During my recent research on street gangs, one item was made clear. They are the primary source for drug distribution. The list of crimes conducted by these street gangs on a daily basis is: Drug trafficking, murder, bribery, extortion, robbery, carjacking, prostitution, human trafficking, and money laundering. Some gangs concentrate on some of these crimes but all of them have drug trafficking as their number one activity. Street gangs are the primary vehicle for drug trafficking. This makes them truly a menace to our society. Yet, we ignore them for the most part. We tend to be "blind" to their destruction and terror. There are 1.4 million street gang members (2011) and we act like they don’t exist.
According to the US Department of Labor there are more than 2.1 million men and women locked up (incarcerated). The majority are there for drug related crimes. Approximately 650,000 persons are released from our jails/prisons each year but at least 52% will return within three years for parole violation or a criminal act. It is a social disgrace to have that many human beings incarcerated and then they get into a "revolving door". The cost of housing each prisoner in a state prison can be as high as $45,000 per year. Wait - it gets worse! It is so disappointing that when we persuade a company to hire some of our youngsters for on the job training they cannot pass a drug test. During the Katrina rebuilding we would warn them that they will be getting drug tested in a couple of months so get yourself clean. For many it was too late, they were hooked and couldn’t shake it.
To many drug dealing is a very big "business" and right now, in America, business is too damn good. The gang leaders don’t have a recruiting program; they "draft". One day my aunt in Los Angeles asked her grandson if he were in the Crips. His reply was, "Grandma, I have no choice it is Crips or die". And these young members have quotas to fill. They must push the dope and get as many hooked as possible. The Peoria, Illinois Chamber of Commerce once did a job study for Black youth (18 – 30). The number one employer was the City government; number two was the local utility company and number three was the illegal drug activity. Peoria has a population of approximately 100,000 persons. No place of any size is immune from drug trafficking. I could not find credible estimates of how large the illegal drug business is in America but with certainly it is at least $250 billion per year. I bet we would be surprised where some of it ends up.
My brothers and sisters we have an extreme problem that needs urgent fixing. I would like to see Black elected officials become more active about addressing this problem. It is my firm belief that withdrawal programs are not the end solution. We need to come together and do something radically progressive. Nothing that has been tried in the past has improved this "illness".
The time has come for bold, Americana style action. The first thing we should do is legalize drugs. Treat it like liquor and cigarettes, tax the mess out of it, regulate it wisely. The demand for illegally transported drugs will soon dry up and the use of street gangs will become endangered. We could close many prisons and reduce enforcement officers along with parole and probation officers.
The next thing we need to do is to write new legislation. Organized street gangs should be described as racketeering enterprises. Amend the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act to include street gangs with certain severe prosecution of their leadership. Everyone knows who the leaders are and where they live. A good example of this is how authorities are currently going after the street gang MS – 13. According to the Associated Press, "The Obama administration declared the ultra-violent street gang MS - 13 to be an international criminal group… The aim is to freeze it out of the U.S. financial system and seize what are estimated to be millions of dollars in criminal profits from drug… and other crimes committed in this country".
Let’s form a taskforce like the old "Untouchables". Forfeit their assets, bust up their leadership and strongly police our banking system that plays along with some of the vast money laundering that is taking place. If we follow the money and clean up the inside corruption that is taking place we will begin to turn the tide. Imagine our nation becoming a populous of people living productive lives once again. Right now we are just seeing our cultures and neighborhoods slide into oblivion. It is not something so great that we cannot manage. Some common sense, a lot of courage and a taste of vision could change it around. God bless us.
Harry C. Alford is the co-founder, President and CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce.