Can we spare a little 'change' for a gang?

Drugs, gangs and the consequences of good and bad deeds

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By Mary Kay O'Grady


I hate to turn on the news in the morning, especially Monday, and hear how many people have been shot in Chicago. It’s horrible and it’s senseless. Father Michael Pfleger calls it genocide. It looks like that to me.

Clearly Mayor Emanuel and Police Chief McCarthy have declared war on the gangs and the gangs are fighting back.

Several weeks ago the Sun-Times ran the story that the gangs, feeling the pressure of falling drug revenue, are expanding into the near western suburbs, like Oak Park, River Forest, Elmwood Park, Maywood, Riverside, and others. I know, Riverside raised my eyebrows, too.

Apparently the gangs are sending young recruits, kids too young to be sent to prison, into these and other suburbs to do robberies and break-ins to raise revenue to replace or supplement drug money. Some of the gang wannabes live in these suburbs. The near west suburbs’ police departments have formed a task force to deal with the problem.

Well, you say, they should be in school or mowing lawns or playing baseball, or something. Well, they aren’t. They’re on the loose for many reasons and they need money and attention - If they can survive - both supplied by the gangs.

Speaking of survival, you’re probably muttering that we should be able to get rid of drugs. We should, but we haven’t. But what if we did? It might be worse for those kids. If there were no drugs, what would the large number of people involved in dealing drugs do for an income? What would be the economy of the inner city? It’s not like people are passing up good jobs to risk their lives selling drugs instead.

Since the President’s visit to Colombia, the discussion of legalizing drugs is on the table again. Chris Matthews was yelling about it just last night. Colombia and Mexico are against it, naturally, because drugs fuel unspeakable violence in their countries. So do huge gaps between haves and have-nots. Yeah, I’m not only talking about Colombia and Mexico.

Suppose we legalized - and produced - drugs here. We could practically clear out our jails, at least of first-time offenders. Young people could keep a clean arrest record and young professionals could stay off martinis. We could probably tax drugs heavily (that’ll show ‘em), and boost income for all state and local governments, but how much tax money would return to the formerly drug-infested neighborhoods? The culture of violence can’t match the culture of bureaucracy. Would we wind up with any replacement jobs?

So, you say, surely you can’t include heroin and other hard drugs? Don’t ask me. I only know what I read and see in the movies. Using pot is a social ritual for lots of hardworking, contributing citizens. I’m pretty sure hard drugs are not. And I know for sure that tobacco, which is legal, is lethal.

Jeez, it’s complicated. But having lived this long, I know about the unintended consequences of both good deeds and bad deeds.

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Jim Coughlin  

Posted: April 27th, 2012 6:49 PM

Very interesting and informative report on West Humboldt Park in this week's issue of The Reader. Too often we forget about the people living in a crime ridden neighborhood who are good citizens but forced to deal with the horrors of violence on their streets.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 27th, 2012 6:29 PM

Mary-Kay -- you captured a lot of issues; all important. I am with you on seeking new solutions. Everytime the federal government forms a committee to discuss the drug problem, all we get is more manpower to try and cut off the drug supply in Afganistan, Colombia, Mexico, etc. Every time we make in-roads into cutting supply from a country, the mega drug enterprises move to another country. It is time that we concentrate more effort on the use issues and less on the supply enforcement side. If that means legalizing some drugs, so be it. If it means better treatment, so be it. This whole travesty has gone on too long.

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