Victimhood And Responsibility

The war on drugs has been a hot topic for some time.  By some estimates, the program, instituted by President Nixon, has cost the American tax-payers $1 trillion dollars with few to none of its declared goals met.  Whether you support the war on drugs, one can understand why politicians would be hesitant to move to close the program: “My opponent is soft on drugs!”, “My opponent wants to make it easier for your kids to do drugs!”.  One thing I cannot understand is how drug dealers are somehow victims of the war on drugs.

The ACLU, in two recent blog posts have lamented the victims of the war on drugs: women who are drug abusers and dealers and their families, and those drug dealers or users who have had their voting rights restricted or revoked due to felony convictions.

The War on Drugs = A War on Women and Families:

[…] the number of women with convictions, especially  low-level drug-related convictions, has skyrocketed. Over the past two decades,  the number of women in prison increased at a rate nearly double that of men.  Women of color are disproportionately affected: African-American women are more  than three times as likely as white women to be incarcerated, and Hispanic  women are 69 percent more likely. Two thirds of women state prisoners are the  mothers of minor children.

When individuals leave prison, they face a host of barriers  to obtaining housing, employment, education and subsistence benefits for  themselves and their children — including bars on receiving governmental  assistance based on prior drug convictions. Women of color, who are  disproportionately poor and often bear the primary responsibility for raising  their children, are disproportionately dependent on the government to satisfy  their basic human needs through programs like public housing, Temporary Assistance  for Needy Families and Medicaid, and therefore are particularly impacted by  governmental bans on receiving such assistance based on prior drug convictions.

Women also are affected by policies targeting members of their families who are  involved in the criminal justice system. For example, women who live in public  housing may be evicted if a member of their household engages in criminal  activity, and people with criminal histories are frequently denied admission to  public housing in the first place. In 2002 alone, the U.S.  Department of Housing and Urban Development reported that 46,657 applicants for  conventional, project-based public housing were denied admission because of “one  strike” criteria (the policy of excluding people with criminal records  from public housing).

I fully admit that my views on whether criminals are somehow victims of their own crimes due to the penalties incurred from convictions come across as cold, callous, and uncharitable.  But I cannot sympathize with convicted criminals.  All crimes are the result of voluntary actions by people who know what they are doing is illegal, especially drug crimes.

I do actually feel sympathy for the children of imprisoned drug convicts as they are the only innocents in the issue.  They are in an environment which they cannot escape until years later, and even then, having been raised in an atmosphere which encourages drugs and crime, unfortunately, most often continue in the “family business”.  I do not feel sympathy for women who are involved with drug offenders.  They know (more often than not) the situation going into the relationship the type of individual with whom they are sharing a home and bed.  In the same way, it is difficult for me to sympathize with people who choose to live on an active fault line, and complain when earthquakes destroy their homes.

The women who are left with children and housing bills due to a man who has been sent to prison for drug offenses are victims of the drug offender, not the drug laws.  It is not the “unfair” drug laws, but rather the drug offender, whose actions have created a situation where his family is left struggling, which has created victims.

There is a tendency to deflect blame when matters of morality are concerned.  When someone’s deeds create victims, many times there is an effort to look everywhere but at the true culprit.  In cases such as these, people look to the punishment as the cause, rather than the action which caused the punishment.  Let’s grant for the sake of argument that drug laws impose excessive punishments.  It is irrelevant considering that no one is required to sell and abuse drugs.  Participation in the drug trade, be it consumer or seller, is wholly voluntary.  I have never been required to take illegal drugs, and as a result of my decision to abstain, I have never been a “victim” of so-called unfair drug laws and neither has my family.

The Right to Vote: Another Victim of the War on Drugs:

Michele Convie was convicted of her last felony drug offense  in 1986.  Twenty years later, after  exhausting all other means, she decided to file  a lawsuit challenging the State of Arizona’s denial  of her right to vote based on those drug convictions, with the ACLU  representing her.  Sadly, the facts that  Michele had successfully completed a drug rehabilitation program, developed  stronger ties with her family, and landed a job as the director of a shelter  for women and children in Tucson  were irrelevant to the courts, which failed to restore Michele’s right to vote.  As far as the judicial system and the State of Arizona were concerned, the drug crimes  Michele committed two decades ago would still haunt her, still limit her  ability to fully participate in her community as an engaged voter.  As a result, Michele went from being a target  of the war on drugs to one of its many victims.

[…] It is a vicious  cycle: the policies of the “war on drugs” criminalize even low-level  drug offenses; many individuals caught up in this net are squeezed out of the  electorate and their fate is placed in the hands of people who have not been  elected with their input and their concerns in mind. […]  If the goal is to overcome the public health problem of drug  abuse, states should involve people with past convictions in their communities,  not shut them out.

Is it fair to revoke or limit voting rights for convicted felons?  I think so.  But this again should be an irrelevant consideration.  Punishments are not imposed until a crime is voluntarily committed.  For example, I have never had my driver’s licence suspended or revoked as a result of a DUI conviction.  There is a simple reason for that: I have never been arrested for DUI…because I do not drive drunk.  This is the main reason I dislike the phrase “______ is X% more likely to be arrested/convicted…” as if individuals are randomly assembled and arbitrarily arrested and convicted of crimes of which they are innocent.

I wonder why those who so readily flout the law would be concerned with voting?  How many are concerned about voting?  A better question is, why would those of a certain political bent be so concerned with securing a felon’s right to vote?  Granted, I am more cynical than most, but I think the motivation to grant felons the right to vote is far more driven by political agenda than concern for the principle.

According to the U.S. Census 2010 (via Wikipedia), blacks make up a mere 12.6% of the U.S. population, but according to the FBI in 2009, blacks accounted for half of all murder arrests, nearly one-third of forcible rape, more than half of all robberies, one-third of aggravated assaults, and one-third of burglaries.  In total, nearly 40% of all violent crimes, many of which are felonies.  As far as drug offenses, according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission in 2010, blacks comprise 34.6% of narcotic drug offenders.

Factcheck.org

This is all to say that blacks represent a disproportionately high number of felons.  They are overwhelmingly registered Democrat and overwhelmingly vote Democrat.  It is primarily liberal organizations who are overwhelmingly concerned with securing felons the right to vote.

Democrats have a virtual lock on the black vote.  What seems to have gone unnoticed is that for decades liberal policies have done more to harm blacks in America than most people are willing to discuss.  Democrats and liberals have a vested political interest in garnering the right to vote for felons where those rights have been restricted.

Comments

  1. “This is the main reason I dislike the phrase “______ is X% more likely to be arrested/convicted…” as if individuals are randomly assembled and arbitrarily arrested and convicted of crimes of which they are innocent.”

    This really bothers me too. They are implying that race or gender makes one predisposed to crime. It is not your race or gender that makes you a criminal. Lack of personal responsibility and accountability are sadly the norm.

  2. In Canada, we actually let inmates vote.
    I can’t say I disagree with this stand. Inmates, parolees, and criminals (former and otherwise) are equally affected by the policies of Government. Their (immediate and future) taxes, healthcare, and social services are all decided by governments that claim to represent everybody.
    I can’t even imagine withholding the right to vote from someone who has been 20 years without a criminal charge.

    • It’s like allowing a shareholder who embezzles from the company a seat at the table. Sure the policies will effect them too, not taxes though, the bottom 50% of the population doesn’t pay federal income taxes, which includes the vast majority of felons.

      But either way, people know the punishment going into the deal. No one is required to commit felonies.

  3. All crimes are the result of voluntary actions by people who know what they are doing is illegal, especially drug crimes.

    I guess I’d have to question, though, whether all “crimes” ought to BE crimes. WHY are we criminalizing a subset of drug usage (marijuana, cocaine, etc) while allowing liberty for other drug usage (alcohol, tobacco, caffeine)?

    If someone wants to enjoy a joint or a drink of beer at the end of the day, how is that anyone’s business?

    I think what the ACLU is saying (rightly) is that we have “criminalized” a whole segment of society – too often the poorest – that should not be criminalized. We criminalize behavior which causes harm to others, not merely behavior that “good people” disagree with.

    Having a beer = no harm to others/not a crime. Drinking and driving = HARM to others/crime.
    Smoking a joint = no harm to others/not a crime. Stealing to have money to buy marijuana = HARM to others/crime.

    THAT should be the difference. We can criminalize behavior that likely will cause harm to others, but what constitutional business is it of gov’t if someone wants to imbibe in a drug of their choice in their home?

    It always seems strange to me that those opposed to “big gov’t” intrusion are too often the ones who support big gov’t intrusion when it comes to some laws. At least, thankfully, the libertarians are generally consistent on this point.

    John…

    There is a tendency to deflect blame when matters of morality are concerned.

    Speaking only for myself, I’m not seeking to deflect blame. I’m questioning the morality of the laws in the first place. Even if one is opposed to drug usage (I am, after all, except for the caffeine in my soda…), these laws just aren’t working. IF one is supporting criminalizing SOME drug usage to reduce drug usage, then it just isn’t working and it’s time for a new approach. Just like when we abandoned the failed Prohibition laws, it’s time for changing THESE prohibition laws. As a matter of justice and our American ideals.

    One man’s opinion.

    • The addiction drugs create is in the substance itself. Not true for alcohol or caffeine. The addictions are so entrapping that crime inevitably follows.

      Your entire second point presupposes penalties are for purely rehabilitative in purpose. We don’t lock up murderers fof the purpose of rehab. It is a justice issue.

    • John…

      The addiction drugs create is in the substance itself. Not true for alcohol or caffeine. The addictions are so entrapping that crime inevitably follows.

      So, it is your point that alcohol itself is not addictive, but nicotene is: And so, NICOTENE ought to be criminalized but alcohol ought NOT be criminalized?

      Likewise, are you saying that caffeine is not addictive, but marijuana is, so marijuana should be outlawed, but not caffeine?

      That is, are you saying that we can rightly criminalize substances that are addictive, but not those which aren’t?

      If so, first of all, I’m not sure that your facts are correct (I’m not sure they’re not, either – I’m just not an expert in the field). This source classifies both caffeine and alcohol as addictive, as did every other source I found when I did a quick search.

      Do you have some source for this opinion?

      Even if, say, caffeine or marijuana is addictive, is that reason to criminalize it? What of the soda drinker or pot smoker who just engages in casual use of the substances – on what basis would we criminalize that? That seems like a rather big gov’t and intrusive approach to personal liberty.

      Your entire second point presupposes penalties are for purely rehabilitative in purpose. We don’t lock up murderers fof the purpose of rehab. It is a justice issue.

      I don’t presuppose that at all. I’m saying that IF we have inmates coming out of prison (they are) and IF there is a likelihood that they will commit crimes again and go back to jail again (they likely will) – both of which COST society – then it is only rational to me to invest a LITTLE money before the fact rather than paying MORE money after the fact.

      I’m an advocate for smaller, smarter gov’t.

      • Perhaps you could produce even anecdotal evidence of someone robbing a liquor store because they need their coffee fix, or just need one hit off a camel. Sure there are addictive qualities to nicotine and caffeine, but they do not rise to the quality of crack addiction. Big difference.

      • John…

        Perhaps you could produce even anecdotal evidence of someone robbing a liquor store because they need their coffee fix, or just need one hit off a camel.

        Cigarette robbery

        Cigarette robbery

        Cigarette robbery

        Cigarette robbery and brutal assault (for cigarettes)

        $4 million cigarette robbery!

        How much anecdotal evidence would you like? I could do cigarette robberies citations all day long, I’m sure.

        John…

        Sure there are addictive qualities to nicotine and caffeine, but they do not rise to the quality of crack addiction. Big difference.

        Did I say that cigarette and caffeine addictions were the same as crack addictions? No. I was merely responding to your suggestion that we can/ought to criminal substances which are addictive – I was asking for clarification (you’ll notice my comment was in the form of a question).

        So, if I understand correctly now, you are NOT saying that we ought to criminalize all addictive substances, only ones which have a certain “level” of addictivity?

        How would you propose we measure that?

        I think it makes much more sense to stick to criminalizing those behaviors which cause harm to others (or can be reasonably expected to cause harm, as in drunk driving), but leave the “casual” or “responsible” user uncriminalized. The fella drinking a beer or smoking a joint no his back porch at the end of the day is not harming anyone and I see no reason to criminalize such benign behavior.

        • I’m looking for stories about people stealing cigarettes because they needed nicotine, because their addiction is so bad that they needed to do whatever they had to to get them. The recent outbreak of cigarette robberies could be attributed to the dramatic increase in prices due to increase in taxes. I think if you try to think reasonably, you would admit that cigarette addicts behave nothing like crack addicts, or meth addicts. People’s lives don’f fall into ruin because they are cigarette smokers…or coffee drinkers. YOU KNOW THAT!

          So rather than make silly comparisons why not just admit nicotine and cafeine produce physical addictions that narcotics, and don’t ruin the lives of addicts and their families in any way comparible to narcotics.

      • Dan Trabue says:

        John…

        The recent outbreak of cigarette robberies could be attributed to the dramatic increase in prices due to increase in taxes.

        Recent string? I think cigarette thievin’ has gone on since at least when I was a kid. Why would they steal cigarettes because the taxes had gone up? Because they REALLY wanted a cigarette and it was now harder to afford them? That seems reasonable.

        On the other hand, if they were just stealing them to “get rich,” why just cigarettes? I don’t see how this would be related to an increase in taxes or related to just trying to rob a store for money. Could be, I guess, but it doesn’t sound intuitive.

        Is the cigarette addiction not as severe as a heroin? From what I’ve read, heroin is a pretty harsh drug to kick, so the symptoms are more severe. But I don’t know that I’ve read anything that says they’re harder to kick than cigarettes or alcohol.

        According to research reported in Psychology Today, cigarettes are/nicotine is the hardest drug to kick (although it says fattening foods are even harder and “love” harder still), according to that study, the seven hardest to kick addictions…

        1. Love
        2. Fattening foods
        3. Cigarettes
        4. Heroin
        5. Valium
        6. Alcohol
        7. Cocaine

        I’ve heard cigarettes mentioned anecdotally, too, as the hardest drug to kick – and this, from recovering narcotics addicts. What research have you read about how hard various drugs are to kick or what their cost is to society?

        • So then to be clear, you believe the cigarette smoker, the crack head, the meth addict, and the heroin addict are all on the same playing feild, gotcha.

          I am not talking about how difficult the addiction is to kick, per se. But rather the distruction narcotics levels to the addicts own life and their family.

      • Dan Trabue says:

        John…

        rather than make silly comparisons why not just admit nicotine and cafeine produce physical addictions that narcotics, and don’t ruin the lives of addicts and their families in any way comparible to narcotics.

        Well, I’d prefer to stick to logic and research, rather than base decisions on my guesses, which aren’t worth much oftentimes. I simply don’t know that factually it is correct to state that the usage of or addictions to legal drugs are less serious or cost less than addictions or usage of illegal drugs.

        According to this study, meth abuse cost society an estimated $23 billion in 2005.

        According to this study, the cost of alcohol abuse was in the $70-100 billion a year in the 1980s.

        According to this study, the cost of alcohol abuse was $246 billion in 1998.

        According to this report, “The total cost of alcohol problems is $175.9 billion a year (compared to $114.2 billion for other drug problems and $137 billion for smoking).” and…

        “Untreated alcohol problems waste an estimated $184.6 billion dollars per year in health care, business and criminal justice costs, and cause more than 100,000 deaths.”

        The studies cited were from the 1990s and 2000s.

        And don’t get me started on the high cost of the personal automobiles to society (in the trillions of dollars).

        All of that to say, certainly addictions are not a good thing, but there are also people who imbibe in drugs (legal and illegal) without causing harm to others. On what basis would you advocate criminalizing those who are smoking or drinking on their front porch who are causing no problems to anyone else?

        If I was using that same standard, I’d say we ought to criminalize cars because some people drive them irresponsibly, but that wouldn’t make sense, would it? And why wouldn’t that make sense? Because it would remove liberties from folk who are causing no harm (well, SOME harm – every use of a car produces pollution which causes harm, but you get the point) to others.

        That’s the problem, it seems to me, with criminalizing some drugs.

        A question: Are you advocating criminalizing cigarettes and alcohol, too?

        • “If I was using that same standard, I’d say we ought to criminalize cars because some people drive them irresponsibly”

          So then you do believe there is a responsible way to use crack, heroin, and meth, gotcha.

      • Dan Trabue says:

        Also, what’s your opinion about marijuana, which by most measures, doesn’t come close to even costing as much as narcotics, much less tobacco or alcohol? The fella who smokes a joint each night on his back porch: Who is he harming and on what basis would you criminalize that, but not tobacco or alcohol?

        • I am disinterested. Right now it’s illegal, in CT small amounts have been decriminalized, relegated to infraction status and fines imposed. But that’s for revenue, not for health or medical reasons. So I’ll let them hash it out. It doesn’t really matter to me if it is legal or not. It doesn’t have the same negative impacts as narcotics to people’s well being.

          I haven’t tried it, probably won’t. It is in the same category as alcohol as far as I am concerned.

      • Dan Trabue says:

        It doesn’t have the same negative impacts as narcotics to people’s well being.

        So, your concern is with people’s well being? It’s okay to criminalize a behavior IF it might hurt the individuals participating in that behavior, is that what you’re saying? Does that mean you support criminalizing twinkies and McDonalds fries? Where do you draw the line? How “harmful” must a behavior be to individuals to justify criminalizing it? By what cost/measure?

  4. John, you do know that any time you’d like me to quit commenting here, all you have to do is say so?

    All the same, I honestly don’t see why the hesitation to answer straightforward questions.

    • John, a few more facts and thoughts to consider:

      Although the intent of a ‘War on Drugs’ may have been to target drug smugglers and ‘King Pins,’ over half (51.6%) of the 1,663,582 total 2009 arrests for drug abuse violations were for marijuana — a calculated total of 858,408. Of those, an estimated 758,593 people (45.6%) were arrested for marijuana possession alone. By contrast in 2000, a total of 734,497 Americans were arrested for marijuana offenses, of which 646,042 were for possession alone.

      source

      More and more ordinary people, elected officials, newspaper columnists, economists, doctors, judges and even the Surgeon General of the United States are concluding that the effects of our drug control policy are at least as harmful as the effects of drugs themselves

      In the same way that alcohol prohibition fueled violent gangsterism in the 1920s, today’s drug prohibition has spawned a culture of driveby shootings and other gunrelated crimes. And just as most of the 1920s violence was not committed by people who were drunk, most of the drugrelated violence today is not committed by people who are high on drugs. The killings, then and now, are based on rivalries: Al Capone ordered the executions of rival bootleggers, and drug dealers kill their rivals today. A 1989 government study of all 193 “cocainerelated” homicides in New York City found that 87 percent grew out of rivalries and disagreements related to doing business in an illegal market. In only one case was the perpetrator actually under the influence of cocaine.

      A Nation of Jailers. The “lock ’em up” mentality of the war on drugs has burdened our criminal justice system to the breaking point. Today, druglaw enforcement consumes more than half of all police resources nationwide, resources that could be better spent fighting violent crimes like rape, assault and robbery.

      source

      At the very least, maybe you and I could agree that marijuana ought to be decriminalized. The billions of dollars “fighting” marijuana use is not working to end marijuana use. Continuing down a failed path with a failed approach just doesn’t seem wise.

      For the most part, these are ordinary citizens who are harming no one else directly in any significant way. Instead of the billions of dollars spent in arresting, prosecuting and jailing these relatively harmless folk, wouldn’t we be better to “shrink” our gov’t size and return that money to tax-payers? And invest some of it on more serious crimes – crimes that actually HARM others.

      What do you say? Is that a reasonable compromise?

      • So when enough people get injured or killed during the commission of a crime, we should no longer make it a crime? If people who rob banks were killed by bank security at a high rate, we should decriminalize bank robbery?

        We don’t decriminalize crime because it is dangerous for the criminal. Remember no one is required to be a professional criminal. It is never anyone’s turn to sell drugs.

      • John…

        So when enough people get injured or killed during the commission of a crime, we should no longer make it a crime? If people who rob banks were killed by bank security at a high rate, we should decriminalize bank robbery?

        ?? Is that a response to what I’ve said? Because I’ve not suggested anything of that sort. I’ve suggested THE OPPOSITE: That we should criminalize behavior which causes harm to others, but NOT behavior that is something we “disapprove” of. The drunk driver SHOULD be criminalized because his behavior runs the risk of harming others. Smoking a joint on your own back porch should NOT be a crime because it does not harm others.

        So, if that comment is for my sake, you’ll have to explain it, since I didn’t say anything like that.

        I was wondering if we could agree to decriminalize the casual pack porch use of marijuana, where the person is not harming anyone, so that SERIOUS money (billions of dollars) could be returned to taxpayers and go towards dealing with REAL crime that harms others.

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