Pubdate: Tue, 04 Oct 2011 Source: Winnipeg Free Press (CN MB) Copyright: 2011 Winnipeg Free Press Contact: http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/opinion/send_a_letter Website: http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/ Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/502 Author: Craig Jones, former Executive Director of the John Howard Society of Canada. GANG WARS -- THE LAW IS TO BLAME 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 deplore. 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. - --- MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.