Headlines are often more important than the stories on which they ride. No newspaper editor ever headlined anything using the word “tragedy” unless he figured he had a weeper of a story.
Which is why I’ve noticed the prevalence of the words “failed” and “lost” in stories about America’s drug war.
A couple decades ago, a newspaper might have headlined a story about a huge international drug ring with the word “smashed,” as in “Drug Ring Smashed.” Now, newspapers do news-y think pieces on the drug war headlined, “America’s Failed Drug War: Cartels Flourish.”
Of course, the first headline is a kind of truth, as is the second — but the choices made in the headline tell it all.
Nationally, when it comes to the war on drugs, we’re a white flag in search of a place to wave.
The logic is inescapable. Drugs are everywhere in America, so that must mean we’ve lost the war on drugs.
And it’s a logic that can be extended to so many other “wars” we fight against things we think are wrong or evil.
Take that whole domestic violence crusade we’ve been on for the last 30 or so years. Are men still beating, stalking, terrorizing and killing women? Yes. Guess we lost the war on domestic violence, too. Get those laws off the books. Those restraining orders cost millions of dollars to serve and enforce, and they don’t work at all.
Drunk driving? Oh, sure, it’s down a little, but it’s still pretty popular, and we’ve spent billions on that one. I say we’ve lost that war, too.
Child molestation. Awful. Absolutely awful. But no matter what we do, those guys just keep re-off ending. That’s not a lost war. That’s a rout.
Ah, you say, but drug abuse is a victimless crime.
And, hey, if you’re sitting in your den, smoking a joint and listening to a little Cee-Lo, maybe it is victimless.
But in the urban area where I live, a place none too shiny to start with, we know better. Blocks and blocks of the city are drugged-out, zombie-d, stripped of everything that can be sold, bereft of commerce, gutted, weirdly silent at noon and carnival loud at 1 a.m., when the party is going full-force. The man hits you when he’s high. Your mom’s boyfriend rapes you after a night of crack smoke “partying” in the living room.
But, you stammer, addicts need treatment, not jail. Hey, so do wife beaters and drunk drivers and baby fondlers. You jail ‘em, they don’t get better, they just get meaner.
Of course, there’s the argument that addicts only steal because the stuff is so expensive.
If you believe that, you haven’t been downtown in a while. The drugs are cheaper than ever, stronger than ever, better and cheaper than the prescription stuff , which is why people start with Oxycodone and move to heroin, because the illegal stuff is a much better deal.
You say, legalizing drugs will take the violence out of the trade.
And there, you’re right. Turn the illegal drug trade over to the big pharmaceutical companies, and instead of gangbangers shooting each other over $25 in dope money, you’ll have lobbyists bribing senators with millions, you’ll have campaign contribution scandals, and of course, the price of heroin will skyrocket while the quality plummets.
For years, I’ve wondered why my 82-year-old diabetic mother pays more for an insulin pill than you pay for a rock of crack. At least the guys on the corner try to keep the customers happy by keeping the price down. If insulin were illegal, my mom would be able to buy it on the corner for $5 a pop.
Some people who are reading this live in places where “junkies” are not a normal, easily identifi- able part of the community. I don’t.
Like a lot of urban Americans, I see junkies or crackheads as a recognizable part of the community, as easy to spot on the street as a UPS driver in uniform.
“See those two guys over by the Dunkin’ Donuts?” a friend will say to me.
“Yeah,” I’ll say. “The old man and the junkie. What about ‘em?”
In some places, the war on drugs isn’t a policy question.
It’s an old man and a junkie out in front of the Dunkin’ Donuts.
And it’s starting to get dark.