Sunday, September 20, 2009

A City Divided. A Hemisphere at War: It's time for a new conversation

When Mr. B.E. and I decided to relocate to the U.S.-Mexico border as volunteers in the immigration arena, I braced for confrontation, based on the image I had of the border. I thought I'd experience hot opposition to Mexican and Latin American immigrants. I was largely wrong.

Of course, there is dissention. And, yes, there are some fearful people. But I learned immediately - and much to my surprise -- that the border is a community. Growing up on the Mississippi River, I could relate. I knew that cities in Iowa and Illinois, although perhaps located on opposite banks of the river, are more alike than different. And so are El Paso and Juarez: sister cities on opposite sides of the same river, the Rio Grande.

In my El Paso neighborhood, four out of five people are Latino. Spanish is the predominant language. Everyone has friends in Juarez; most have relatives there. Commerce is done on both sides of the border. People appreciate what each side has to offer. But, in the three years that we've been part-time border residents, militarization has escalated. The border has morphed into a drug war zone. Unprecedented violence has spiraled out of control. Fear and horror take hold.

Our border community now is painfully divided. It's a microcosm of our hemisphere, our world embroiled in a war on drugs. The violence is a wake-up call, not only for Mexico, but also for the US.

So, to open up a continental-wide conversation on 40 years of US drug policy, faculty at the University of Texas at El Paso are convening a precedent-setting two day conference this week, "Global Public Policy Forum on the U.S. War on Drugs." It will look at alternatives to the status quo, in light of the war both in Juarez and across Mexico. The presenters will be key experts with diverse viewpoints from the entire North American continent.

A parallel event simultaneously occurs in Juarez, featuring the mayor of Medellin, Colombia, a city that has significantly reduced drug violence.

The conference is directed at organizing a far-reaching dialogue, engaging you, the public. Dr. Joe Heyman, an event organizer, told El Paso's The Newspaper Tree: "What we want to do is rise above kind of bland, official policy statements or pure academic research into the public discussion of drug policy."

From the event website:

We would like to invite you to participate in an honest and critical dialogue on the successes and failures of the U.S. ‘war on drugs' at the 40th anniversary of the policy. Please share your important perspective and expertise to develop better policies that fit the new social, economic and national security realities that we face in our globalized world. This dialogue is crucial, as nation-states all over the world like Mexico and Afghanistan are faced with tremendous consequences of U.S. drug policies. In a highly interconnected world, we must endeavor to create policies that take into account the subtle nuances of relationships among countries. As such, we must also structure policies that will better aid communities that are affected by drug use and drug violence. Your presence is essential for this dialogue.

The event's promotional video, found at the top of this page, sets the tone. For those unable to attend the conference, viewing that short video is educational in itself. [Viewer discretion is advised.]


One Fly said...

You know Billie-I know and enough others know where the solution lies with the drug war. As it is those in DC will never do the right thing and end this. I am not a criminal nor are tens of millions of others. Take the profit out of it and change so many peoples lives for the better overnight. Decades worth of failure with no end in sight-none!

Fran said...

Oh my God -this is heart breaking. 10 years ago I was a consistent visitor to El Paso.

Something has to change - and it will not come easily.

As One Fly says - Decades worth of failure with no end!! This is tragic.

And that video - oh Lord have mercy.

RIGHTER said...

I guess I truly am not very intelligent. I don't hear a solution. Are we supposed to legalize drugs? Are we supposed to just allow the consumption to continue?
I cannot support either of those. I've seen its ravages. And, I reject that it is anything other than a CHOICE.
WHY do I reject that it is anything other than a choice? Let me tell you a story....about two brothers, 13 months apart in age with the same biological parents raised in the same household their entire lives. The older of those two brothers right now sits in prison for his CHOICE to smoke crack cocaine and rob and steal to get it. The younger brother patrols the streets of a major U.S. city as a Captain of Police keeping you and I safe by putting away murderers, drug users, drug dealers and on and on and on.
How can anyone say that this is biological OR environmental? I don't think I could be convinced of that because my beloved nephews' stories are all I need to know the truth.

Border Explorer said...

One Fly, I'm not a user myself, but I know the system as it is is not working. Your last sentence says it all.

Fran, read who watch the video get Extra Credit Points. (Unfortunately, they are worth nothing.) I appreciate your input here as someone with a connection to the border.

Righter, there are no easy answers here. A real solution will require lots of input. Sounds like your mind is made up and perhaps not open to hear implications of the drug war beyond those you already know. Unfortunately, the ravages are also foisted upon innocent people who happen to live in a drug war zone. Thanks for sharing your family's experience. I'm sorry you lost a nephew to drugs. My first cousin has the exact same tragic situation with his two sons: one in prison, one on the police force.

Sherry said...

This is tragic. Decades of wrong headed policies have resulted in this. I have little hope that much will change, but it surely needs to. The entire concept of having "wars" on problems is just the wrong way to approach it. I feel sorry for those who live along the borders. It has indeed turned into a domestic war zone.

RIGHTER said...

I'm willing to listen.
I watched the video.
I saw and heard a lot of finger pointing.
That is not a way to solve any problem but, rather simply stating that there is a problem and blaming the problem on law enforcement.
We all know there is a problem. I am not willing to blame the problem on law enforcement; if for no other reason than the problem existed, which is why law enforcement is there...
The billions we've spent has NOT solved it. I accept that.
Has it made a positive impact upon it? I would contend it has and it does.
I don't believe that eliminating the enforcement of laws will remove the problem. I am willing to consider that maybe we need to try some different and/or more innovative policing techniques.
I also would contend that one of the best policing techniques is being stoned in this video. The best and most effective is for the public to stand united and say, "Enough. We support our laws and we support the broadbased, even handed enforcement of those laws. If you come into our neighborhood to break those laws, we will call the police, we will report you, we will testify against you. We do not care if you are family, friend or foe because you will not do that in my neighborhood."
Such a stance takes much more courage than pointing fingers. I know because I have done it.
While I support treatment options; I don't support any more taxpayer funding for them. From personal and familial experience, I'm inclined to believe the 12 Step approach is one of the best and it doesn't cost...
As one living in rural Wisconsin, I unfortunately can say the ravages affect us here as well. One of my closest High School classmates is the Sheriff in the county next to ours(the county where I grew up). The poverty level there is horrible. The number of meth houses they've busted into is astronomical. I worry about the health impact to he and his officers; to those who have to go into collect evidence afterward; to neighbors exposed to the airborne particulate when disposal of such a property is commenced.
What about innocent children living in them to begin with? The long term damage to their health isn't yet known. Are they good students? Likely not since how to be a good student likely hasn't been patterned for them at home. Does it affect them chemically and hence provide additional behavioral and learning difficulties. Probably. Does this affect all children sharing classrooms with them? The children who lose valuable teacher time because of the extra needed for those kids.... Yes.
The innocent who are affected are many, B.E. I acknowledge that.
I still think we must enforce our laws and that the vigilant, even handed (without regard to gender, race, class, etc.) enforcement of them is our best tool.

an average patriot said...

My hat is off to you guys Billie just stay safe. It is getting worse as you know. There was another Rehab center hit with murders.

Juarez and Mexico's problem is a lot deeper than just the drug wars just be careful!

Border Explorer said...

Sherry, that was eloquent. I can relate to "intensive care" but "war" is not a good way to treat a problem.

Righter, thanks--I understand better where you're coming from now. I don't mean to fault law enforcement at all. They don't make policy, and they have a dangerous job protecting the rest of us. I too live in a neighborhood reclaimed from drug-trade. It takes constant vigilance to keep it that way. You and I have a lot in common even if we don't agree 100%. The commonalities amaze me.

Jim, you are so right. Right. Right. Right. Right on all counts. Thanks for the hat tip. (We don't really deserve that, but I'll take it.)

Border Explorer said...

UPDATE 9/20/2009: "Two Obama czars opt out of drug war forum"

“I don’t know why you’re all so surprised about the federal government’s unwillingness to address this because, quite frankly, they’ve ignored the problem for years, and that’s why we’re in the situation we’re in now." -- El Paso County Sheriff Richard Wiles.

Two key Obama administration officials have dropped out of this coming week’s Global Public Policy Forum on the U.S. War on Drugs, raising questions about whether U.S. federal authorities will be listening to what goes on so far from Washington and so close to the bloody front of the real drug war...

read the rest of the article here:

Dave Dubya said...

I am glad to see this discussed. And it's encouraging to see Righter being open to ideas.

Sadly people engage in self-destructive behavior no matter what the law says. What you see, Righter, as a "choice" has been diagnosed as a medical affliction. Drug abuse is a public health issue and is better addressed as such than as a law enforcement issue.

Not sure of current stats but it was established that treatment was six times cheaper than incarceration in reducing addiction. It is kinder, safer, and more fiscally responsible.

The prohibition of drugs is the direct reason for the violence and crime associated with drugs. Much of the destruction of innocent life would be prevented by taking the profit motive away from gangs.

The bootlegging gangs' rampant crimes of the Prohibition era were ended by ending prohibition. It works the same with drugs. And alcohol is a drug. There's no reason to treat other drugs differently.

Drugs and alcohol management needs education and regulation, not prohibition to reduce their harm.

Portugal has seen a great reduction of crime and violence by de-criminalizing possession. Users are less likely to commit crimes if legal health care based settings are in place to treat them.

There are sane alternatives to the endless war mentality.

Jamie said...

I simply don't believe that making a substance of any kind illegal is a way to irradicate it. When my grandmother was a young mother in 1901, she could buy opiates over the counter to make her own cough syrup for the household. Nobody OD'd, died or bacame an addict.

Information and education are the way to handle the situation. Jail is for those who injure others. Eliminating the criminality will do away with a great deal of the traffic simply because it is less profitable.

Big Mark 243 said...

I don't have anything worthwhile to add, in light of such impassioned and well thought out comments. Watched the video, and while everyone had good points, there didn't seem to be any desire to come to a consensus.

The structure for social change is there, but it is the distraction that keep it from working. Everyone wants a piece of the pie for their own purpose, good and bad.

thepoetryman said...

Everyone wants a piece of such a destructive and out of control and *profitable* business that, perhaps, the only way to control it is to legalize it. It worked for the drug alcohol and it will work for other drugs.

I do not see any other choice. Throwing money at the problem has only led to corruption because everybody wants a piece of the aforementioned highly profitable business. That is a recipe for a continued explosion in growth and a deadly avenue.

thepoetryman said...

I understand your take, but solutions run both ways. We all, I'm fairly confident, can point to someone or more than one someone, in our own families that have been greatly effected by the drug war in some form or fashion. I can certainly say that it has had negative consequences for my family due to drugs and the war on drugs.

It is the thread that binds nearly all of us in one way or another. The solution? Rewire the current system and continue the same methodology over and over- that is the definition of insanity. Do something that has proven results? Yes.