My favorite new way of mocking libertarians is to call their fads “unicorn hunting.” It’s stupid and childish, but what the hell. I saw this being passed around by libertarian cranks on twitter and it got my attention because I’m on my way to Gloucester right now. I’m on the road as this thing gets posted – literally.
Gloucester, Massachusetts is quintessentially New England. A seacoast town that survives on its working class ethic and seasonal tourism, it has come face-to-face with an epidemic that many cities just like it increasingly contend with: death by heroin overdose. Unfortunately, Gloucester isn’t alone in dealing with a tragic increase in fatalities caused by dangerous opioids.
Data from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that there were 16,235 deaths as a result of prescription opioids, and an additional 8,257 due to heroin during 2013, the last time period for which this information is available. In the same year, there were a total of 43,982 drug overdose related deaths. In Massachusetts alone, at least 1,000 people died of as a result of opioid abuse in 2014.
What sets Gloucester apart from other cities working to combat the same trend however, is its police department’s unprecedented approach to the intersection of law enforcement and drug addiction. Fed up with learning of yet another heroin overdose in his hometown this past winter, Gloucester’s police chief Leonard Campanello decided to take a new approach.
The latest bout of bad news inspired him to log in to the official Gloucester Police Department’s Facebook page and lay out a policy that has since created a ripple effect across the country. In early March, he posted the following:
“Since January of this year, we have responded to dozens of opiate related overdoses and, unfortunately, the City has seen 4 deaths in this time that are heroin related. While we have been successful in our use of nasal Narcan and have saved lives, 4 deaths is 4 too many. The dangers of heroin and opiate use are notorious. We do a lot to collaborate in awareness, prevention, and treatment and will continue to look for new ways to rid our streets of this poison.
As a police department, let me again make our policy clear:
If you are not involved in opiates or heroin, help us. Inform yourself, call us when you see activity, volunteer. You can make a difference.
If you are a user of opiates or heroin, let us help you. We know you do not want this addiction. We have resources here in the City that can and will make a difference in your life. Do not become a statistic.
If you are a dealer of heroin, opiates or any other poison…We are coming for you. We will find you. We will prosecute you to the fullest extent possible. You will pay the price for making money off the misery of others. It’s not a matter of “if” we find you, it’s a matter of “when.” You’ve gotten your warning. Get out of our City.
Libertarians are very fond of finding examples they like from demographically exceptional areas and then pretending they can be applied to a highly diverse country of 300 million people. Gloucester Mass is a town of 30,000 that is 92% white according to the census. All the kids on the high school basketball team are white so that 92% is an estimate. The only black guy I’ve ever seen there was with me visiting friends.
Gloucester is also boxed in by the very wealthy Manchester-by-the Sea and the modestly well off Rockport. The kinds of problems these towns have with drugs can certainly be addressed with creative solutions that cost a lot of money. You have strong families, high employment and the sort of population prepared to work together to solve community problems.
West Baltimore, in contrast, is full of fatherless children, universal unemployment and the sort of population that thinks it proper to shoot a guy because he’s wearing the wrong sneakers. Telling the dealers to go to another town works in SWPL-ville. In the ghetto, the dealers order the cops around. Gloucester’s problem is a community problem. West Baltimore’s problem is a containment problem.
I think the libertarians are probably mostly right about drug prohibition. Throwing people in jail for weed is stupid, but we don’t do anywhere near as much of it as claimed. Guys in the can for weed pleaded down from bigger charges. Still, it is a waste of resources to throw potheads in jail. When you move onto things like meth and heroine, the libertarian argument starts to sound naïve.
Then there is the demographic problem. Compton California was a mess before crack cocaine. Take away the crack and those boys in the hood are not becoming stock brokers. They will find some other criminal activity. Down deep, libertarians, just like liberals, believe man is infinitely malleable. Just like liberals, no amount of contrary experience will change their minds.