Against the Drug War

Against the Drug War:

This is a pretty good argument:

Now, one thing Darnell could do is get his GED, and meanwhile get a job stocking shelves at Staples. Or working at a shoe store or supermarket. He could get vocational training of some kind, with a small loan it wouldn’t be hard to get. But that’s not what a lot of his friends do. The way they make money is by selling drugs....

There is a quiet community norm: young men who drop out of school and do not take jobs, because they can keep money in their pockets by selling drugs on the street. Hardly all young men do this in the community. Most don’t, in fact. But many do – enough that to Darnell, there is nothing unusual about it.

He sees people going to prison for this: but that’s seen as a badge of manhood....

Of the options open to him for having money in his pocket, the most attractive one is the one that gives him the most flexible schedule, allows him to be with his favorite people, and lends him an air of the soldier besides. The question is not why he would choose to sell drugs, but why he wouldn’t.

Darnell is not on the corners because it’s all society prepared him for: that is a melodramatic, antiempirical, leftist cliche. [His brother the air-conditioner repairman] Eugene's doing fine and the community has as many Eugenes as Darnells. Darnell had choice. His choice makes perfect sense for someone like him, where he lives, having had the only life he knew.
What the article misses is that this is not a moral choice. Selling drugs is harmful, predatory, and there is no account made of that.

Yet one could give an account: Darnell probably uses drugs, as well as selling them. He probably enjoys it. Thus, he doesn't see himself as preying on the weak, but on providing a service to people who have the same desires he has himself.

Lacking this opportunity for easy money, the author thinks Darnell would stay in school. I find that harder to believe. Perhaps it's true, but there are still good reasons to drop out of the kind of schools that mostly exist in these neighborhoods. Those other opportunities -- vocational school, small loans, and so forth -- may still prove adequate to entice young men away from bad schools.

So what, though? Vocational school leads to honest, honorable work. It would be a great improvement if more chose that path.

The author finally hints at the destructive power of the police on black neighborhoods. On this point I am wholly in sympathy. The drug-war type of policing is indeed destructive, not only to the community but to the basic civic structure of the United States. We would all be better off without it.

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