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I, Criminal

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eye on the news

I, Criminal

Channeling a view from the other side July 30, 2021
Politics and law
Public safety

I am a criminal. Nice to meet you. I am 21 years old, right at the peak of my criminal power. I live in a big city. I have been to juvenile placement, county jail, and state prison. Let me tell you what I think about today’s criminal-justice system.

Before we go any further, please disabuse yourself of the notion that I am dumb. I watch, listen, and learn from what happens around me. In some ways, I’m probably smarter than you. I bought three kilograms of cocaine for $93,000 last week. Quick: tell me how many quarter pounds, ounces, and eight-balls I have, and what should I sell each amount for if I need to make $250,000. I did that in my head while you were reaching for a calculator.

In today’s world, I take what I want. If I like the latest pair of Nike sneakers, I walk into a store, pick up the box, and walk out. Same goes for clothes, video games, and electronics. Nobody will stop me. The stores and police know that shoplifting is not prosecuted anymore in my city. The security guards at the store might try to stop somebody from walking out with 50 pairs of shoes, but it’s not worth the hassle of stopping somebody for one pair. When I was younger, boosting stuff took skill and effort. Not now—anybody can do it.

How do I make money? As you probably guessed from the math problem above, I sell drugs. I have a crew of guys that I grew up with. We all live in the same neighborhood. Are we a gang? We aren’t the Sinaloa cartel or the Crips, but the police consider us to be one. We work together to sell drugs, look out for each other against other crews, and control a few blocks. We sell cocaine, heroin, and crystal methamphetamine. We cut it with everything from baking soda to fentanyl. We give customers what they want.

The media and academics call us “nonviolent drug offenders,” but a nonviolent drug dealer is like a kindergarten teacher who doesn’t like kids: out of work. We sit on highly valuable merchandise and stacks of cash; of course, we carry guns. We are always at risk of being robbed, of what business people would call “hostile takeovers.” Since we can’t go to the police and complain, we’re as violent as we need to be to protect our business and our territory. Sometimes that requires merely the threat of violence, sometimes more.

Guns are easy to get, though I have a felony record and bad intentions. I can buy a gun on the street for $200. I can get a civilian with a clean record to walk into a gun store and buy me a new one. Ghost guns are available, though not really necessary. You can incentivize gun buybacks, outlaw assault rifles, confiscate bump stocks, or create new laws; none of it affects me.

How do I view all the civil unrest and disorder right now? Do I riot and loot at night after the marches? Does my crew ride around on dirt bikes and four-wheelers in a pack to terrorize regular people? No. That’s for amateurs. But all that disorder and confusion allows me to keep up my business without much interference from the police, who are busy trying to stop people from lighting stores on fire and chasing kids on ATVs while I move bricks of drugs quietly through the streets. This sort of chaos is one reason I don’t worry about being arrested. The police that I see are just running from call to call, from emergency to emergency. They don’t even get out of their cars in my neighborhood unless they have to.

Even better, we have a progressive prosecutor in our city. Prosecutors are powerful, and my DA’s decisions show up in every aspect of my life. I know that elections have consequences: you should hear the chatter on the street when a new progressive prosecutor gets elected. I noticed that a few guys in California even made a prison video toasting the policies of new Los Angeles district attorney George Gascón. (I consider the video to be in poor taste—it’s bad for business.)

Our district attorney doesn’t believe in drug investigations, so nobody bothers us. Most of the crime in my city is related to drugs: homicides, shootings, robberies, burglaries, etc. If you don’t do drug investigations and prosecutions, you’ll never know what’s going on with these other crimes. When the police chase us, we take off in cars or on foot. Those types of chases are contrary to police policy now, per the district attorney, which works for me. If somebody does get arrested, we are out on bail the same day and right back on the job.

Five years ago, we had to enforce “stop snitching” rules on the street to make sure nobody testified against us. A little threat here, a little money there. It worked. But all that is hardly necessary now. American society has succeeded in making the police and civilians hate and distrust one another, especially in big cities. The narrative of violent and racist cops has amounted to the most effective “stop snitching” campaign in history.

In our city, the worst punishment we face when we do get caught is usually just probation or a few months in county prison. Our prior criminal records don’t seem to matter. What the victims say doesn’t seem to matter. What we actually did doesn’t seem to matter. We are just misunderstood victims of the system. If that messaging works to get me back on the street, then that’s the messaging I use.

Someone I know—was it me?—killed a guy two weeks ago. He was from a rival drug crew in the neighborhood, which killed one of our guys a month ago. We know who did the first shooting, as does the whole neighborhood, but the shooter was never arrested. The police showed up, packed up my friend’s body, counted shell casings, interviewed a few people who claimed that they didn’t see anything, and left. So we made sure to even the score by killing one of their guys. I don’t know the name of the kid we killed; I just know that he was part of the other crew and was alone in a parked car at night. Our shooter probably won’t be arrested, either. He killed the guy on a dark side street in a neighborhood where nobody will talk and dumped the gun in the river. We’re more worried about the other crew coming back to kill us than we are about getting arrested.

When we killed that guy, clearly we weren’t thinking. We could have paid a kid to do it. Plenty of juvenile murderers are around these days, and our charming prosecutor believes that even juvenile killers should just be sent to placement for a couple of years. Next time.

Of course, every now and then, the police get lucky and make an arrest. If one of us gets tagged for the murder, we will fight it all the way. Yes, we killed the guy, but will they get it to stand up? We’ll claim that the cops framed me, the prosecutors engaged in misconduct, and the law is unjust. We’ll fight it pretrial, at trial, and on appeal. We might find some juror or some judge who agrees.

So life is pretty good for me right now. In the Wall Street Journal the other day, Peggy Noonan called this a “golden age for street criminals.” But I might not make it long beyond 25 years old. With all the drama out here, I could end up dead. A lot of guys in my neighborhood have been killed. Or I might go to prison for a long stretch if the federal authorities or state attorney general get involved. I am living out the old curse: “May you live in interesting times.”

Is there any chance that America comes to its senses and starts cracking down on guys like me? I look at social media, listen to the news, read the occasional newspaper, and pay attention to politics. I don’t see it happening for at least a decade. So I’m going to keep doing what I do. Nothing personal—just business.

Photo: AlexLinch/iStock

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