About 24 hours ago as I write this, in the wee small hours of Monday, my wife and daughter were in their beds in our third floor apartment when at least 15 gunshots were fired on the ground floor of our building. Two people were subsequently driven to the hospital with critical wounds. The police arrived shortly afterwards and cordoned off the building. It was still cordoned off when I arrived home from work seven hours later; I had to have a police escort to be allowed into the building to go up to our own apartment. Fortunately, my wife and daughter were unharmed.
I cannot prove this at all, but there is plenty of reason to suspect that the altercation may have involved the trade in prohibited drugs.
In discussing the various forms of prohibition, those which existed before, those which exist now, and those which have been proposed for the future, quite a bit of ink has been devoted to the cost, the depopulation of poorer communities, and especially in the cases of drugs, alcohol, and to a lesser extent, gambling, the negative health effects on the people involved and their families. Not enough attention is paid, in my opinion, to the simple fact that prohibition ensures that the trade in prohibited goods and services will generally be dominated by the most ruthless, violent, and corrupt people.
It is a general rule of economics — in fact, a general rule of human nature — that whenever particular goods or services are desired by some people, someone will find a way to provide them. Once again, this is not a sometime thing. It is hard, cold fact. The retired and current law enforcement people in the Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP, originally, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) have been talking about this since 2002. Remove one drug dealer from the marketplace, even a so-called ‘kingpin,’ and inside of days, weeks at most, someone else will have filled that niche.
Most Americans have at least a vague knowledge of our country’s romance with the so-called “Noble Experiment,” beverage alcohol prohibition that was the law of the land from 1920 to 1933. Prohibition, and the organized crime gangs that it bred, have been staples of popular entertainment ever since. Alcohol prohibition built those gangs, enriched them, and empowered them. In cities across the country, government and law enforcement were unable to put them out of business. These same gangs also earned money from a variety of other prohibited goods and services: gambling, prostitution, narcotics, counterfeiting, and loansharking. When alcohol prohibition ended in 1933, the gangs didn’t go away. They simply moved their investments into those other areas. This continues to this day in some ways. They compete or cooperate with foreign drug cartels, street gangs, and other such groups.
Every one of these prohibited products and services entail natural risks of one sort or another, to health, to families, even to society at large. But study after study has proved two things: prohibition does not effectively lessen any of these dangers, to customers or suppliers. And prohibition always produces negative consequences even worse than the ills they are intended to stop.
And make no mistake, you shoulder a part of the burden for the policies that create those ills Hopefully, you won’t be awakened in the night by gunshots between people in the drug trade. But you might be. We live in a working class neighborhood, not a poor one. In point of fact, prohibited trades of all kinds may be found in all neighborhoods, not just poor or minority ones. It may be somewhat more prevalent in those poorer neighborhoods, and beyond doubt, if you live in one of these neighborhoods, your chances are greater of being arrested and convicted on such charges and of serving a tougher sentence. But the best neighborhoods aren’t immune.
Apart from the risk of crime associated with these prohibited trades, you are helping to shoulder the economic costs of prohibition. Your taxes are paying to incarcerate offenders. They are paying for law enforcement to pursue the offenders. They are paying for transfer payments for mothers and children whose men have been locked up; the young male Black population has been decimated in many places by the “war on drugs.”
If for some legitimate reason you happen to be carrying a large amount of cash, you run a risk of having law enforcement seize that cash as suspected profits from prohibited trade. One brief example here. The I-40 corridor, westbound, near Memphis, is notorious for being targeted by law enforcement aimed at reducing the drug trade. But notice this: the effort is not focused on the eastbound direction, the direction drugs would most likely travel coming from Mexico or the Gulf headed inland. It’s focused on the westbound direction, because that lets law enforcement seize money, allegedly from that trade. And good luck to you if your money is taken. It may take you years to get it back, if you succeed at all. I am happy to note, here, that there is a recent trend of states to moderate or end this practice, called civil asset forfeiture. But the Federal government remains committed to it, and the current Democratic Administration has shown no more willingness to end it than its Republican predecessors did.
And, clearly, this Administration hasn’t learned anything about this general trend. In the short time it has been in office, it has already begun to float plans for new prohibitions, including those for a variety of different types of firearms and, just this past week, menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars. If you believe that banning certain kinds of tobacco products will remove them from the market, then you’re living in a land where the last skywriting read, “Surrender Dorothy.” Firearms prohibition may be particularly futile in an era in which 3-D printers costs are now within reach of even people with moderate incomes, and plans for firearms are available — and unstoppable — over the internet.
On the subject of prohibitions, of all types, the bell really does toll for thee.