Pubdate: Sun, 15 Apr 2001
Source: Herald American (NY)
Copyright: 2001, Syracuse Herald American
Author: Nicolas Eyle


To the editors:

Sunday's update on the fight to reduce juvenile violence in Syracuse was 
interesting. Several of those interviewed mentioned the root of the problem 
but then went off in other directions. I'd like to add some historical 
perspective in an effort to connect the dots.

"Losing our young" was a nationally recognized concern at another time in 
our nation's history. During the early years of the 20th century Americans 
were concerned with saving our children from the horrors of alcohol-ravaged 
homes. Stories of abused children were common in the papers. Fathers 
drinking up their paychecks leaving their families hungry. Drunken parents 
beating kids. All very real problems. What to do? The answer seemed obvious 
to many Americans. Prohibit alcohol.

Well just a few short years after doing so American began to realize that 
the problems kids had as a result of alcohol abuse by their parents was a 
much smaller problem than a whole new set of problems caused by alcohol 
prohibition. Kids were selling alcohol to adults because, as minors, they 
couldn't be prosecuted as severly as adults. Kids were growing up to love 
the "easy money" available from selling illegal booze. Al Capone was only 
seventeen when he went to Chicago and began his rise to eventual control of 
the illegal alcohol business. Young men sprayed the streets with tommy guns 
in disputes over territory. And fathers continued to spend their paychecks 
on booze, (which was still readily available) and to beat their wives and 
children. As the crime rose and the body count climbed and the streets 
became more and more dangerous people who had lobbyied for prohibition in 
an effort to protect the children realized their mistake.

A famous poster of the era shows a mother with here two young children at 
her side. She is holding a ballot in her hand. The copy reads..."ThEIR 
SECURITY DEMANDS YOU VOTE REPEAL" .  Prohibition was repealed and things 
improved quickly. Homicides and street violence plunged overnight.

The other day I was talking to an asst. district attorney from a 
neighboring county who said she didn't handle drug cases for her office. " 
Well, let me clarify that." she said, " I don't handle drug cases per se. I 
handle the homicides, assaults, robberies and child abuse cases, probably 
seventy-five percent of which are related to drug prohibition."  Parents 
doing prison time for drug possesion don't generally make good parents. 
They're not there. Kids grow up in broken homes, look for easy money, get 
into trouble with the law.

I'm not suggesting that the harms drugs cause would dissapear if we 
regulated their sale as we did with alcohol. We'd still have neglected and 
abused kids out there. But when was the last time we read about a shooting 
occuring over the sale of bootleg alcohol? 1934? When did the current rise 
in this sort of street violence begin? in the early eighties, the same time 
as America began its "War on Drugs". When will it end? When we realize the 
harm prohibition causes and reconsider how we deal with drugs in this country.

Nicolas Eyle, executive director, ReconsiDer: forum on drug policy, Syracuse
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