Would society be better off if we legalized public order crimes?
After my wife and her mother walked past a drug deal in progress on our residential street last month, we decided we’d had enough. From then on we would call 9-1-1 whenever we saw anybody – black or white, hipster or Latino — using illegal drugs on our block. That included marijuana.
In our inner-city neighborhood joints are smoked like cigarettes, right out in the open, by stoners of all ages, including people strolling casually down the sidewalk. Sometimes when my wife and I take our dachshund for an evening stroll it seems we are walking through one continuous cloud of reefer smoke. It’s like being at a Grateful Dead concert c. 1975. Nobody cares because everybody does it. It’s considered normal for the ghetto.
So it was time for a new normal. The next time my wife saw our 20-year old ne’er-do-well neighbors smoking weed in their backyard she told them to knock it off. (My wife spent 15 years investigating child abuse and neglect cases in The Big City. She is fearless.) Naturally, they dismissed her.
“This is what black people do,” they informed her.
“Seriously?” she said. “Not the black people I know.”
“Well, this is our property.”
“It’s your grandfather’s property, and what you are doing is illegal.”
“So? It’s our property.”
They simply couldn’t grasp the concept that you couldn’t do illegal things on your own property. (Apparently St. Louis Public Schools do not offer much in the way of logic courses.) My wife told them that by openly smoking weed they were sending a message to the dealers that drugs were tolerated on our block. (And, until we came along, they were.) She didn’t bother to explain the Broken Windows Theory to them, but that was what we were thinking. You tolerate a little bit of crime, and it sends a message to the criminals that they can get away with more serious crimes. Anyway, they had been warned.
The next day they were at it again, toking away on the stoop in front of their grandfather’s house. This time I called 9-1-1. I told the dispatcher there were two young men using illegal drugs outside our neighbor’s house. In less than three minutes three cruisers pulled up. Unfortunately, the dope fiends had gone inside.
I soon learned that the cops’ rapid response was due to the fact that, following several recent shootings, our neighborhood was one of the hotspots in which the St. Louis police are stepping up patrols.
THE NEXT NIGHT the perpetrators were our neighbors across the street, some four or five middle-aged people hanging out on the stoop, partying and getting stoned. Again, I called the cops. Again, they fled indoors in the nick of time. However, that seemed to do the trick. Since the visit from Johnny Law that night, open drug use seems to have curtailed considerably. We’ll see how long this continues.
Libertarians/liberals say if we’d just legalize marijuana the crime problem would be solved. Of course we’d have to legalize methamphetamine too, the rural equivalent of marijuana. If the overall goal is to reduce crime, it would make more sense to legalize all drugs and every other so-called public order crime from prostitution to poaching, though it’s hard to see how blanket legalization will make society better off. Anyway, common sense dictates that the burden of proof lies on those who want to change society. They have the obligation to convince the rest of us that society will be better off with legal pot and that there won’t be any damaging consequences. And so far they haven’t made that case. Not to my satisfaction. Until they do we’re sticking with our zero tolerance policy. At least on our street.
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