My Ricochet profile includes a statement of principles. In part:
On economics, I support maximizing liberty under the minimum law needed for
informed, consensual exchanges. There is no truly free trade or truly neutral
On social issues I am a 1st Amendment absolutist, nearly. I support the death
penalty but abhor its modern medicalization. Re-legalize unhybridized marijuana, powder cocaine and opium, as the black market created by the drug war has cost enough. Reduce harm, don’t create a market for it.
So, I am not a Drug Warrior. Yet, within the call for a harm reduction strategy is the recognition that the illegal trade is not victimless. This past week, two local incidents, within a block of each other, made real the significant harm to third parties.
A week ago Monday, 10 December 2018, a woman drove her car into a Mesa, Arizona, Subway shop. A local station, Fox10 Phoenix, gave a brief account:
According to crews at the scene, the incident happened at a Subway store near Main Street and Dobson. Police say impairment is suspected on the driver, but she is not in custody, pending test results.
This Subway is the end cap of a small shopping strip which has struggled to come back over the past decade. The hourly sub shop workers are victims of this accident. The Chinese restaurant and the Korean coffee shops next door have the blight of a boarded-up shop next door. What has this to do with the Drug Wars?
The staff at a cigar lounge across the parking lot talked with the police who responded to the crash. See the line in the news story about “pending test results?” Apparently, the woman who drove the car up over a high curb, and all the way into the Subway, was unrecognizable from her two years old driver’s license photograph. The crash did not destroy her face; she showed the ravages unique to methamphetamine.
I heard this account as I was talking with another customer and the staff about the second incident. This one was not victimless either. Close to midnight on Saturday, 10 December, I was driving along the light rail line in Mesa. I saw the first two sets of blue and red lights pulled off near a small independent convenience store. Officers were lined up on either side of the door, preparing to enter.
By the time I pulled into safe parking and got my camera out, two ambulances and a small fleet of cops were there. I spoke to a younger man who told me his father had been working in the back of the store. Another man was working the register at the front. A gunman entered the very small space and the employee apparently closed in, grappling. The employee and another man, a customer, perhaps, were shot. The father, unarmed, had run out and across the street to his son’s apartment, telling what he saw.
The Z’s Convenience shooting warranted only a brief mention in the news, as the gunman was at large.
Mesa Police say a possible robbery gone bad left one person dead and another injured.
Another patron at the cigar lounge expressed the range of reactions as we talked. “Give up the cash, it isn’t worth it.” “If you get the chance, take the gunman down.” He claimed to have been in two such confrontations, in small businesses in another city. He was shot once and another time seized and pummeled a gunman, feeling ribs give way under his fist while his wife grabbed the gun away.
The common denominator in these low-payoff robberies? Men desperate for just enough cash to get their next fix, and working, lower-middle-class victims. You can see this from the simple memorial that friends put up next to the convenience store.
Any grand strategy, any policy recommendation, that fails to account for the direct and indirect ravages of substance abuse is not worth the electrons transmitting it. In this particular location, a completely independent set of policies may have elevated the risks. Supposed urban renewal and enlightened planning may be neither enlightened nor really renewal.
I mentioned the light rail line, running down the center of the street. This impoverished the already marginal businesses, as half the traffic on the street cannot cross the protected rail line. At the same time, the line became a conveyor belt for drug addicts and homeless people, dumping them out into places where they could hang out.
Indeed, the city recognized this problem belatedly and changed the bus stops from bench seating to individual seats with steel tube armrests. That keeps vagrants from sleeping on benches under cover. Nevertheless, there are mini-parks and other grassy areas where people camp out between drug fixes.
So, have grand transportation policy and drug policy combined to concentrate risks to local residents? There are plenty of photographs from across the country of cars driven into buildings. The city block under consideration is not a regular target of armed robbers. Yet, the risks are clearly elevated, to the extent that economically marginal drug users congregate in clusters along the easiest transportation line. That was not urban planners’ intent, but it appears to be a result.
Too often, casualties go unmarked, even in the local press. The simple memorial for the murdered man started with prayer candles, a few flowers, cards, and a full sized teddy bear with a little teddy bear. A night later, there were more candles, more flowers, and a photograph. So now we have a face to put in our thoughts and prayers.