Tuesday, December 16, 2014


The money line from this provocative George Will commentary on the death of Eric Garner is this:

(Garner) lived and died in a country with about 5 percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of its prisoners

Eric Garner, is case you've been living under a rock for the past month, was arrested in New York City for the freelance selling of individual cigarettes which is a crime in the City and State of New York, because it deprives the local and state governments of tax revenue derived from the sale of cancer sticks.

Garner resisted arrest and was subdued by a police officer who used an illegal strangle hold, the results of which contributed to Garner's death.

This tragedy, like the one involving St. Louis teenager Michael Brown, has demonstrated in no uncertain terms, the polarization of this country. Folks on the left claim both were instances of police brutality inflicted on black people. On the right they're saying that Brown and Garner, both engaged in criminal activity, defied police and were very much responsible for their own deaths.

Will who is solidly right of center most of the time, here takes a decidedly different tack, specifically with the Garner case, by laying part of the blame on what he calls, "United States’ metastasizing body of criminal laws."

As a result, an untenable number of individuals who commit what any logical person would consider petty crimes are jailed each year. Prisons are filled well beyond capacity, and most tragically, people are released from imprisonment with diminished prospects for themselves and their families. And oh yes, people are killed by the police for stupid things like selling cigarettes illegally.

As the Volstead Act proved in the 1920's, laws that criminalize undesirable behavior, often backfire. It could be argued that we are still recovering from the unmitigated disaster popularly known as Prohibition.

Will in his article takes pains to point out the differences between the wisdom of "broken window" policing, that is to say, dealing with small problems in small ways, and the foolishness of assuming that the way you deal with objectionable behavior is to throw all the misfits and troublemakers in jail.

Case in point, today a huge portion of the prison population in the United States is made up of inmates who are incarcerated for drug offenses. Now I don't for one second intend to trivialize the terrible cost that illicit drugs inflict on individuals and society. But even with our draconian approach to the problem, we are losing the war on drugs on all fronts. Demand for the stuff is as great as ever. Our over-zealous prosecution of the drug trade means the supply can't keep up. It's simple supply and demand economics, you do the math, our relentless pursuit of illegal drugs makes the trade that provides them, an amazingly profitable, if risky business. More than enough folks are willing to take the risk and have absolutely no druthers about doing unmentionable things to anyone who might stand in their way. On the other side, it's impossible to price people out of the market, folks who want drugs are usually more than willing to pay any price to get them. And how do they get the money? Again, it's not too hard to figure it out.

The way I see it, laws are on the books to protect individuals and society. The current drug laws on the books in this country protect no one, and more than likely create more problems than they solve.

I'm not suggesting we make all drugs legal, but de-criminalization may be a logical first step.

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