Storm Clouds Looming
by Ned Wicker
Imagine getting your six year-old child ready for school. Parents go through the routine of getting their child up out of bed, making sure they are clean and properly dressed, and then it’s time for breakfast before leaving the house. They assume that the bus is safe, or that the walk to school will be uneventful.
They may not be thinking about the impending doom that awaits their child down the road. You see, even children as young as six are being recruited by criminal gangs to do their bidding selling and distributing illegal drugs. You probably don’t believe me, but it’s true, as my friend Myra told me a story that only Hollywood could make up.
Came to the US as a teen
Myra came to the United States from Mexico and was living in the Highland Park area of Chicago, surrounded by drugs and gang activity. She was only 19 at the time and just beginning to learn English.
Like many people who come to this country, she had an image of a wealthy utopia, where success would be at her fingertips and everyone was well off. She quickly saw that the image and the reality did not match. She learned the ways of the tough streets and knew she wanted a better life.
She couldn’t believe what she saw!
Seeing the criminal activity taking place on every street corner, she also began to notice that it wasn’t the adults necessarily; it was young people, teenagers and even pre-teens. She explained that the gang leaders would hang out at schools, in playgrounds and parks. They would tell of the riches that drug dealing would bring, painting a picture of glamor and wealth. It was easy money and you didn’t have to go to school and get an education.
There was no need for anyone to have a profession. Of course, there was a price to pay. She explained that you could join this gang or that gang, but once you were in, you were in for life. The gang would own you and leaving was not an option.
The opulent lifestyle was a myth, as the reality was a hard, danger-filled life in the shadows. The top gang leaders might get rich, but nothing ever lasts because there is a never-ending succession of young, uneducated and un-socialized people to take their place. It is a Godless world, devoid of dignity, values and hope.
She was able to get out
Myra was lucky. She married and got out. They moved to southern Wisconsin. Determined to do something with her life and do something about the crime, she immersed herself in learning the language and went to college.
She became a corrections officer with a county sheriff’s department and is currently working on a master’s degree, studying gang activity. Her research took her back to Mexico recently, where she saw first-hand the terror and destruction at the hands of the drug cartels.
Entire police forces have abandoned their jobs, as they are out-numbered and out-gunned by the gangs. She saw the sophisticated drug trafficking networks bringing dope into the United States from South America and Central America, through Mexico. She also explained that the cartels also do an end-run and bring in drugs through Canada. While explaining some of the details, she reinforced a belief I have had for a long time. We look at the world of illegal drugs and we think about the cartels, the gangs, the pushers and the ugly truth of using drugs. We think of the enormous damage that substance use disorder causes in this country, the impact on our healthcare system and law enforcement.
All equally guilty
We point to the bad guys and wonder what it would be like if we just wiped them out. The truth is if there were no market for the marijuana, cocaine, heroin and the like, there would be no cartels, gangs, pushers and junkies. We see the news about gun battles in the streets of Mexican towns, of public murders of elected officials and innocent civilians. But equally as guilty are the suburban middle class who use drugs for recreation.
They may never develop a substance use disorder, but they fuel the criminal enterprise by spending their paychecks on illegal drugs. Is a high school student who sells drugs to classmates any less guilty than a gang member who guns down a cop to protect his turf? Myra knows what it’s like on the streets and what is potentially facing her 10 year-old son. He will likely be invited to use drugs or worse yet, to join a gang himself. They do not live in Chicago anymore, but that doesn’t mean the gangs cannot reach him. Small town America is a battleground, the same as the inner city.
The lure of drugs does not discriminate based on ethnicity or economic status. The criminal underside of the drug world is not limited to the business end; it includes all of the “good kids” living in small towns, and all of the upstanding professionals that snort a line or two after work.
As long as there is a market…
The cartels rake in billions. As long as there is a market, the cartels and gangs will grow stronger. Law enforcement will not out man them or out gun them. The only thing that will stop them is good people doing the right thing.