"Suum cuique" [To each his own, to each according to his merits.] ~ Latin proverb
Shining a Light on Dark Evil
There was a group of children who lived on the 21st block of Modern Lane. They were mostly content except that the nicest clothes, toys and candy were scarce. Consequently, very few had everything they wanted, and many of them individually worried that his other siblings were getting treats deserved by they themselves. They envied the possessions of one brother, in particular, for this brother would disobey the rules of their guardian and steal across the railroad tracks to a vacant house on the next block. Then he would return from the vacant house with forbidden candy found there that he would then trade with all of the other neighborhood children. In time, he possessed more candy, clothes and toys than any of the other children on his block.
While a few of his siblings were more concerned with making the best of their own efforts instead of fretting about the disobedient one's shortcut to riches, the majority of them were very angry that the disobedient brother had so many nice things. One informed on him to the guardian, who then set a watch on the railroad tracks. Catching the boy one night, the guardian became enraged that he had been disobeyed. He beat his wayward charge close to death and then locked the boy in the crawlspace beneath the house where he lived. Taking all of the boy's possessions he could find, he paid off some of his old debts and bought some things for himself. He then spent the rest of the money on candy for his favorites amongst the other children, including the informer.
Contentment, of a sort, returned to the block. After all, many of the children were pleased that the one had been punished for defying rules they didn't particularly like obeying themselves. But the forbidden candy did not disappear from Modern Lane. It turned up on a regular basis, and at night, one could see new shadows flitting across the railroad track.
There you have my prototype parable of some of my observations on the drug war. It is a work in progress because if its telling does not prick a heart or stimulate a thought in the listener, I will try to learn why and tweak it to make it better. I believe tapping at a keyboard is where my abilities will yield the greatest spark. Wherever a lover of freedom's ability lies ' whether writing things, providing financial support to activists, taking to the political stump, or just talking to neighbors ' repeating the message is something we all can do. Beyond being the moral thing to do, we can succeed in ending the drug war sooner than its proponents would like.
Twenty years ago, after a childhood diet of television, comic books and public school, I was effectively socialized in drug war propaganda: drugs that had been legislated against were evil and the people who dealt in them deserved punishment. If the punishment meant they lost their lives, well, they knew the risks from the start. But there have been vocal opponents of the drug war all of my life, shining a light on the faulty reasoning with which I'd been equipped. For example, if one superhero comic book I read made a drug seller/user the personification of evil, another underground comic such as Gilbert Shelton's Freak Brothers countered the propaganda with ridicule. So when I finally started giving the matter serious thought, the inconsistent drug war rationale I carried in my brain began to break apart against my older and more intuitive common sense. For instance, natural common sense tells me it is wrong to kill or steal from my neighbor. But that is what is occurring when someone seizes the property of, imprisons, or kills a drug user. What is more important, as someone who was trying to obey the instructions for life in the New Testament of the Bible, Jesus' instructions were very clearly laid out: treat your neighbor with compassion. With even the rationale of defending lives or property lacking in the case of a 'victimless crime,' punishing strangers because you disapprove of their private behavior lacks moral authority from any source.
I did not use or even expose myself to illegal drugs as a kid. My first tour to the front lines of the war came with adulthood in the late '80s. Then I began teaching at a public high school during the burgeoning tide of the crack epidemic. Illegal drugs were a visibly lucrative business with all kinds of entry level opportunities for teenage boys. There, my attitude about the war began to change. To begin with, I encountered envy ' as opposed to altruism ' driving the attitudes of many of the people I talked with about it. Recalling bull sessions in the teachers' lounge, what sparked emotion and outrage in the majority of speakers (if the altruists were present, they were holding their tongues) was not the spread of STDs by drug impaired brains or the young victims of drug violence. Rather, it was the luxury cars and the wads of cash sported by the drug entrepreneurs. Asset forfeiture was a growing movement then, too. Confiscation of the property of drug convicts was conversed about with glee as opportunities to get some nice stuff for pennies on the dollar. The auctions were trumpeted in ads on the radio and television. Asset forfeiture has always been barely disguised theft by the state, and its voracious bite is finally beginning to get the attention of some of its early supporters. But in retrospect, the human failure of envy made it ridiculously easy for our rulers to put in place.
The more horrible thing I witnessed was watching people I'd become acquainted with destroyed ' not by drugs ' but by the war. I had a former student, Antwuan G., who was murdered--shot eleven times a couple of years out of my algebra class. In 1991, his 15-year-old life intersected with mine an hour a day about 150 times in the course of the year. Using older codes of conduct that have followed mankind since the beginning of civilization, he was a decent kid, a human being. I can testify that in my class, he didn't steal and he didn't bully. As husbands, fathers, and neighbors go, that would probably have put him on the middle rungs of humanity. Enter the last 90 years, and a different stage for life is set up by some of the lower rung members of the human race. From what I was told after the fact, Antwuan was a volunteer for the combat zone, an illegal drug entrepreneur. His life would end before 18. And he was a volunteer, whereas bystander lives are maimed or ended by outlaws and lawmen with depressing regularity. I do not believe it is accurate to call his or the other deaths senseless. For the more cunning and better capitalized people who profit from the artificially high drug prices created by the law, the booty that can come from stripping outlaws (and sometimes wrongly convicted) of their wealth, or just from the taxes extracted out of citizens to prosecute the war, the lives of the Antwuans of the world are perfect fodder.
But minds and hearts can be turned around. People kept repeating the truth and eventually I heard it. If I can get it, others can too.
We've seen paradigm shifts in the recognition of evil. For example, chattel slavery has been with mankind the entire span of known history. Though it was widely accepted, I don't believe it was ever 'not evil.' Thousands of years had to pass, but the brave few spoke against it, and over centuries, people eventually wised up. Though we still have it in the world today, the greater mass of human beings has finally recognized that stealing another human being's life is wrong. I see victimless crimes, and the drug war in particular, as slavery's second cousins. But if we keep repeating the fact of that, eventually people will make the connection.
That being said, I want to stress that I empathize with parents who do not wish to have irresponsible drug use, gambling and prostitution as behavior that is flaunted before their children in every sphere of life. That is the last thing I want for my own children, and free people have the right and duty to form families and neighborhoods that conform to their mores. However, a community with morals rooted in liberty, justice and compassion will use persuasive and compassionate means to create them. What is absolutely certain is that violence and oppression have absolutely failed to create drug free families and neighborhoods. But they have extracted a high toll from all of us, nevertheless.
Returning again to my comic book education, let me quote part of the oath of the 1940s DC comic book superhero Green Lantern: 'And I shall shed my light over dark evil, for the dark things cannot stand the light . . . .' It applies here. The drug war is evil (like all war). Its fruits are misery, theft, and death with roots grown of envy, fear, and power lust. It cannot stand the withering light of truth, reason, and compassion. We all must continue shining that light upon it.