The Drug War brought a new age of police presence and drug law, targeting a generally lower-class of citizens while also targeting groups of color, the majority being African-Americans and Mexicans. And the effects of what began in the 1980s still exist today. We see a cycle of lower-class, colored communities being unable to attain the opportunities that white-skinned, upper-class people have. Because of this, people of minorities turn to drugs and crime as a more attainable way to keep themselves afloat while putting food on the table for their families. Then, when they are caught and sentenced by the law, they are branded a felon, and it becomes impossible for them to escape the system. And this continues down through generations of the same people. It’s an ugly cycle that was put into place as history trickled down through the ages and left a trail of racism and white-supremacy. We see this still, in the communities and neighborhoods of our own Colorado. Although what is focused on is generally how well the police force is at making arrests and prosecuting, what if the real problem is the social systems that we have put into place to make it almost impossible for these people to escape what is their reality?
September 15, 2016, the Denver Post published an article with the headline: “In Pueblo, a spike in arrests and fewer homicides as police, feds crack down on gangs.” Even from the headline, you can tell that the police and federal investigators are presented in a good light, while the “gangs” are projected in a bad light. As studies have shown, when one thinks of a member of a “gang,” a majority of people think of an African-American or Mexican male in a certain stereotypical sense. The article frames the social problem as the issue of gang violence in Pueblo, Colorado. “Less than a year ago, Pueblo was seized by a surge in violent crime fueled by gangs and heroin that was claiming innocent bystanders.” (Paul, 2016) The perpetrators of this violence and crime are the members of these gangs who run and deal drugs within their city. But the perpetrators of the core social problem are the lawmakers who make prosecuting these people for nonviolent drug crimes a higher priority than rehabilitating them and giving them opportunities and programs to help them assimilate into a better economic and social status. The people who experience this social problem are mostly minority groups, which is shown by many studies and statistics throughout the course of decades. White and European looking people hold most of the jobs in white-collar positions. As in the readings, articles like these hold personal and individual stories that demonstrate the larger social problem. Such as the example of an arrest given by the article: “Leilani Marie Martinez was sentenced in federal court to 20 years in prison for drug dealing and being a felon in possession of a firearm.” (Paul, 2016) What is this woman’s story? What if she tried to hold a minimum wage job after failing out of high school, had a kid and couldn’t support it, so she turned to laundering drugs so that she could feed her child. One day she is caught and branded as a felon, and now she can’t get a job at all with her record, so she invests all of her time into smuggling and dealing drugs because that is her best option. And then when she is put away again, her child begins the same cycle, starting in a home for children without their parents who have been raised around the same type of thing, and who will likely take a similar path. A Pueblo police officer commented, “Traditionally, you’ve got some gang families in Pueblo, so it’s kind of hard to break that yoke of gang violence when it’s intergenerational. If your father and grandfather were gang members, and they are proud of you being a gang member, it’s kind of hard to overcome that.” (Paul, 2016)
The police and government, as well as the people of the United States tend to focus on the crime charts and numbers shown by the news when it comes to crime statistics. But these numbers are mostly a representation of the police presence within that area. More police officers and resources given to the police force means more arrests and more convicted people. In the article, it is noted that more resources were given to Pueblo so that they could have a greater impact Pueblo. “The FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the Drug Enforcement Administration have brought their deep resources to the city” (Paul, 2016) But what we should be focusing on is how to turn around the system that makes it so low-income people have other reasonably attainable and legal pathways to support them in becoming a contributing member of society. Mark Salazar, the founder of the Hard Knox Gang Prevention and Intervention Program, a former gang member himself stated, “The problem that we have it that at some point these individuals are eventually going to be released. Many of them go back to their old way of doing things.” (Paul, 2016)
When we realize that all of these practices connect and form a cycle where no one wins, we as a people should start to consider ways in which this social problem can be fixed. One way is to create legitimate programs where people coming out of prison can develop skills to be a part of the work force, so that they can make more than minimum wage and support themselves, slowly moving up the economic ladder, and more importantly, not going back to illegal activity. Another way we can solve this problem is by lowering the minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses to months instead of years. Nonviolent drug offenders should not be treated the same as violent homicide cases because they are not the same in any way except that they are deemed illegal. In terms of stopping the practices that make it much more difficult for minorities to attain better housing, higher education, better primary education, and better opportunities, we must end the stereotyping and racial profiling of people, which will take an effort that spans centuries until racism is nonexistent, but the effort can still be made everyday by people. Judging one another based on characteristics that have to do with what we look like and what our religion or culture is instead of work ethic, integrity, and passion will not make the world a better place. Doing all these things will help to solve the cycle that history has created.