In his Nov. 9 letter, Jeffrey Jensen of North Oakland is unsatisfied with nebulous crime-fighting plans and bigger-picture orations from Mayor Dellums.
I believe my Oakland neighbors and Mayor Dellums share a blind spot. They don’t confront the primary impetus for violent crime in our communities.
It is trite but telling to compare the consequences of our unrealistic drug laws, and the squandering of resources on their enforcement, with the societal distortions of the Prohibition era.
Drugs are as easy to buy as pie. Consumer demand, pushing against government repression of supply lines, has drafted an army of urban entrepreneurs who, because they operate outside the law, must self-select for violence and territorial dominance. The resulting nihilistic subculture is reinforced and romanticized as the vendors are cycled through our banal penal system. Indigent drug users fill the largest number of our jail cots, but do not receive the support and treatment we need them to have.
Urban police departments can’t recruit enough officers. What mentally healthy person with alternatives would choose to be part of law enforcement efforts that are obscenely misdeployed at the Sisyphean task of rifling through glove compartments, dresser drawers, and pocket lint? An insane number of officers spends insane amounts of money and time surveilling and infiltrating the sellers, then staging elaborate armed raids. Millions are laboriously prosecuted and imprisoned, but ultimately without benefit to us.
We readily tolerate, regulate, and tax alcohol and tobacco. As the two most widely addictive substances on earth, they together cause the lion’s share of social dysfunction, illness, and mortality. We protect and encourage the use of alcohol: wine tasting tours, cocktail parties, drinks served on airplanes, entire aisles at upscale groceries lined with booze. On campuses, habitual binge drinking is the order of the day. Sometimes we penalize those who misuse this freedom: drunk drivers, domestic brawlers, or smokers who light up in elevators. Why do we pretend we are preventing crack addicts from smoking rocks, or high school students from snorting up crushed Adderol tabs, when this happens all around us right now?
The gross overcrowding in our jails and prisons, and the disproportionate expense of running our whole justice system, could be literally halved if we end drug prohibition, then regulate and tax recreational drugs exactly as we do liquor and tobacco.
I have a dream...that someday I will go to a beautifully laid out organic farm in a nearby county, and spend the afternoon leisurely tasting its spicy and sweet, artistically packaged varietals of marijuana. I inhale not from a burning joint, but from a well-engineered and tastefully designed vaporizer, tranquilly gazing at the sunset with my well-heeled fellow connoisseurs. The economic stimulation to local coffers expands the commonweal.
I have another dream...that the crack addicts in my neighborhood go into the same corner store where they now line up to buy tobacco and alcohol, and safely complete all their purchases. This without risk to me, and without subsidizing the criminal enterprises that poison our streets with violence.
I dream that our jails and prisons house only those who commit real crimes on real victims; that there they receive education, self-awareness training, and humane psychiatric care; and are released if and when they’re prepared to live peacefully among us.
I dream that police officers, relieved of the tedium and ugliness of drug-busting, achieve a resurgence in both their numbers and morale, as idealistic young people are attracted to the profession. I dream that we the people, our rights to privacy and autonomy restored, gladly pay the taxes on the green herbs at our local shops.
Jackie Wilson is an Oakland resident.