere) the neighborhood got a little quieter for a while, and the Real Estate sharks continued their agenda of re-marketing 'the hood' as 'the last chance to own by the beach'.
It's a few months later. Business is back all the way (white guys in late model SUVs and BMWs primarily). A load of new dealers fresh out of the joint are on the corner and the sound of gunfire is once again common. I was out of town last weekend, but when I got home my neighbors told me about a shooting. They didn't know much more about it than someone was killed about a block down our street. (LA switched to an all digital police radio system- you can't get any info from the scanners anymore. You can't get any information from the police and the papers don't cover it. It's sort of like it's not happening at all.) But yesterday, on my bicycle, on my way to the post office, a woman called me to the curb and in tears asked me if I knew anything about a shooting last Sunday. She was with another woman and a man. They were probably in their late 50s. It turned out they were the parents and aunt of the man who was shot. They had brought candles and a crucifix and were making a little shrine. The police had given them the address where the man was killed. As I talked to the aunt, the mother burst into tears when she found daubs of blood on the sidewalk. She sprinkled Holy Water. The father told me that yes, he thought that his son had had a cocaine problem and used occasionally. I took their address and promised I'd call if I heard anything more. But I won't hear anything more. And because the man killed was somehow involved in the drug trade, nobody expects the police to really do anything about it.
This is your War on Drugs.