Pubdate: Thu, 01 Dec 2005
Source: Winston-Salem Journal (NC)
Copyright: 2005 Piedmont Publishing Co. Inc.
Author: Matthew Robinson, associate professor of Criminal Justice at
Appalachian State University
Note: Letters from newspaper's circulation area receive publishing priority


The murder of two Appalachian State University students in the past 13
months - Joey McClure and Stephen Harrington - is tragic. That both
were drug-related might lead some to draw false conclusions about the
university and the surrounding communities, including any of the
following misconceptions: First, that ASU is not a safe campus;
second, that Boone and the surrounding communities are dangerous;
third, that ASU has a rampant drug problem; fourth, that illicit drug
use drives violent crime; and fifth, that the most dangerous drugs are
illegal drugs.

First, these murders occurred off campus. Appalachian State University
is a very safe place. Police statistics and surveys of students by
campus criminologists show that the grounds of ASU are not dangerous,
that students are generally not afraid of crime, and that they
perceive minimal threats to their personal safety.

Second, Watauga County is a very safe place. Murder is very rare in
the mountains. In fact, most crimes known to the police, especially
violent crimes, occur infrequently in Watauga County, and the county's
crime rate is far below the national average.

While there are likely many violent crimes that are not reported to
the police, Boone and the surrounding areas are not generally
characterized by the social and environmental factors that
criminological research suggests are related to high violent-crime

Third, there is little evidence to suggest that ASU has a significant
drug problem. While the university's judicial system handled more drug
violations last year than any other school in the University of North
Carolina system, this is due not only to actual variation in drug use
rates but also to the fact that the university more strictly pursues
such violations. Further, it is highly likely that law-enforcement
agencies serving and surrounding ASU are more focused on drug offenses
than law-enforcement agencies serving and surrounding other university
campuses. Given that Watauga County has so little violent crime, and
because of the local concern over methamphetamine laboratories in the
area, illicit drugs are viewed as more problematic by officials
working on and around ASU than at other state university campuses.

Fourth, research by drug-policy experts illustrates that most
drug-related crime is not psychopharmacological in nature. That is,
the bulk of violent crime associated with illicit drugs is not due to
individuals committing violence under the influence of illicit drugs.
Instead, drug-related violence is mostly systemic and economic
compulsive. Systemic violence is criminality driven by the black
market (for example, when one dealer kills another dealer or a buyer
who owes him money). Economic compulsive violence is criminality
committed by people to obtain money to buy drugs, which are higher in
price, given their illegal nature. The murders of ASU students Joey
McClure and Stephen Harrington are good examples of systemic violence,
which makes up the majority of murders associated with illicit drugs.
One proper conclusion to draw from these deaths is that, in many
cases, America's drug war actually produces violence and murder. Since
drug dealers cannot solve their disputes legally - in a court of law,
for example - they turn to violence to settle their disputes. This in
no way reflects badly on ASU, the surrounding communities, or the
law-enforcement officers who serve the area. Instead, it suggests that
national drug policy is fundamentally flawed because it actually
produces many violent crimes committed by people engaged in the
illicit drug market. Fifth, the most dangerous drugs are legal. For
example, tobacco kills 420,000 Americans every year. According to ASU,
the university enrolls 14,653 students. According to the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 22 percent of
college-age youth smoke cigarettes and one-third of them will die from
tobacco-related causes. This means approximately 1,064 current ASU
students will suffer tobacco-related deaths. Further, according to the
Office of National Drug Control Policy, the drug most likely to
produce violent behavior is alcohol, which happens to be the drug most
widely used by ASU students.

The available evidence concerning drugs and crime thus suggests that
if ASU wants to protect its students from drug-related harms, it
should push for alternatives to the drug war that actually reduce
harms, and focus most of its efforts on making sure that its students
do not smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol heavily.

- - Matthew Robinson is an associate professor of Criminal Justice at
Appalachian State University in Boone.
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin