Monday, August 31, 2015

HBO's Show Me Hero, Racism, and The Drug War

I just finished an excellent six part mini-series by the wonderful David Simon (The Wire) called "Show Me a Hero" on HBO.  Really well done, with terrific acting, especially from Oscar Isaac and Catherine Keener.  

It explored a real life event in Yonkers, NY, from the late eighties where the government wanted to establish low cost housing in middle class neighborhoods, which created violently intense opposition.  It has me thinking about the issues of race in our country.

As best I can tell, the worst thing you can do to poor black and brown people is put them into large Projects.  This is just a way of the government jamming them all together in one place and doing their best to forget about them, which is possible as long as their problems don't spill out and intrude into the consciousness of the middle and upper classes.  This last year, there has been a lot of spilling out going on, however.  

As I have written before, the problem with this is The Drug War.  Black and brown people are essentially sectioned off from the middle classes in Drug War Zones.  The people warehoused in these types of environments are part of The Drug War or at least in the middle of the battle zones.  

They are high crime areas, of course, but I believe a very large percentage of the crimes are Drug War related - selling, buying, organizing the drug gangs, killing and terrorizing other gangs, killing the police, killing and terrorizing civilians unlucky enough to be witnesses or in the wrong places at the wrong times.  Young men of color are born into a world that the middle and upper classes know very little of, and I am grateful to David Simon for his windows into these dysfunctional worlds.  

It appears that Yonkers did their integration the right way, which was to build scattered low cost housing that had only about 40 low income people of color in each area.  The purpose was to allow a small number of them to be more easily absorbed into the middle class neighborhood because the white and black/brown neighbors would interact over time and see each other as human, and thus be given a real opportunities to create more meaningful hope filled lives.  

The racism behind the outcries and avid opposition to the building and occupying of these units was pretty hard to watch.  And no claim was made by the show that every person of color integrated successfully into their new neighborhood.  But the point was pretty strongly made that it was a successful effort and the resulting communities have adjusted to each other pretty well.

I believe that this kind of integration, done right, can be successful, and good for Yonkers and good for David Simon to provide reasons for optimism.

Beyond that, I think the bigger question about race in America has a chance to be successfully dealt with by ending The Drug War.  Apparently Portugal decriminalized most drugs with some very positive results.  They stopped treating drugs as a crime and started treating drugs as a disease to be treated.  The result? No Drug War.

An obvious example is in America's own history.  In the early 20th century prohibition made alcohol illiegal.  The result?  The Alcohol Wars.  Gangs terrorized each other, civilians were killed who were witnesses or in the cross fire, etc.  Al Capone built his empire out of blood and terror.  Just like the current gangs and cartels do today in the Drug War Zones.  

So, what happened?  Alcohol was decriminalized and the idea of the head of one alcohol maker or distributor killing and terrorizing another is ridiculous.  Of course they don't.  There is no need.  There is not a massive police occupation of large areas of population that are involved in the making and distribution of alcohol.  Prohibition is over.  So is the killing.

I think the best thing that can happen to the inner cities of black and brown people is to end the prohibition of drugs.  The wars would be over.  The inner cities would no longer be war zones.  The police would no longer be an occupying force in the midst of an endless and hopeless war against the making and distributing of illegal drugs.

Would there be more addicts?  Maybe, but they would be treated as sick and in need of assistance rather than as criminals and thrown into the criminal justice system which does little else other than train them to become warriors in The Drug Wars. And the end result would be fewer addicts, not more, as Portugal seems to be proving.

Some countries have tried it with good success.  Why not here?

And, by the way, wouldn't black and brown people living in the inner cities start to be seen as human rather than as threats once they were no longer soldiers in the misbegotten Drug War?  Wouldn't their neighborhoods have a chance to become much safer and heal?  What could more dramatically elevate the environment of the impoverished inner cities than to have them cease to be war zones?  Wouldn't their assimilation into the middle classes become a much more natural evolution?

I wonder.