The widespread characterization by the media and politicians that the use of banned/”illegal” substances has reached “epidemic” levels is a fear mongering appeal to emotion. It serves the purpose of The State to distract the people from the harms being caused by its arbitrary and illegitimate prohibition of substances — The Drug War. Although The State was never granted the right or authority to control what substances the people could possess or consume (as was the case with alcohol prohibition), it has aggressively, violently and coercively asserted this prerogative under the guise of “protecting” the people from themselves.
A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right. Thomas Paine
The indignation and horror expressed at the “scourge” of the use of banned/”illegal” substances is selective and disproportionate if one considers the suffering and death caused by substances — and habits — that are sanctioned by The State. And to disassociate drug overdose deaths from their causes rooted in the Drug War is disingenuous at best.
In 2015, alcohol was a factor in at least 2,008 deaths and 2,907 motor vehicle crash injuries in Wisconsin. In 2013, the economic burden resulting from excessive alcohol use totaled $6.8 billion dollars.
During 2008-2012, an estimated 6,678 people died from illnesses directly related to smoking each year, constituting nearly 15% of all annual deaths in Wisconsin among persons aged 35 years and older. Another 678 people died from illnesses and fires indirectly related to smoking. Collectively, 7,356 Wisconsin deaths were associated with tobacco use each year. The annual economic toll of tobacco in Wisconsin was approximately $3.0 billion paid in direct health care costs and $1.6 billion in lost productivity.
In the cases of alcohol and tobacco, consumers are free to choose from a wide variety of products whose composition and purity is regulated and well known and they are also free to decide how much of these substances they want to consume. The State does not criminalize their “bad habits”. Whereas with banned/”illegal” substances, the consumer has no way of reliably knowing the quality or purity of the product, thus, it is the prohibition of these substances that leads directly in many cases to their lethal effects. Also, the number of drug overdose deaths does not discriminate those resulting from suicide — a choice we all still have no matter what The State says.
In 2015, there were 51,251 deaths of Wisconsin residents, 1,114 more than in 2014. Since 2011, the number of deaths increased 7 percent from over 48,100 in 2011 up to 51,251 in 2015.
When you consider all of the major endemic causes of death in Wisconsin, and if you assume that Milwaukee has its fair share, you might be surprised that the City of Milwaukee Health Department’s objectives, as expressed in the 2017 Budget are limited to:
Control the spread of communicable disease.
Reduce the number of children with lead poisoning.
Reduce injuries, disabilities, and deaths due to violence.
Prevent the spread of food borne disease.
Reduce the infant mortality rate.
Improve immunization compliance within Milwaukee Public Schools to 90% by 2015.
The reference to 2015 in the 2017 Health Department objectives is indicative of the lazy “cut and paste” approach to health taken by the department. There is not a word about heart disease, cancer, diabetes, suicide, alcohol, tobacco or drugs in the City of Milwaukee’s Health Department budget or on their website, yet, now we expect them to effectively lead the Milwaukee City/County Heroin, Opioid and Cocaine Task Force. Now, all of a sudden, that the “scourge” of the use of banned substances has reached “epidemic” proportions, we are supposed to put our faith in a department that has ignored the major threats to health that have been plaguing Milwaukee for years.
To date, the Task Force has been myopic in its approach to the problems arising from the use of prohibited substances. As loyal soldiers in the Drug War, Task Force members, so far, refuse to seriously consider the root cause of their “problem” — prohibition. Rather, they endorse The State’s approach of infantilizing the people rather than entrusting them to take responsibility for their own actions — a recipe for tyranny.
And what are the costs and harms caused by the illegitimate and arbitrary prohibition of substances by The State known as The Drug War aka, The War On Drugs?
Violation of property rights via Civil Asset Forfeiture procedures
Growth of the Prison Industrial Complex and dehumanizing incarceration
Death by poisoning from adulterated substances
Increase in disenfranchised and unemployable felons
Lost lives and broken homes
Racial prejudice in enforcement (Milwaukee 53206)
Corruption (money laundering)
Loss of freedom — The State owns your body
Increased costs of Courts, Law Enforcement and Social Services
Community cohesion undermined by snitches & informants
Disrespect for the rule of law
How do these harms manifest in costs reflected in the Milwaukee City/County budgets? Does anyone know how much the taxpayers are paying to support their own slavery to the arbitrary whims of the legislators? If you think my use of the word slavery is hyperbolic, consider the relationship between one who decides what you can possess and consume and your own natural and inherent right to make that decision yourself. If you are not the masters of your own bodies, if you have lost the property and privacy rights to inoffensively possess and consume substances of your choice, then you are necessarily slaves.
The Task Force should do a complete and thorough analysis of every City and County department to quantify how much it is costing the taxpaying slaves to be “protected from themselves”. Just to be clear, I am not advocating that people should be allowed while under the influence of any substance to infringe on the life, liberty or property of another person. The State uses the justification that it is protecting people from themselves — from their own bad habits — which they falsely claim are diseases, to aggressively, violently and coercively enforce its illegitimate substance prohibitions. How much is this costing and what are results to date?
The Drug Warriors resort to emotional appeals using words like epidemic and scourge to characterize the free will choices that people make to consume substances. But let’s consider an appeal to justice and equality before the law and look at the racial disparity in the enforcement of drug prohibition.
For over 10 years now, Milwaukee City/County has been the focus of a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area law enforcement effort. At the May 9, 2017 meeting of the City of Milwaukee Common Council, they rubber stamped the continuation of this effort:
Whereas, The Milwaukee Police Department’s participation in the HIDTA project for the period of January 1, 2017 to December 31, 2018 would cost $2,361,053 of which $510,381 (22%) would be provided by the grantor and $1,850,672 (78%) would be provided by the City; now, therefore, be it…
Whereas, The operation of this grant project from January 1, 2017 through December 31, 2017 would cost $403,896 of which, $187,972 (46.5%) would be provided by the grantor and $215,924 (53.5%) would be provided by the city; now, therefore, be it…
And what are the results of the HIDTA effort? Are we safer? Has the quantity or availability of banned/”illegal” substances been reduced? Has the HIDTA program contributed to the huge disparity in incarceration rates between black and white people in Milwaukee? Consider the findings of a 2013 University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee study:
In April of 2010 when the U.S. Census Bureau conducted its decennial count of Wisconsin residents, it found 12.8% (or 1 in 8) of African American working age men behind bars in state prisons and local jails. This rate of mass incarceration is the highest for African American men in the country and nearly double the national average of 6.7% (or 1 in 15).
Wisconsin also leads the nation in incarceration of Native American men, with 7.6% of working age men (or 1 in 13) in state prisons and local jails in 2010, compared to 3.1% (or 1 in 32) nationally. By contrast, Wisconsin’s rate of incarceration of white men is similar to the national average.
State DOC records show incarceration rates at epidemic levels for African American males in Milwaukee County. Over half of African American men in their 30s and half of men in their early 40s have been incarcerated in state correctional facilities.
From 1990 to 2011 Wisconsin incarcerated 26,222 African American men from Milwaukee County in state correctional facilities. As of January 2012, 20,591 men had been released back into the community and 5,631 were still imprisoned.
By January 2012 the 26,222 African American men from Milwaukee County had been imprisoned for a total of 42,675,397 days (or almost 117,000 years). At the average 2012 corrections’ operating cost of $91 a day per capita cited by Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the cost of this incarceration would total $3.88 billion at 2012 prices. In early 2012 the state was spending over half a million dollars a day to incarcerated 5,631 African American men from Milwaukee County.
8,287, or one-third, of the African American men incarcerated since 1990 showed only non-violent offenses.
Forty percent (N=10,497) of the African American males from Milwaukee County incarcerated since 1990 were drug offenders. In the early 1990s African Americans had 4 times as many annual admissions for drug-related offenses as white men. As drug offenses soared in the 2002 to 2005 years African American men had 11 to 12 times as many drug-related prison admissions as white men.
Given the high levels of racial and economic segregation in Milwaukee County, two-thirds of the county’s incarcerated African American men came from 6 zip codes in the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee. The ability of ex-offenders to help support their families is very limited for many released inmates. Most ex-offenders return from prison into inner city neighborhoods that have extremely large gaps (i.e., 25 to 1 in May 2009) between the number of active job seekers compared to available full- time work.
The majority of African American male ex- offenders released from DOC facilities to Milwaukee County are of working age. Most (78%) released from DOC facilities since 1990 are under 50, with only 4% aged 60 or above.
The driver’s license is essential for getting to job sites and for avoiding arrests for illegal driving, yet only 10% of African American men with DOC incarceration records (2,627 out of 26,222) showed a current valid Wisconsin driver’s license with no recent suspensions or revocations, as of January 2012.
In addition to the ex-offenders with driver’s license problems, another 27,874 African American men in Milwaukee County (and not in the DOC incarcerated population) had revoked or suspended licenses. These included 5,622 men with revoked licenses, 11,801 with suspended licenses, and 10,451 with suspensions in the DOT file but no driver’s license. Without a license, workers are unable to legally drive to job sites throughout the metro area and subject to police arrests, particularly when driving through suburban communities.
In the interests of Justice, Freedom, Honesty and hopefully a sincere desire to actually reduce the harm caused by drug prohibition, the Task Force needs to consider the costs and effects of the Drug War. If that means going back to the Common Council and County Board to get sanction for the increase in scope, the sooner it is done, the better.