published Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

David Cook: Legal pot or Dr. Seuss?

Legalize them.

If selling drugs is the top crime committed by Chattanooga gangs, then legalize the drugs. Pot. Cocaine. Any and all dope.

This November, voters will decide in three states — Colorado, Washington, Oregon — whether to legalize marijuana.

Why not in Tennessee? Tax the fool out of every sale, and the bottom falls out of illegal street-corner hustling.

Former gang members could — legally — go door to door, selling gang pot, sort of like Girl Scout cookies. The joints are taxed, and proceeds of the legal sale go to build and maintain some sort of factory-business that hires, trains and employs people who want off the streets.

Don't like this idea? Me neither.

How about this one?

Instead of legalizing dope, this once-dirty city of ours that transformed itself within a decade into one of the most livable cities in the nation could create a simple job-training program that takes these kids, who are bankrupt in more ways than one, and mentors them into stable, local and positive jobs. And lives.

Which idea is crazier?

No one predicts a gangless Chattanooga. But if we want to hold the line and prevent Chattanooga Gangs 2.0 — when initiation killings are standard and influences creep in from out-of-state jails, turfs become truly defined and Christmas Day shootings normal — then something must be done.

Since the gang problem is really a poverty and relationship problem, legalizing pot won't fix it.

Positive employment will.

Positive influence will.

On Page 2 of the recently released gang study introduction, Gang Task Force Director Boyd Patterson asks a simple question:

"Have you taught a child to read?" he asks.

Maybe that's what it all comes down to. The widespread influence of Dr. Seuss.

Patterson says 70 percent of prison inmates can't read. Prisons are built near locations that contain high populations of elementary students with poor reading levels, he writes.

Which is sick, twisted and tragic. Not playgrounds. Prisons.

But it also means that fighting gang violence is as simple as volunteering to help tutor or teach someone to read.

"It comes down to action," Patterson writes. "Action is the difference. Action is critical. Action is needed."

There's a latent group out there that can fill this role. The church. All 563 — by my count — of them in the area.

"It's been estimated that 60,000 people will be in church this Sunday," said Joe Smith, director of Y-CAP, an award-winning program that may be the best anti-gang model around.

What if they each pledged to do something about this problem?

It's simple, really. Before and after school, every day of the year, Smith, his family and staff tutor, teach, train, feed, support and befriend kids on the edge. And their parents.

(What Smith won't say is how his budget remains on a shoestring, and how he needs volunteers and donations. He's too much of a gentleman to say this. I'm not.)

What if Chattanooga's contribution to the American gang problem was an active and engaged church? What if our city — one friend counted more than 20 churches on a six-mile stretch of Ooltewah Road — left the church in order to find the church? Not in the pews, but in the streets.

"Come on down and love on somebody," Smith said.

Maybe it's that simple.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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Rickaroo said...

David Cook, why do you so off-handedly discount the notion of legalizing pot? I'm wondering - are you that afraid of ruffling the feathers of the conservative element among your readers, or do you honestly not see what a great benefit such a thing would be to a lessening of crime in general and the gang problem specifically? Do you not realize how many people are incarcerated for possession or use of marijuana alone? That has to have some seriously damaging ripple effects for families and society. Even those who are not imprisoned long-term for marijuana possession/use, their records are forever stained, pigeon-holing them into a life of limited options.

Marijuana has been scientifically proven to be far less dangerous than alcohol or cigarettes, yet we continue to treat it as an "evil" that deserves our squandering millions and billions of tax dollars in this wasted "war on drugs," of which pot is an integral part.

Certainly there is a need for more awareness and more proactive solutions to encourage literacy, job training, and education among the poor and the disadvantaged, whence all gang members come; and if churches can help to fill that void, well, fine and dandy. But just imagine if we put those millions and billions of dollars that are squandered on ferreting out and punishing pot growers and dealers into education and job training instead. And just imagine the increased revenue that taxation from legal pot selling would generate.

I realize that a good journalist, in the need to report accurately and fairly, does not like to tie himself/herself to any ideology, wanting only to be concerned with the truth, as indeed we all should be at all times anyway. You write some good articles and your objectivity is admirable. But likewise your attempt to be completely neutral sometimes turns your writing into a vapid mush of mediocrity, like cold oatmeal.

And that is why I can't help but wonder at your off-handed dismissal of considering the legalization of pot - not as the sole means of countering the gang problem but at least one of many facets to the solution. Or are you just afraid of rustling the feathers of the conservatives? It is just as much a journalistic shortcoming when you try to please everybody, like a politician is forever doing, as when you go overboard trying to be dispassionately objective. Not saying you are. I'm just sayin'.

September 24, 2012 at 5:14 p.m.
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