Pubdate: Sun, 25 Aug 2002
Source: Star, The (IL)
Copyright: 2000 The Sun-Times Co.
Note: The Star prints 23 local editions in Illinois
Author: James E. Gierach


"Cocaine mother lode seized" a recent headline proclaimed, buttressed with 
a photo of the two-ton cocaine seizure.

This quarter-of-a-billion-dollar drug bust was sizable enough to pay a 
quarter of a day's federal deficit for the nation during Ross Perot's first 
campaign for U.S. president.

That's some serious cash money - which brings me to today's drug-war 
lesson: The drug war does do some good.

No, as evidenced by the repeated seizures of drugs by the ton, drug war 
does not stop the flow of drugs and it causes turf-war violence. But drug 
war does feed the poor and it does redistribute the wealth - from rich 
countries and communities to poor countries and communities.

Ironically on the same day that the Chicago area cocaine story broke it was 
reported that "Rich '90s failed to lift all: Income disparity between races 
widened greatly, census analysis shows."

The story was complete with tables, color graphics and a photo of a young 
man pushing a shopping cart loaded with junk down a Chicago South Side 
Oakland neighborhood street.

On the brighter side, the drug business, made possible by drug prohibition 
laws, is the principal antidote to the economic destitution experienced by 
people of color on Chicago's south and west sides and in poor communities 

The drug war is the hand that feeds the poor with drug profits like manna 
from heaven, while the same hand - too often - kills them. (That was the 
message of my Bud Billiken Day float entry in 2001, a message the Chicago 
press chose not to publicize.)

Drug war gives, but it also takes away. It gives sustenance to families, 
but often it takes child from parent - by prison, by violence, by gang and 
by addiction.

Why have not the nation's strongest African-Americanand Hispanic leaders, 
some in Chicago, led the cause for an end to drug war that disparately 
incarcerates African-American and Hispanic people, that encourages 
heavy-handed policing, that erodes civil liberties, that transforms 
neighborhoods into war zones that corrupt police and children alike?

Paraphrasing: "It's the money, stupid."

The revelation that drug war does do some good was powerfully driven home 
for me while I was campaigning for Cook County state's attorney in 1992. I 
was collecting nominating petition signatures in front of a Walgreen's on 
Chicago's South Side. I shook hands and would say, "Hi, I'm Jim Gierach. 
I'm running for state's attorney to stop the violence by taking the profit 
out of the drug business. Will you sign my petition?"

One African-American man did not sign, instead he just stared at me a long 
moment and then entered Walgreen's without signing or speaking. I thought, 
he either doesn't like white guys or he's suffered some horrible drug 
experience." Nervously, I awaited the man to exit the store. Finally, he did.

"What did you say to me?" he asked.

I repeated my spiel verbatim. Then, he spoke, "Let me ask you this. A black 
woman works as a domestic making $150 a week. She's unmarried and has five 
kids. The oldest is 16 (years of age) and brings home $600 a week, which 
his mom uses to support the family. Why should that woman vote for you?"


The drug war does do some good.

James E. Gierach

Oak Lawn
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