Spokane’s recent ranking as the second most dangerous city in Washington, after Tukwila, is a microcosm of the nationwide mismanagement of social order. Destructive “prohibition” laws are incompetently “punitive” on the one hand, while, on the other hand, seemingly “humane” tolerance of misbehavior is inhumane in its consequences.
To start with destructive prohibitions: Attempts to prevent millions of consenting adults from purchasing recreational drugs and sexual contact has generated crime, chaos and murder.
Illegal immigrants pour out of Latin America to escape the chaos of the drug gangs, caused by America’s “war on drugs,” while our prisons are overstuffed with taxpaying recreational drug users, and with the criminals who are profiting from drug prohibition. As George Shultz – Cabinet member of several Republican presidents – pointed out in 1989, the “war on drugs” is creating more harm than would legalization of drugs. It continues to do so. Legalization and reasonable regulation would immediately stop funding crime and would produce safer products, just as ending alcohol prohibition de-funded the mobsters, and just as no one has ever gone blind from drinking wine.
The job of government is to provide infrastructure, regulate the economy, and protect our property and persons. To opposite effect, the “war on drugs” has created massive incentives to crime, while corrupting police, judges and politicians in America and around the world. For example, in some years, Mexico alone has 30,000 drug-gang murders; and recently their ex-president was indicted for taking drug money. Prohibition of any widely sought consensual market always creates enormous increases in crime, contempt for the law, wealthy criminals with private armies, and corrupts the political and legal system.
Reasonably regulating recreational drugs might lead to more self-inflicted deaths, but the greater harm of drug gang murders would end, as they would lose the incentives to kill over market share and raw materials. Crime would be de-funded.
Likewise, if sex work were legalized and properly regulated, Robert Yates would not have had impoverished women jumping into his car on East Sprague, and the Green River Killer would not have had wives and mothers seeking extra income furtively getting into his car, all to meet gruesome deaths. (Just these two men killed over 100 women.) In a legalized regulatory regime, there would not be a huge black market within which under-age victims could be abused without being noticed. Reasonably regulating consenting adults in the sex market would leave very few “dark spaces” in which to hide the non-consenting and the non-adult.
By refusing to reasonably regulate these free exchanges – sought by large numbers of consenting, taxpaying, adults – we produce crime, violence and corruption. In contrast, reasonable regulation and education, just as with alcohol and tobacco, produces the least harm, and provides the most overall human happiness, in an imperfect world.
Prohibition of recreational drug markets, and prohibition of sex-work markets, spectacularly increases crime and violence. These prohibitions are rooted in “soul saving” platitudes that generate murderous consequences and social chaos.
A criminal justice system not preoccupied with creating crime through prohibition could better address the safety of us all by focusing these very expensive resources on the protection of persons, property and the quality of life in the public spheres of schools, parks and streets.
For example, 90 percent of recreational heroin users do just fine. They raise their kids, pay their taxes and go to work. Let them have their drugs, as long as they pay for them. (And we would still have case-by-case prohibition, as with alcohol, for those who commit other crimes, like DUI.) Leave them be, and focus on patrolling those endangering us.
Looking at Spokane’s appalling crime rates, in addition to prohibition harms, we see the harm of policies that show an excessive tolerance of crime, including among the “homeless.” Certainly, some homeless are conforming people who deserve support. Also, there are those who have been recklessly “deinstitutionalized,” and they should be back in institutions on monitored medications.
There are also “homeless” people in Spokane undeserving of assistance – people who are living on the streets by choice, subsidizing their chosen lifestyle by crimes, great and small. Their public urination, intimidating presence and other bad behavior lower the quality of life for those who cannot retreat to gated communities, passing dollars out their window on the way home.
In short, we need to stop creating crime with prohibitions upon consenting adults making what should be their free choice under reasonable regulation. Where there are only risks of self-harm, policies must have more tolerance. For those who commit crimes that harm the person and property of others, we need to have less tolerance.
We need to redirect the crime-causing resources wasted on prohibition, and redirect the resources toward controlling and institutionalizing those who cause harm. Instead of being an unwitting tool of chaos, government needs to refocus on preserving an order suitable to the safety and liberty of its cooperating citizens.
Craig Mason is an attorney and Spokane native who has taught at Columbia Basin Community College, WSU-Tri-Cities, EWU and Gonzaga.
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