Unlimited Access. Try it Today! Your First 10 Days Always $0.99


News Opinion Op-Eds

A caravan for peace

One hundred and ninety six people were murdered in Baltimore last year. Recent figures show our violent crime rate is more than two and a half times the national average. Many of these crimes spawned from the illegal nature of the drug trade, and the vast majority of them will go unsolved because so much police time is spent arresting drug users and low-level dealers.

But this weekend, a cross-country caravan of victims of the drug war brings a message of change to Baltimore. Dozens of Mexican and U.S.-based drug war survivors, law enforcement officers and others with firsthand experience with failed drug laws have been traveling for weeks now, educating people about the destruction our policies have wrought and the futility of continuing them.

Forty years after President Nixon declared the war on drugs, and after a trillion dollars spent, drug use continues unabated, yet the power of the gangs supplying the drugs has greatly increased. Those gangs were responsible for more than 60,000 deaths and 10,000 disappearances in Mexico over the past six years, and untold deaths in the United States over the past four decades. Family members of some of those killed are on the caravan today, and polls show voters agree with them that it's time to enact drug law reform. Politicians and policymakers need to abide public opinion and common sense by providing treatment, not jail time, to people with substance abuse issues.

I was a police officer. Over the course of my 34-year career, I arrested hundreds of people for drugs, and I saw how this not only failed to prevent violent crime but caused more violence as others battled to take over newly available markets. I saw that when those I arrested went to jail, they lost their jobs, homes, friends and families because of it. It's unlikely that anything in their lives changed for the better because of their interaction with the criminal justice system. Most of them didn't receive treatment for their addictions. They weren't educated. And they weren't given job skills that would help them reintegrate into society.

I know the harm drugs can do and how important professional help is to treating drug addiction. And I know that for every dollar spent on treatment, four to seven dollars are saved on crime and criminal justice costs. But I also know how few addicts receive this treatment because our drug control funding priorities are upside down.

In the end, the only things that improved were the profits of the violent drug cartels running the trade and the arrest numbers of the police department. Numbers that tried so desperately to prove that which is unprovable: that we are winning this costly, destructive, unwinnable war on drugs. All the while the drug treatment centers, the employment agencies, the schools of the city — and across the nation — remain underfunded.

Although this is a problem in Baltimore, it's not merely a Baltimore problem. President Barack Obama has repeatedly said we should treat drug abuse as a health problem rather than as a criminal matter, but he has yet to back up his rhetoric with shifts in drug control funding. He, like President George W. Bush before him, spends the majority of federal drug money on law enforcement, punishment and interdiction, rather than on prevention and treatment.

This in turn, puts pressure on countries south of the border, many of whose foreign aid, essential to their very survival, is tied to their participation in the American war on drugs. That is what brought the Caravan For Peace here this weekend. Imagine losing your own child — to drug war violence, to the criminal justice system or to drugs themselves — and being able to do little about it because it's not even your own country's war. That is the plight for Javier Sacilia, the renowned Mexican poet leading the caravan, who lost his son at the murderous hands of the cartel.

For the sake of the mothers and fathers, the brothers and sisters and daughters and sons of those who have been lost but who have no voice to protest, make your voice heard. Tell your elected leaders it's time to change our priorities in the war on drugs. Tell them it's time to fund treatment centers and schools, not another juvenile justice center.

Neill Franklin is the executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a retired Maryland State Police major and former Baltimore Police lieutenant colonel. His email is neill.franklin@leap.cc.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
  • Big pharma should support the NIH
    Big pharma should support the NIH

    Recently at a reception, one of my faculty colleagues at Johns Hopkins expressed concern about her academic future. The pay line for National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants in her field was 7 percent; that means that she has to spend two or three weeks writing a proposal that has only a 7 percent...

  • Hillary Clinton can't count on the Obama coalition to turn out for her

    In news only slightly more surprising than this morning's sunrise, Hillary Rodham Clinton announced last Sunday that she is running for president again.

  • Restoring people's faith in government
    Restoring people's faith in government

    In Maryland and across the country, Americans are growing deeply cynical about Washington. And for good reason. They perceive that policymaking is increasingly an insider's game, with little role for the public itself. They feel that their voices go unheard in Congress. And they see, time and time...

  • Hogan must fund health care
    Hogan must fund health care

    At the beginning of this year's General Assembly session, the prognosis for quality, affordable health care in Maryland was unclear. Newly elected Governor Larry Hogan had proposed a number of cuts to critical programs, the funding mechanism for our health insurance marketplace was up in the air...

  • Is there value to the n-word?
    Is there value to the n-word?

    The "n-word" — what a complicated topic to discuss in 2015. You're either for its free expression or against its very existence.

  • Memo to educators: Intelligence isn't fixed
    Memo to educators: Intelligence isn't fixed

    Is intelligence fixed or changeable? Is it a quality you can develop like strong muscles, or one you were born with, like eye color or sexual orientation?