Last September, an NYPOST.com op-od by retired New York Prosecutor Jim Quinn argued that “Crime, not cops, is by far the largest threat to black lives.” (He was the senior executive assistant district attorney in the Queens County District Attorney’s Office. He retired in December 2019, after 42 years as a prosecutor.)
“In New York City in 2019, 319 people were murdered. Fully 88 percent of them — 280 people — were black or Hispanic. And 93.2 of them were murdered by other people of color.
Almost 96 percent of all shooters and shooting victims in the Big Apple in 2019 were people of color. People of color also accounted for 73.8 percent of rape victims and 81.3 percent of the rape suspects; 69 percent of robbery victims and 93.3 percent of the robbery suspects; and 79.5 percent of felony assault victims and 86 percent of the assault suspects.
People of color, in other words, are disproportionately both victims and perpetrators of violent crime in New York City. That is a cold fact. These proportions have remained remarkably consistent over the past 12 years.
Murders in New York are up 30 percent so far this year (2020) — 60 more people killed so far than last year. Close to 90 percent of the victims were people of color. There have been 1,095 shooting victims in Gotham so far this year — 514 more than last year. And 95 percent of these additional shooting victims were people of color.”
It has gotten even worse this year. “In 2021 alone, 299 people have been shot, a 54% increase over the same time last year, and the most the city has seen since 2012.”
See: Why Are Shootings And Murders On The Rise In NYC?
And: Don’t Mention The Drug War. We Must Decriminalize Being Black Because Black Freedom Matters.
Unfortunately, New York is not unique. A 2016 report from Chicago showed similar numbers: “75% of Murdered Are Black, 71% of Murderers Are Black.”
These numbers speak for themselves, but among unarmed victims specifically, Black people were killed by the police at three times the rate of white people.
See: Racial inequity in fatal US police shootings, 2015–2020
The fact that more Blacks are killed by Blacks does not mean that we can ignore that disparity in police shootings, especially given the racist history of the Drug War.
Like the Post op-ed, the Chicago article doesn’t mention the Drug War, but one of the comments points out, “No one is talking about ending the drug war. It’s an utter failure. That needs to be done through the ballot box first, supporting candidates who will act. I appreciate your vision of a heavenly future, but people are dying now, fueled by gang warfare and the drug trade. End the drug war intelligently. Let’s see what happens then and act accordingly.”
The Drug War creates global violence between gangs, especially in Mexico, but also between the police and minority communities in the U.S.
Of course, the Drug War may not have been the immediate impetus to most of the violence, but it has contributed to both the acceptance of violence as a literally inescapable part of life in these communities and to a well-justified fear of law enforcement.
The behavioral problems associated with substance abuse, especially including alcohol, are also major contributors to public disorder. Alcohol abuse actually kills more Americans than illegal drugs, but not in Drug War shootouts.
“Excessive alcohol use is responsible for more than 95,000 deaths in the United States each year, or 261 deaths per day. These deaths shorten the lives of those who die by an average of almost 29 years…”
See: Deaths from Excessive Alcohol Use in the U.S.
More than 70,000 Americans died from a drug-involved overdose in 2019, including illicit drugs and prescription opioids.
See: Overdose Death Rates
Of course, alcohol is not an “illegal drug” but public drunkenness is a major cause of interaction with the police among the poor.
Meanwhile, “People of color made up 94% of marijuana arrests by NYPD in 2020, data and Legal Aid says.”
Fortunately, the long-term effects of marijuana legalization on public order can be seen in the Netherlands, where marijuana has been sold over-the-counter for almost 50 years. The police are rarely called to the cannabis “coffeeshops.”
Simply ending marijuana prohibition is not enough. Venues, where people can gather socially (peacefully), should be an essential part of the urban scene. Unfortunately, marijuana retailing and social consumption are being treated as a source of political patronage and tax revenues.
See: Marijuana Social Clubs Are The Last Major Step For Legalization
The Drug War has created a culture of fear and violence and it will not be easy to change, but let peace begin with us.
Richard Cowan is a former NORML National Director and author of Veganism And CBD.
Advertising disclosure: We may receive compensation for some of the links in our stories. Thank you for supporting the Village Voice and our advertisers.