THERE WILL BE BLOOD

Summer is coming, and if this spring has been any indication, we’ll have yet another active season of shootings in Duval — and some will no doubt be fatal. 

Shootings everywhere. One at the Trailer Village Trailer Park on North Main a couple of weeks back. A killing out in Longbranch at a corner store. Thirty shots fired with an AK-47 from an Impala one April afternoon on Sixth Street near Myrtle — a fusillade that killed one of the two people shot.

All told, April saw 33 shootings in the Bold New City of the South, more than one a day. Seven were fatal. In many cases — too many cases — no witnesses came forward. 

The cops, however, found a commonality: “Without any doubt, through our investigations we learned that so many of these shootings and murders are related to drugs,” JSO Director Tom Hackney told WJXT-TV. “This is from street-level marijuana to larger cocaine — a drug nexus is definitely there.” 

Indeed, many of the shootings you see — whether they’re on the Westside, off 103rd or in Eureka Gardens, or on the Northside or the Eastside — fall into that nexus. 

In recent decades, both in Florida and nationwide, we’ve seen an exponential growth in the prison population, much of it related to the nexus, in terms of not just violent crimes that arise from the inherent dangers of widely consumed black market products, but also the massive warehousing of nonviolent drug offenders. This has led global experts — such as those from the London School of Economics who authored a recent report called “Ending the Drug Wars” — to blame drug prohibition and advocate for solutions beyond the current jail-’em-and-fail-’em mentality.

“The strategy has failed,” the authors write. “Evidence shows that drug prices have been declining while purity has been increasing. This has been despite drastic increases in global enforcement spending.”

Global and local enforcement spending. Activists such as Florida TaxWatch have noted that the state’s prison population has increased by 400 percent in the last 35 years, with spending up 1,200 percent over the same period. And you wonder why schools are underfunded. 

All that money spent, all those people in lockdown, and the so-called drug nexus lives on. And while the local murder rate has declined from its peak in 2007, the way 2014 is shaping up, we may well again approximate those dark years. It’s easy to blame drugs. It’s more difficult to find actual solutions. 

One such solution: increase police presence in perpetual blight zones, with officers standing by in the worst areas to deal with the inevitable. While speed-trap duty on the Southside is laudable, it does nothing to deal with the most hardcore crime in our city (as inherently unpredictable as outbreaks might be). 

More broadly, given the direct links between street-level violence and the low-level drug trade, we also need to take a long look at decriminalizing marijuana, which the state’s residents, if not its politicians, seem open to. (The most recent Quinnipiac poll reported that 53 percent of Floridians favored outright legalization, and almost 90 percent favored legalizing medical marijuana.) The best way to attack the drug nexus on Duval streets might be to remove a huge cash crop from the black market. 

We’ve tried other quick fixes. Recurrent gun buy-back events and gun bounties by the sheriff’s office are fine. But the problem is, especially with weapons like AK-47s, a $1,000 bounty (or a $50 buy-back amount) simply isn’t sufficient incentive to get them off the street. And even if they did work? New guns would come from somewhere. They always do.

As it stands now, the same spots get the same yellow tape and same blue lights on a regular basis, and no one — not the mayor’s office, not the JSO, not the City Council — has anything to say that couldn’t have come out of a press release five years ago. Until the policies change, we’re guaranteed the same results. 

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