To Live and Die in Syracuse, New York

By Mark David Blum, Esq.

Three people are shot at a house party in Syracuse. One is dead and two remain in critical condition. The shooter came from Rochester and specifically targeted the deceased allegedly because the victim and the shooter were in competition over drug sales. More than seventy people were at the party and most did not speak English. Police got little help from partygoers because of language and because people donít want to be involved. Our District Attorney, Syracuseís Mayor and the Chief of Police went running to the radio to advertise how they are going to get tougher on the streets.

This is a scenario acted out hundreds of times each day around the world. Leading the charge internationally, the United States continues its relentless War on Drugs and in doing so, is the leading provocateur in the spread of violence and injury. Mexico is on the verge of civil war and our nationís primary enemy, the Taliban are earmarking millions through their sale of opium. We insist on this national policy that is sucking the lifeblood out of millions of human beings and which is costing the nation tens of billions of wasted taxpayer dollars.

Here in Syracuse, law enforcement is promising a surge in force to combat the outbreak of violence and shootings that has plagued the City of late. More cops on the streets, heavier handed dealings with citizens, and concentrating forces in single neighborhoods are the proposed solutions. At the same time, partygoers, parents, and the Hispanic community has been accused of being at the root cause of the violence.

First, Syracuse is not Ramadi and we no not need a militaryesque surge in forces. Law enforcement complains about the lack of citizen involvement. At the same time, it is these very same heavy handed law enforcement tactics that have alienated the community. When a single citizen is mistreated or roughed up by police, we lose the respect of not only that citizen but of his family and friends and the same with witnesses. The situation has deteriorated so much that entire neighborhoods would rather live in fear of a killer living nearby than have to deal with police. It is a sad and disgusting commentary on our society when the police are trusted less than the criminals. This did not happen overnight and in fact, took years and years of police misbehavior to create the current hostile environment. It is going to take years of hard work to undo the damage; assuming the police department actually wants to work with the population.

Second, the shooting seems to be about a business dispute. Imagine a world where the manager of Eckards Drugs drives over to the nearest Rite Aid Drug Store and opens fire on the store employees and customers. Our current drug policy is that we deny business disputes from being resolved with high powered lawyers in court rooms. In slamming shut the doors to legitimate dispute resolution, we invite instead the use of high powered weapons on our street corners. So long as there is no alternative to violence, violence will be the end result.

Third, I blame the District Attorney, the Mayor and his Chief of Police for being complicit in the death of the Kellogg Street shootings. They are the loudest voices in stomping out even a discussion to alternative policies. Not a one of them will consider that our nationís Drug Policy is at the root cause of the problem. Each works hard to assure that the population remains afraid of drugs and insists on more prosecution and incarcerations instead of a change in policy. Like drug addicted fiends, these law enforcement and political leaders are so addicted to their current ways of doing things that they cannot fathom the possibility that there is an alternative. Meanwhile, the citizens continue to suffer. We need a rousing and open debate about whether to continue with our failed policies. There are alternatives that need to be explored. Police and prosecutors refuse to participate and even thwart public debate of any alternatives to fattening pensions and budgets. Our children are caught in the cross fire.

Fourth, when the shooting first happened, police Chief Miguel made an issue of there being almost 70 people at the party ranging in age from 14 to 40 as if the large gathering of Hispanics was itself to blame for the violence. It took almost a week before they backed off and instead discovered the shooting was related to the business of drugs. Though they use the words ďdrug relatedĒ over and over in their quotes, there is nothing drug related about the shooting. It was about business and not having regulatory and market control in the hands of civilized society.

Fifth, it is a little late for the police to be hosting parties for the local Hispanic community. While it is a good step in the rehabilitation process, police have a lot more to do than to just shoot hoops with youngsters. They have years of barbaric and offensive tactics to answer for and an entire communityís trust to regain. Nobody is going to work with police when police themselves are seen as the antagonists on a daily basis. Hundreds of complaints have been lodged with the Citizens Review Board but no action is ever taken. Internal Affairs has yet to find in favor of a victimized citizen. The wagons are circled. When police then need help from the community, not only are they barred by language and culture, but they are also rebuffed and ignored just because they wear the uniform. Historically the Syracuse Police Department has not endeared itself to the population it serves and now unfairly complains they cannot get help. How can you club someone on the head today and expect them to come to your aid tomorrow?

Finally, until police accept that their policies and tactics are not only failiures but actually escalate and exacerbate the problem, it will never be resolved. We need to declare an end to the War against our own citizens and leave people alone in their personal lives. Our drug courts should not be focused on Stalinesque re-education but provide alternative dispute resolution services to those with business disputes. Few if anybody really wants to be involved in violence and risk lengthy prison sentences and I have no doubt they would opt for an alternative so long as they were treated fairly on a level playing field.

Study after study after study after study show the colossal failure of our drug policy. The only facet of it that actually works is the education model. We see positive improvement through treating our nationís drug problem as a Health and Education issue instead of a Law Enforcement issue. It worked with cigarettes and alcohol and it seems to be working with drugs. It is the police action model that is the failure. With one business dealer killing another and then is captured, two dealers are off the streets. That absence creates a vacuum into which will step another person. Demand and supply cannot be argued with and when demand is there, supply will find its market. The experts say that we cannot arrest our way out of this war.

Respectfully, before more thousands of taxpayer dollars are piled onto the already millions being spent to further the Drug War in Syracuse, we need as a community to sit down and talk honestly about alternatives to Prohibition. It does not work, it never has. Al Capone was the most unhappy person in America when we ended alcohol prohibition. I dare say that to truly break the back of organized crime, we need to take away their incentive. End drug prohibition and let government regulate and control the market. This way we can all be safe.

Otherwise, we can continue to pile up the dead and imprisoned and continue a near 40 year policy that has proven itself a failure. How many more shootings and other violence does society have to endure before we sit down and truly work on real solutions. A real operation impact will be one that brings about a positive change in the neighborhoods at risk. But until we recognize the problem and deal with its causes, we will never be able to live in peace.

So long as we go the way we are going, the best bet is to assure a healthy supply of body bags.

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