View Full Version : The ethics of Death
1. Editorial: Stop the Violence
David Borden, Executive Director, firstname.lastname@example.org
A couple of weeks ago I happened to catch a TV showing of New Jack City, a 1991 movie about an inner-city crack cocaine ring and its leader, Nino Brown. Brown becomes progressively more violent in the course of doing business, taking over a housing complex to house his operation, taking lives and disrupting the community around him. The movie ends with a bit of editorial commentary, that there are Nino Browns in every city, and that sound bites and sloganeering won't solve the problem.
The comments are all too true, and the portrait the movie painted not exaggerated. Also in 1991, for example, a real-life inner-city Boston-area cocaine kingpin named Darryl Whiting was sentenced to life without parole for his deeds. Like the fictional Brown, Whiting had also taken over a housing complex to serve as his headquarters. Like Brown in the movie, Whiting mixed his violence and intimidation with community philanthropy, funding community centers, concerts, barbecues and amusement-park outings for kids. Like Brown, Whiting killed in the course of doing business.
Though ten years old, these fictional and real-life cases have relevance to our cities and their social pathologies today. After all, the policies have not fundamentally changed. Was Juan Raul Garza, executed by the federal government this week for murders committed in the course of running a marijuana trafficking business, anything like Brown or Whiting? Probably somewhat.
Also unchanged are the sound bites and sloganeering of our nation's drug war cheerleaders. One of the most prominent right now is John Ashcroft, the US Attorney General. Ashcroft promised, on taking office, to "reinvigorate the drug war." He declined to explain how the escalated, record level drug arrests and incarcerations under the Clinton administration represented any lack of vigor.
Giving the go-ahead to the Garza execution, Ashcroft claimed, based on a recent Department of Justice report, that "[t]here is no evidence of racial bias in the administration of the federal death penalty." Yet in saying this, he deliberately ignored glaring statistics and serious questions raised in or about the report -- for example, the fact that 85% of federal death row inmates are non-white, or the report's extraordinarily weak claim that there are no caucasian drug trafficking organizations in eastern Virginia. These are not the words of an honest assessor and guardian of justice.
As Senator, Ashcroft was a leading drug warrior who scoffed at those who dissented from the drug war orthodoxy. The idea that people like Whiting and Garza are created and empowered by our drug prohibition laws, and that ending prohibition (through enacting some form of legalization) would reduce crime and save lives, is anathema to Ashcroft and all live in the grip of drug war ideology.
But it is truth. Violent crime substantially rose, then substantially fell, with the enactment and subsequent repeal of alcohol prohibition. Though some drug warriors claim that legalization would not reduce violence, it strains reason to think that sending hundreds of billions of dollars into the criminal underground drug economy, as current policies do, would not increase violence. Since prohibition clearly increases criminal violence, ending prohibition must ultimately help to reduce it.
None of this mitigates the guilt of those who in the course of drug trafficking resort to murder. Yet punishing them, through lifetime incarceration in the case of Whiting, or execution, in the case of Garza, is a pyrrhic victory at best -- their victims are still dead -- and raises moral issues, particularly in the case of the death penalty, over which society does not have a true consensus.
Instead, what is needed is systemic reform to end the power and prevalence of the illicit drug trade and stop these terrible drug wars once and for all. To save lives, to end drug trade corruption, to make our cities safe. To stop the violence.
That is one of many reasons why this organization is committed to the eventual outright repeal of drug prohibition -- while working in the present on smaller portions of the drug issue and with allies in other movements -- but never losing sight of nor swearing off of that goal. * Source: http://www.drcnet.org , The Week Online (#191, 6/22/2001)
Commentary to follow.
So what is it, was Garza executed for being a drug dealer, or being a murderous drug dealer? And therein lies the crux of the public malaise that bogs down any effort to reduce crime and other drug-related frustrations: perception.
When Clinton considered the death warrant, we heard "Drug kingpin". When his execution drew nigh, we heard "Drug kingpin." During the cursory speculation of clemency, we heard, "Drug kingpin."
* So Artie snatches a glittering zircon broach from a retail-store counter and charges out into the mall to make his escape through the exit across the concourse. In the course of his flight, he leaps into a running car, hauling out the mother inside, and racing away with her baby in the backseat. Police chase, and Artie speeds through intersections, causing accidents and injuries, until he finally smashes into a school bus killing three students and the baby in the backseat.
What is the primary issue, here? When Artie is booked, will we hear about the reputed shoplifter facing life in prison? When Artie is arraigned, will the court focus on his shoplifiting? When he goes to trial, will the public be consumed with anger at his shoplifting? Will the headlines read, Shoplifting kingpin sentenced to death? When Artie appeals his death sentence, is he appealing his shoplifting charges? When Artie goes to the chamber, will we be sending a stern message to shoplifters across the country?
What if Artie was an accountant? What if he killed someone racing to the airport to get out of town? Or caused a lethal fire when he shorted the electrical system trying to get out of the office quickly (spilling his drink, or some such). Point being: what if something Artie was doing wrong in his work as an accountant caused the carelessness that cost someone their life?
Would we hear about "reputed accountant Artie Artlebacher"? No, we would hear about "accused murderer".
Juan Raul Garza was a murderer. That he was a drug kingpin was, well ... can anyone remind me why drugs are illegal? But the point is that he killed someone. I know drug dealers who don't deserve the death penalty. They've never killed anyone, and don't want to.
Take the Olympic pipleine up here: a private firm operating an oil pipeline deliberately failed to maintain it. Because of their illegal operation of an oil pipeline, three people are dead, including two children who were a mile up the river when the explosion came. Just as Juan Raul Garza has been executed for murders committed during an illegal operation, why are the directors of this company not facing capital punishment for their willful criminal behavior and the death it caused? Seems the same to me: illegal behavior causes conditions that results in death--why are these directors not held liable?
Because "drug dealer" is such a poisoned idea. What, running a miles-long explosive device with care only for your profits and sack the public safety ... this isn't a bad thing? We should give our understanding to these men who chose not to operate within their legally-prescribed avenue of industry? At least they have a legally-prescribed avenue: Garza's industry does not.
But it won't necessarily stop there. Garza was executed for murder:
* The Drug Kingpin statute calls for the death penalty for murders committed in the course of a drug trafficking offense. (DRCNet; WOL #191) They even call it the "Drug Kingpin" statute! The focus is obviously on the drugs; apparently, committing a murder so you can move truckloads of little girls for a prostitution ring is, well, understandable by comparison.
Garza, 44, was the first person to be executed under the 1988 federal Anti-Drug Abuse Act. President Clinton had stayed his execution pending a Justice Department study of possible racial bias in the federal death penalty process, but Attorney General Ashcroft last week pronounced himself satisfied with that process.
"There is no evidence of racial bias in the administration of the federal death penalty," Ashcroft told the House Judiciary Committee.
The population of federal death row is 85% minority, with 14 blacks, 2 Hispanics, and 3 whites. Non-whites also accounted for 83% of all potential death penalty cases brought by federal prosecutors in the last five years. In the states, nearly half of all condemned murderers are white. Ashcroft did not address this discrepancy. (ibid) And the follow-up zinger:
Robert S. Litt, an associate deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration, told the Washington Post: "I don't think most anybody believes that prosecutors are consciously making decisions based on race. But the difficult question they haven't answered is: Why are 80% of people charged with capital-eligible crimes black or Hispanic? Why Juan Garza and not John Gotti?" (ibid)
So I'll ask the next race-related question: Why are we stiffening up on drug laws and prosecuting primarily minorities? The US government's own numbers indicate that in 1995, 2400 people were prosecuted under the federal crack cocaine standard, which prescribes sentences for crack 100 times heavier than for powdered cocaine. (It is important to note that there is no molecular difference between the two; one can easily crush a rock of crack and snort it.) Of the 2400 people prosecuted in 1995, eleven were not black, and three were white. The US government's own numbers from the same year indicate that 65% of crack smokers were white.
Add to that disturbing trend a 1997 bill that failed despite the support of one Newt Gingrich; the anti-drug bill would have prescribed the death penalty for smuggling anything in excess of "100 standard doses" of a drug; two ounces of marijuana would qualify. It seems it really is about the drugs, in the end. So I guess the tip of the day is that if you're going to kill someone, do it to protect embezzlement or prostitution; do it for religion. But don't do it if you happen to use drugs; you don't have the same right to kill that everyone else does.
Drug Kingpin statute? Dangerous. Dangerous. If the police raid the wrong house, and the old man dies of a heart attack, can they charge the dealers they meant to raid with murder? After all, if he hadn't been dealing, the cops wouldn't have had to storm anybody's house.
06-25-01, 04:04 PM
Although I do not have any answers to give (and I think you realize that), I would still like to comment ...
When Artie goes to the chamber, will we be sending a stern message to shoplifters across the country?
It does seem that being involved in any type of drug association is considered an absolute detriment to all parts of society. Someone could be a repeat child molester but is still treated incredibly better than someone involved in drug-trafficking. A rapist is given much more leniency than someone that totes up every now and then. And the question for this is: What constitutes more of a crime against the State?
Is it the rapist that humiliates and subjugates the victims? No, apparently it's Johnnie up the street that's getting high and carrying some cocaine. Is it the pedorast that can't keep control of his hormones and must satiate his desires by preying on the small and unfortunate? No, it's Juanita up the block smoking crack and distributing the rock.
I look at the situation and it escapes me why the laws are the way they are. Especially since you mentioned that crime went up and down proportionately with respect to the institution of Prohibition and its subsequent alleviation. I used to think that the US government despised admitting it made a mistake, but the situation surrounding Prohibition probably would have taught it something, you know.
As far as the race issue. Perhaps the wealthiest 1% of the nation, which is probably nearly all white, is able to control, to an extent, the severity of the laws against those of non-white status. Admittedly, I'm grasping at straws and declaring a winter when I can't even see a shadow.
One of my assumptions about drug-dealing:
1. It's extremely lucrative financially.
Thus, according to this belief, it represents the ultimate get-rich-quick scheme. People that are rich prefer to stay that way (of course), but more importantly, they will stay that way as long as the number of rich people does not increase disproportionately. So, since the number would increase perhaps exponentially if drug-dealing had less severe punishments, it could be tied to a healthy influence of the wealthiest. Just a theory unfortunately. And probably not a very well-thought out one, if a little on the conspiracy side.
But as far as the discrepancy between whites and non-whites on death row, perhaps it makes a little sense to say there is some conspiracy on the issue. And if does exist, where would I look as to the cause? The rich.
I realize this argument is a thinly veiled slice of Swiss cheese, but it's the best I can offer on this subject.
P.S. Egad! This response is in <i>favor</i> of what tiassa wrote. I reread it and thought I needed to clarify this point.
Only a brief comment for now, as I whisk myself away from the office ....
1. It's extremely lucrative financially.I generally attribute the high cost of drugs to the fact that they're illegal. The best rate I ever got on marijuana was when I ended up moving some in college; it worked out to approximately $12US per 1/8 oz. We sold it at $45 a bag.
Now, $33 seems like a good gross at this point, but the truth of the matter is that everyone puts an abstract "danger margin" on the price; we're going out of our way breaking the law on your behalf, so you owe us--that sort of thing. This is exactly what pushes the costs up.
Considering that a grower can shuck it off that cheaply, what would happen in a regulatory scenario? Let's assume a grower is legal, and can harvest and deliver at a total overhead cost of $64 per oz. ($8 per eighth, but it should be noted that at this point you're probably buying at least twenty pounds) In a regulated industry, one could document the leap from this $64/oz to $320/oz. Labor costs, insurance, and operating expenditures would justify the seemingly outrageous price. Right now, it's up in the air because the criminal element is oriented toward itself; by putting millions of people into the criminal bracket via the creation of a black market, one invites the black market mentality unto those people.
The standard seems somewhat arbitrary; costs on the street for marijuana range between $25 and $100 per 1/8, depending on quality and transport range. The local standard is $40, and the high end on the west coast sits around $60 for domestic quality, and $100 for imported quality. The volatility of the market becomes even more critical for hard drugs, when the price fluctuates quite often at the dealer's fancy: a desperate junky will pay more. This creates the culture of crime, invites police intervention, and incites dealers to raise costs while better securing their operations. Thus, the junkies steal more, the cokeheads are higher strung, and the hippies start growing in their basements, creating a nearly anarchic situation which no amount of criminal policy can sort out. Tell me we would have had a crack cocaine turf war in LA if cocaine was available commercially .... Or, so goes the argument: what would the gangs have been selling?
In the meantime, despite all the new prisons built over the last several years in the US, bedspace for violent criminals is still being reduced to accommodate the ranks of violent potheads and a plethora of drug-using individuals. In the case of drug dealers, they often get a lighter sentence by rolling over on their mules; Clinton's pardon of Kemba Smith is compelling ( http://www.hr95.org/smith,k.htm ), though Families Against Mandatory Minimums covers cases such as these. But that's about the way of it: You get indicted for handling pounds of cocaine, and roll on your eight-ball dealers. You'll walk away with a reduced sentence (maybe 5 years) because you offered substantial aid to further prosecutions, and your pawns will get 20 years. There is a race-based trend in this process, too.
I'll stop now ... I promised to be brief. Thank you, Prag, for your insights, and forgive me if I enjoyed greatly your moment of revelation. In and of itself, that moment is worth more to me than I can express.
Drugs are just a reflection of todays values and beliefs. More than ever people have less familly involvement with community in things like church activity groups etc. Society's been infiltrated with electronics which makes us less dependent on others. This might lead to depression or emptiness. I guess people just dont have any other places to turn than a costly high. The only thing that will change drug crimes is a values shift and self control when it comes to indulgance in things like computers, and fatty foods. I think that values shift is happening as we speak.
08-30-01, 02:58 AM
I have to disagree, in my opinion people get high because its FUN!!!! A LOT OF FUN!!!!!!! sure the addicts come back because they no longer have a choice but drugs like ecstacy, speed, pot etc....I firmly believe its the fun, well at least initially.
As far as teens trying drugs go, I'd have to say that my experience has been that many experiment simply because its a taboo...and one sure way to get a teen to do something is to tell them they are not allowed to do it. Thats a stereotype I know, however I still think it holds true for a great many teens.
The taboo was always an attraction when I was growing up. I grew up in a little town where the pipeline to bring in the sunlight had holes in it for many years and the closest I ever came to drugs was reading about it in the newspaper. Such is not the case now. It is as available as it is anywhere else.
To say the wealthy is the cause of the prision overcrowding is a bit simple in my estimation. There are a lot of factors here driving it. Among them are also the politicians who run on the stance of being tough on drugs. When mom and pop are scared to go out at night because of crime and the poiticians says we can fix it up by jailing the drug crowd, there is your perpetrator. Mom and pop will buy it. And then the next bright one says keep'em in jail longer. ect.
Are you guys saying I should try drugs???!?!? Ironic because today was my first day of high school!
Are you guys saying I should try drugs???!?!? Starting high school? Honestly, give your brain a couple more years to finish a couple of developmental processes; it's wise, but I know people who started in junior high who do better in life than I do.
But, otherwise ... yeah. Sure. Just be really really careful and learn as much as you can about what you're taking before you take it. Often, your research will convince you to not take a substance because it doesn't seem worth it. Apply the same generalizations of trust you hold in sobriety to the drug market; the dishonest are even more naked if you're vigilant.
It's better to be smart than lucky with drugs; I once overdosed on Valium by making three simple mistakes--1) I drank alcohol on top of the V, 2) I took four pills instead of one, 3) I didn't research the pill well enough to recognize the heavier doseage. My girlfriend at the time hauled me out of my own vomit on the living room floor at four o'clock in the morning and threw me in the shower. Seriously, as it's the closest I've gotten to damaging myself with drugs ... be very careful.
But don't take up a habit on our say-so; make sure it's what you want. When they talk about changing your consciousness and so forth ... I'm just now, after ten years as a stoner, discovering that my core personality is still there, and that the "changes of consciousness" are, in fact, as relative as any other mask we wear. It merely changes the manner in which I address myself and my relationship to the world. The fundamental me is unchanged; how it perceives everything else is massively different.
How's that for an endorsement? :D
Thankyou for the advice Tiassa. I'm glad I can talk to people with open minds on this forum. I highly doubt I'd ever try drugs, though. Maybe I'm just too skeptical, I dont know, but it just doesnt sound like something I would do. I do however respect the rights of other people in taking drugs if they want too. Its their life righ? It should be legalized.
I'm blessed to be going to one of the best high schools in the city. They even have a police officer! There is one high school not far away where almost everyone is on marijuanna!! (even the teachers)
09-12-01, 02:35 AM
Tiassa endorsing drugs....what next?
Actually I agree completely. If you're going to do drugs, make sure you have a head on your shoulders before doing things that may possibly damage it. I.e. Wait until you're in college.
I think the only reason drugs are illigal is because it's bringing a lot of government funds in. Columbia complains about it's rampant drug problem but they get BILLIONS from the US to fight it. If any of the illegal drugs were legal the government would make ZERO on them because any shmuck can make them as is proven time and time again. Government cannot tax what you grow in a garden.
In Columbia if Marijuana or Heroin were legal the government would lose those billions (and those neat military helicopters) in funding to fight the so called drug war. In the US prisons would have far fewer prisoners meaning fewer guards, less funding all the way down the line.
Tobbacco and Alcholol prices are mostly taxes. That's why they're legal. The government is making Billions off of those two industries. We hear ads about how much the Tobacco companies make. Guess what? The US government makes just as much or more off of tobacco sales.
I think I strayed off topic too much...