Pubdate: Tue, 04 Oct 2011
Source: Winnipeg Free Press (CN MB)
Copyright: 2011 Winnipeg Free Press
Author: Craig Jones, former Executive Director of the John Howard Society of Canada.


Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz says, "We know that gangs are in Winnipeg,
just like they are in every city in North America, big and small, and
we're going to have to deal with it... I don't think they're going to
go anywhere," (National Post, Oct. 2).

The mayor's fatalism is misplaced. It's true that gangs are ubiquitous
in human communities, and always have been, but criminally violent
gangs are a creation of failed public policy. They are the unintended,
but completely predictable, consequences of drug prohibition -- just
as they were the unintended but completely predictable consequences of
alcohol prohibition in the 20th-Century. Why is this?

Making drugs illegal creates a black market. Disputes within the black
market cannot be resolved through legal means, so market participants
employ violence. Gang-on-gang violence provokes citizens to demand
that police "crack down" or "get tough," which has the unintended
consequence of increasing competitive pressure within the black market.

As competitive pressures increase, so does violence between rival
black market operators and between black market operators and the
police. This is how it worked in Al Capone's Chicago and how it's
working today on the Northern border of Mexico. The phenomenon is the
same, only the scale is different. Two summers ago it was the lower
mainland of Vancouver. Today it's the city of Winnipeg.

Drug prohibition produces violence, but the violence is not over drugs
per se. It's over the profits that derive from the black market.
Everyone knows and admits this, but few have the stomach to accept the
implications: governments have to take the bull by the horns and
decide just how serious the problem of gang-on-gang violence really
is, because it's not inevitable.

The problem is that politicians -- municipal, provincial or federal --
prefer easy over hard and theatrical over substantive. That means we
get the optics and rhetoric of "crack down" and "get tough" --
simplistic, feel-good sloganeering and fear-mongering from the tabloid
press -- rather than substantive changes to address the root causes of
gang-on-gang violence.

Going to the root of the issue requires facing up to the iron laws of
supply and demand and admitting that prohibition is only going to
create escalating levels of black market violence.

Am I suggesting that police shouldn't enforce the laws? I am
suggesting that it's the laws that produce the violence that citizens

Mayor Katz could use the crisis in Winnipeg to demand that the federal
government commission an arm's-length, evidence-driven analysis of how
well prohibition is performing as public policy. He'll do this if he
thinks that the gang-on-gang violence that is tearing apart his city
is a real menace to public well-being. Challenging an entrenched
public policy, even a failed one, is hard; even harder when that
public policy is supported by ideology but contradicted by evidence.
So I'm not holding my breath. Good luck, Winnipeg.
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.