May 18th, 2015

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Waco shooting

The news recounts the story of two biker gangs who engaged in a shoot-out in a Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco, Texas. Waco, about 125 miles to my south, gets into the news from time to time for things like this. The crime rate there falls within normal levels, but its fortune appears to be tied to unfortunate news stories. On its own merits, it's a town with some cool things--a huge ribbon-park that allows one to bicycle by the lovely Brazos River, the Browning-Armstrong Library, where the works of the Brownings are celebrated, and a new giant mammoth dig (a bit ironic since nearby Baylor University drove out its evolutionary science professors and installed a creation science unit, practicing non-science aggressively).

Waco itself is not rural, it's a small city, though it is surrounded by rural areas. The involvement in the altercation of two motorcycle gangs reputed to be drug traffickers reminds me a bit of the rural drug trade. When I was a teen, controlled were available and not uncommon in rural areas. But the rise of meth manufacture in rural areas in Texas and Arkansas is something new. I have mixed feelings about the war on drugs, and in particular in the way that suppressing marijuana became for some years a huge resource drain for law enforcement when probably the substance should be decriminalized or legalized. I am not fan of marijuana, and I suspect time will prove that, like cigarettes, it's a net big negative. But a huge prison population in the name of suppressing it seems to me a poor way to run a government.

But even if one favors legalization of many drugs, there seems to me to be a purpose for laws against crack cocaine, meth, LSD and other deeply deleterious controlled substances. I dislike the way that federal sentencing guidelines for years punished crack cocaine disproportionately with sale of cocaine, resulting in de facto racial discrimination. But I am not troubled that there is a law against selling these drugs. Even as to the drugs that can tenably be made illegal, I'd like to see much more treatment and much less jail time.

Having watched California put itself into a fiscal crisis in substantial part through over-funding its prison system, I find myself intrigued at how, alone among unions, prison guard unions have increased their influence over the years by advocating for longer sentences for felons. I think that we need to have a society less prison-oriented.

Violent sub-cultures like motorcycle gangs would exist, I believe, even if a high-profit commodity like controlled substances were not available. These kind of fringe groups, whether in Waco or Chicago, can get a lot of traction in a given area. To some extent this has always been true, though sometimes it seems as though people on the margins all too often get hooked into neighborhood gangs or even Islamic fundamentalism nowadays. People need better things to get involved in and a bit more hope and joy in their lives.

The news has already begun to wonder out loud why the restaurant sanctioned a gathering of three motorcycle gangs at their establishment. The police have been a bit quick to throw the restaurant under the bus, which I read as perhaps-justified frustration rather than as blame-shifting. But the whole thing is sad--at least nine lives wasted, and people throwing away their lives on riding in gangs and, it is alleged, selling illegal substances.