By Alan Bean
Ripple effects from the sequester continue to proliferate. Now it is local and regional narcotics task forces that are feeling the pinch because federal Byrne Grant funding has been ever-so-slightly reduced. The article below appeared in Stateline, a daily news service of the Pew Charitable Trusts and it is essentially a scare-piece designed to pump up concern about the sequester. But if you check out the chart a few paragraphs down the page, you will notice that Byrne Grant funding took a big hit in 2008 in the wake of the financial crisis and then rebounded heroically in 2009 thanks to President Obama’s stimulus spending. That funding has retreated a bit from these record levels is hardly surprising, sequester or no sequester.
Maggie Clark’s article is significant for what it doesn’t say. It doesn’t say that the war on drugs is primarily a federal make-work project for hard up counties and municipalities. But it is. The Obama administration didn’t pump millions of fresh Byrne Grant money into the drug war to get drugs off the street; it was all about saving jobs and under-girding fragile rural economies that have little legitimate job-creation potential.
I have no problem with job-creation programs since I don’t think the for-profit economy, by itself, can prevent the kind of mass unemployment we have witnessed in recent years. But sending the big bucks to narcotics task forces, for-profit prisons and incredibly wasteful projects like Operation Streamline is a radically inefficient and fundamentally dishonest job-creation strategy. Why not sponsor violence reduction programs in poor communities while hiring potential gang-bangers to beautify their own neighborhoods; why not shore up a crumbling infrastructure that has become a national embarrassment? Make-work programs can make the world a better place; but the war on drugs and the booming border security industry just recycle misery. Sure, they provide some jobs and a few fat cats get fatter; but our culture is debased in the process.
I was glad to see that Clark mentions the Tulia fiasco, even if she did get most of her facts slightly askew. Tulia explains why George W. Bush (governor of Texas at the time) didn’t like the Byrne Grant program and worked hard to scale it back. Tulia embarrassed Texas and led to the virtual disappearance, at least in the Lone Star State of the kind of unaccountable and counterproductive narcotics task forces that depend on the largess of the DOJ. Drug abuse is a big problem in every sector of American life, but the drug war is fought almost exclusively in poor, predominantly black and brown neighborhoods. The real sickness is rampant poverty and unemployment, and so long as we focus exclusively on a symptom of that disease (drug abuse and drug dealing) we are tilting at windmills. (more…)