Editorial: The Heat Is On 7/9/99

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Adam J. Smith, Associate Director, [email protected]

Temperatures across the northeast this week rose into the triple digits, sending millions scurrying for relief. In New York, the demand for electricity, for air conditioners in particular, caused a partial blackout. Welcome to summer in an age of global warming.

But while summers have apparently gotten hotter as the
century has worn on, there is one thing about the season that hasn't changed. Kids are out of school and on the streets, especially in poorer communities. And in an age of Prohibition, that means trouble.

Summer in the suburbs is a quieter time. Kids are away at summer camp, or summer homes, or spending their days at beach clubs, or working. But while the streets of the suburbs are relatively deserted during the long, hot days, the streets of poor communities, especially urban communities, are teeming with kids who have nothing but time on their hands.

Unemployment, down under 5% in much of the nation, still plagues urban youth. With few jobs, few recreational opportunities and few prospects, the summer is a time of danger for kids. Drugs, as both reliever of boredom and, even more appealing, business opportunity, are a terrific lure.

"How'd you like to make yourself a hundred dollars, kid?" That question -- sure to perk the ears of even the most upstanding young teen, and especially teens possessed of those most American of traits, entrepreneurship and nerve -- is asked not by legitimate employers but by drug dealers, older teens who represent the most economically successful sector of many communities. Stand on the corner and watch for the cops, they're told, and so another piece of our future falls to the Prohibition economy, proving his worth to those above him in the entry-level position of lookout.

The kid, fourteen, perhaps younger, is making a business decision, plain and simple. He can sit around on a hot stoop, penniless and without stature on the street, or else he can have money, prestige and something to do. Consequences? Hey, the kid's fourteen. How many of us didn't make foolish decisions at fourteen, unable to fully comprehend the potential long-term consequences of our actions? Remember too that the kid in question is probably non-white, and is unlikely to have a strong belief in his likelihood of success in the legitimate economy.

Yes, summer's here and the drug war, with its attendant unregulated black market, has insured that another year's supply of bed-filler for the prison industry and slave labor for numerous other American corporations will get an opportunity to end up as human chattel. No, not the white, middle class kids who might sneak a toke between jet-ski period and mess hall at some mountainside sleep away camp, just the poor kids for whom summertime stands stretched out before them like one long asphalt-melting, unproductive sauna. They are the ones who'll fall prey. They are the ones who'll be burned by the season of the sun in an age of Prohibition.

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Issue #98, 7/9/99 100th Issue of Week Online Coming Up, Note to Our Readers | Study: Hepatitis C Has Reached Epidemic Proportions Among Intravenous Drug Users | New Mexico Alliance Formed in Response to Governor's Call for Decriminalization Debate | Berkeley City Council Wants Marijuana Decriminalized Further | DEA Reschedules Marinol | Summer Brown Bag Lunch Video and Lecture Series, Washington, DC | Editorial: The Heat Is On
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