Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak injected race into the equation of Minneapolis' murder rate today when answering a question posed by Morning Edition host Cathy Wurzer. She asked him about why so many murders are occurring this year in his city, whereas last year was remarkably quiet?
Rybak told Wurzer that white, middle-class Minnesotans are buying marijuana "with a little wink and a nod, thinking it has nothing to do with anything. It is literally paying for bullets that kill people."
"What fuels a gang? Where is the money right now? It's in the marijuana trade. Where's the money in the marijuana trade. Frankly, white middle-class Minnesota is buying marijuana and with a wink and a nod thinking it has nothing to do with anything. It is literally paying for bullets that kill people. So anyone listening here who feels they're not connected to this, wants to help in any way, spread that message. That any person who thinks that it is OK to be involved in what is an underground economy that is violent, spread that message. Boycott the people who are killing people... I believe that anybody who buys marijuana... is directly or indirectly giving money to gangs."
It's undeniable, of course, that white people -- like people of color -- buy marijuana. But making a connection between an increase (and not a small one) in the number of murders in Minneapolis and the number of white people buying marijuana, implies that there's been a big jump in the number of white people buying marijuana. Rybak offered no such proof. He also offered no data to show that the money in gangs is primarily from marijuana, although it certainly may be. There's also been no data supplied to indicate the white people who buy marijuana do so in a state of denial that the money ends up in the hands of gangs, or whether they do know the money ends up in gangs, but don't care.
Rybak's distinction of marijuana vs. other illicit drug use makes the racial angle easier to inject. But the National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2007 (based on '04-'05 data) reported that illicit drug use overall -- and even use of marijuana alone -- is more prevalent among non-whites.
Rybak also stayed away from the term "gang war," preferring instead to refer to the problem as one between people who know each other and are into drugs and guns.
Last fall, MPR's Gary Eichten asked Rybak why crime was dropping in his city. Rybak took credit for it.
"In Minneapolis, we said public safety was going to be job one. We put more money into it, we put more technology into it, and we also put the focus upstream on youth violence prevention. And the results are pretty significant in the city of Minneapolis -- double-digit crime decreases for three straight years. Homicide rate the lowest in 20 years, and my favorite: juvenile crime down 40 percent. That's success and that's hard-working police and people in the community partnering with them, and that's everyone in the community looking in the mirror and saying, 'we're going to do hundreds of little things and many, many big things to make sure we raise our kids right. And we are really proud in Minneapolis that the community has come together to drive crime so far down. We have a long way to go."
What Rybak didn't say then, however, is that the drop in crime rate was a fluke. In fact, he pointed out that the drop in crime in Minneapolis was not mirrored in cities, such as Chicago and Philadelphia.
In today's interview, Rybak again acknowledged the work of police, but then said "we're not going to have years like that every year."
Rybak outlined efforts his administration is taking to stem the crime problem in Minneapolis, but never really answered -- because he was never really asked -- to explain how one year's drop in crime can be attributed to the actions of police and politicians, but an increase in crime can't be.
"I don't want to be too specific," he said. "But we're doing a lot."
On that same Midday broadcast last year, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said he was taught by St. Police police chief John Harrington not to, "take credit for crime rates going down, unless you're prepared to accept blame if they go up."
In truth, of course, there are no easy answers to the question of crime and gangs. Why do people end up in gangs in the first place? Consider this from the Drug Policy Alliance: The war on drugs.
The racial disparities in drug arrests and convictions have had a devastating effect on families. Of the 1.5 million minor children who had a parent incarcerated in 1999, African American children were nearly nine times more likely to have a parent incarcerated than white children and Latino children were three times more likely to have a parent incarcerated than white children.
The racial inequalities of the war on drugs also disproportionately affect pregnant women of color. Despite similar or equal rates of illegal drug use during pregnancy, African American women are ten times more likely to be reported to child welfare agencies for prenatal drug use. In a recent Supreme Court case, Ferguson vs. the City of Charleston, the practice of drug testing pregnant women without their consent and prosecuting the mothers for "distributing an illegal substance" to an unborn child through the umbilical cord was challenged under the Fourth Amendment right to privacy. Out of the 30 women who were arrested at the South Carolina hospital,29 were African American. The one white woman arrested was married to a Black man - a fact noted on her medical record.
What can be done? This might be one of the issues on which the most accurate answer is the one politicians least like to give: "I don't know."
What can be done? How about legalizing drugs to take profits away from the gangs? Seems pretty simple to me.
Gangs over the years have pretty well shown an ability to diversify according to market conditions.
agreed Bob. Not a lot of killing goes on over alcohol these days.
Great job on the blog post. He's picking an easy target that is not the root issue. And what's he hiding anyway with the two initial first name?
The 'I don't know' answer is an appropriate one, and the one Rybak should have used last year. Of course he was campaigning, and politicians in campaigns lay claim to all sorts of positive trends.
One thing is for sure, if you can figure out the drug demand problem it won't just help Minneapolis. It would also likely benefit Ciudad Juarez, Bogota, and Kandahar.
\\Not a lot of killing goes on over alcohol these days.
But plenty goes on because of alcohol (or is made worse by it):
Careless use of firearms
And I don't consider this a complete list.
One answer, which also answers the education question the other day, is to work on reducing poverty. We've got a very leaky boat here, and it'll require a lot of programs and solutions to fix every hole.
Allison is correct. I'll adjust my post to say Not a lot of killing goes on over the sale/production of alcohol.
This interview made Rybak look foolish, opportunistic (claiming credit then dodging blame - ha!) - and naive. Great job pointing out how nonsensical Rybak's logic is. If pot use is fueling gang violence then of course an increase in the latter must mean an increase in the former, right? Bob, your comment seems to indicate that if pot is legalized, gangs will just focus on non-legal drugs. Likely true, but undercutting their market for the second most popular drug (behind alcohol) would likely take a lot of wind out of their sales.
While this current uptick in murder cannot be blamed directly on white middle class people, Rybak is absolutely correct in saying that gang activity is funded by the drug trade. And based on your numbers above, most of that money must be coming from white users. While white users are only the 4th most prevalant in use among races, there is a very small difference in percentage of users in those four groups BUT we are still a mostly white metro area. Therefore whites must be the main consumer of marijuana.
I have lots, LOTS of middle class white friends who smoke marijuana. When I've used this arguement in the past I've usually mentioned the killings going on in Mexico. It comes down to a simple formula that if there is no demand, there is no product and these illegal groups go away. I'm 100% behind legalization of all drugs due to this. And the day marijuana is legalized I will use it. But until then I cannot support gang members who are terrorizing my neighoborhood and other neighborhoods thoughout the cities.
Marijuana is the most profitable drug the cartels sell. It is there life blood and what fund the murder spree and corruption. You want to cut off the money to fuel the criminals you grow it here.
Isn't the rise in the murder count - the issue of the day, with the recent killing near Lake Calhoun - being conflated with the overall crime rate, which is still relatively low?
While the mayor did not offer this explanation in detail, my understanding is that the rise in the number of murders is attributable primarily to gang-related violence, which is fueled largely by the drug trade. i.e. there's not a lot of risk of being randomly killed for the vast majority of the city's residents.
While I think its fair to put the mayor on the spot for the apparent conflict between last year's claim of credit and this year's placement of blame, it also seems like a followup with the chief of police might add some insight into whether the increase in homicides is attributable to gang/drug activity or not. In other words, if the mayor sounds like he's blowing smoke, go find another source & see if they back him up or shoot him down.
Kassie, Minnesota is 89% white so any problem, logically, probably is perpetrated by whites as you correctly point out.
But we don't call out the drunk driving problem as a "white" thing.
Rybak also didn't indicate what percentage of the killings this year are gang-related vs. what percentage last year. Of the 20 so far, we know 3 were in Seward, which didn't appear to have anything to do with white people buying weed. We know one was a guy on a murder/suicide spree because his girlfriend was dating someone else and that didn't have anything to do with some white person buying marijuana.
We also know from the Northwest Area Foundation that part of the problem may be certain individuals who've just gotten out of prison and have returned to the streets.
The mayor didn't mention anything about that, however. Nor what color of skin they might have.
//Bob, your comment seems to indicate that if pot is legalized, gangs will just focus on non-legal drugs. Likely true, but undercutting their market for the second most popular drug (behind alcohol) would likely take a lot of wind out of their sales.
the only comment i'm comfortable making is the last one I made in the post.
I find the "let's just legalize drugs" mantra to be simplistic. It assumes there is no societal detriment to drug use beyond the gang-banging that marks the trade in illicit drugs. Unless the plan is to give away the product for nothing, I don't see how there won't be the creation of additional problems to replace some of the ones that will allegedly disappear, nor do I see how an addiction is not accompanied by a need for money by people who have no ability to come by it honestly.
But like I said, I don't know.
The extreme demand for marijuana is created by the artificial scarcity of the drug war.
This is 98% the (unwinnable) Drug War's fault.
I hate the government for taking away my right to smoke things. What the heck? Get out of my lungs, government! They are my lungs!
The question I always have when the topic of legalizing marijuana comes up is: how does it compare to alcohol? Is marijuana more harmful to humans/health/society than alcohol? I personally don't know. But I find it interesting that there is a general assumption that it is, because I haven't really seen any cold hard facts.
With an open, legalized, competitive market, how much would a pack of joints cost in comparison to a pack of cigarettes? What would tax revenues amount to? Would we enforce smoking and driving like we do drinking and driving? Could we? I wish there was more analysis done on these kinds of questions than the usual "drugs are bad" vs. "legalize it man!" debates that occur.
And I apologize for getting off topic with the race issue question originally asked.
You don't have to believe legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana would have no downside to conclude that on balance it would be better to do so. There will probably be more overall users, availability to minors and people who use it to a level of abuse. But if we're not willing to try an alternative path, how will we ever know whether that outweighs the current detriment to society wrought by the corruption, violence and exhorbitant sums paid to incarcerate people - and harming many of those people's lives worse than the drug?
"The question I always have when the topic of legalizing marijuana comes up is: how does it compare to alcohol? Is marijuana more harmful to humans/health/society than alcohol?"
On every count I can think of, alcohol is worse. Though it is debatable, alcohol seems to have more harmful health effects to the brain, internal organs, etc. Marijuana negatively effects the lungs if smoked (though it doesn't have to be), and is up in the air as to effects on the brain (some research says it's really bad, some research says it is neutral or might have some benefits). There are many deaths directly from alcohol every year, whereas there are zero reported marijuana deaths. Alcohol is more addictive on a physical level, and perhaps more addictive psychologically (though, pot is likely psych. addictive too). Alcohol causes more traffic accidents, etc. than marijuana does (this is just anecdotal, but I know many people who smoke pot and say they drive more carefully under the influence because they don't want to be caught for any little traffic infraction by the police). Marijuana also seems to have more possible medical/health uses than alcohol, despite the FDA and DEA trying to stop research and legal use in some states as part of the war on drugs. I'm sure I'm overlooking some facets of drug use that could be compared between alcohol and pot, but from both research and experience from friends, etc., it seems alcohol is worse for society and the individual than pot.
It was a provocative comment by the mayor. Thanks for pointing out the St. Paul police chief's wise comment - if you take credit for the decline, you'd better be ready to take responsibility for the increase. I think a majority of violent crimes are committed by young people and I understand that a part of the drop in US violent crime in the past decade has been, in part, related to a drop in that population (men under 35.) According to the MN Dept of Public Safety's Uniform Crime Report (2008), 67 of 123 homicides were committed with a handgun - in my view, the easy availability of guns is a problem. In the same report, it says that of total narcotics arrests in 2008, 67% were of whites - somewhat underrepresented based on their percentage of the general population (89%). But that is still an overwhelming majority of the arrests, so perhaps the mayor is right.
Bob, one of the non-drug/gang related murders you point out is the murder rampage suicide guy. But he too was a drug dealer and the motive is not known on most of the people he chose to kill. So that too could be a drug related crime.
I can understand the reticence to legalize all drugs, although I still think it should happen. When it comes to marijuana, though, I think it is a no-brainer. The social problems associated with alcohol are arguably far worse than those associated with marijuana, and alcohol is legal. Ask any cop if he would rather be dealing with a drunk or a guy who is high, they'll tell you the pothead is a lot easier to handle, and safer.
Gangs may be able to diversify, but marijuana is a huge profit center for them. Taking that away and moving pot production to the family farm would be a net plus.
Seconding Tim - "This interview made Rybak look foolish, opportunistic (claiming credit then dodging blame - ha!) - and naive. Great job pointing out how nonsensical Rybak's logic is."
A couple points I want to make clear.
a. When crime goes up or down there are lots of factors but at the end of the day my job is to lead our city's efforts to make the city safe. Responsibility rests on my shoulders and in no way am I trying to put it elsewhere. If you want to put blame anywhere, put it on my shoulders and look to me for action. I'm not dodging anything.
b. Drug trade is not the only factor at play here. While most crime is steady, violent crime is up significantly. The vast majority of it involves people who are involved in very violent drug trade and very involved with guns.
c. The point I make about marijuana is that it's the financial fuel behind these groups and gangs. If you buy marijuana in this area you need to own the fact that you could be putting money into a violent underground economy that is killing people. Make your own judgements about what should be legal and what impact the drug has on people but we need to open our eyes to the reality that middle class people miles from where the violence is are playing a role. Stop funding the people who are killing people.
Sorry Mr.Rybak, but your statements are once again misleading.
"The point I make about marijuana is that it's the financial fuel behind these groups and gangs"
Here is who is/was selling marijuana to white middle class, people like Donald Foote.
The comment sections in various papers about his arrest are filled with supporters that describe him as a great person,family man, and a mentor.
Notice, no weapons. I hope the mayor plans on retiring because it's statements like this and taking credit for a drop in crime that clearly had nothing to do with his policy that end careers.
Sure, gangs sell drugs. Do you know who buys marijuana from gang? Mostly not the white middle class .
Who can honestly say who is buying what? True: White middle class smokes Marijuana. In fact people of all different colors, shapes, sizes, economic statuses smoke marijuana. The truth is there is an eclectic group of Minnesotans that use Marijuana and therefore there is a demand and therefore a need and opportunity for business. Can we really slow down Marijuana use in Minnesota by pointing a finger and saying you are causing gang violence, marijuana smokers. No it is not that easy nor black and white, especially when states are opening their doors all over the country to the use of Marijuana, fueling a controversial debate. All drugs don't come from gangs, yet most gangs involve drugs. Granted the socio-economic racial splits of history have caused more down and out people to be born into the trade, we cannot blindly point our fingers at those equally born into there socio-economic position. It is good or Mr. Rybak to finally put blame on one of the rightful owners i.e. white middle class, but the problem belongs to humankind and our need to use the drug. I believe there is a business opportunity for the government in the extreme taxation and regulation of supply, which would move money into positives for our state. Marijuana won't go away, we need to stop the demand, whether it's legalized or people have to live sober- which is the easier battle?