Law in Contemporary Society
So I know everyone is busy with finals but I wanted to see people's reaction to this. This past term I got into the HBO series "The Wire" and ended up watching the whole show throughout the course of the term. However, one of the most interesting and intriguing ideas in the show was Bunny Colvin's creation of "Hamsterdam" in the third season. "Hamsterdam" is literally a three or so block safe zone created in the middle of a completely abandoned part of West Baltimore where the street dealers are allowed to sell their drugs with no fear of arrest, so long as they also promise to avoid the use of violence. The idea is that by centralizing the street level drug trade into these tiny enclaves the rest of the district will be drastically improved, pointless arrests (that are contributing to the over crowding of our police system) will be reduced, and violent crimes will also hopefully decrease. The problem of course is that the free zones themselves are then likely to become absolute hell-holes, not to mention all the potential problems if word gets out that you can go buy heroin, cocaine, and other highly addictive and dangerous drugs with absolutely no fear of arrest. On the other hand, by centralizing the drug trade and accordingly the addicts into these few free zones relief organizations (meals on wheels, needle exchanges, health services for testing, etc) can also have a far bigger impact while spending less money and expending fewer resources trying to find the people they are trying to help. These are obviously just a summary of the arguments both for and against this idea, and even though it seems pretty much untenable in real life I thought it was very interesting when I saw it on the show. Moreover, "The Wire" is actually written by former Baltimore cops and one gets the impression when watching the show that they think this idea might be one of the only real ways to actually deal with the drug/violent crime problem in America's inner cities. Therefore, given all our discussions this term about the problem with America's criminal justice system, the over-crowding of prisons, etc I thought I'd toss this idea out there to see what people thought of it. I know everyone's busy studying for finals but I'm interested to hear your responses and see whether people actually think this idea is good, realistic, or perhaps just the jumping off point for a different, perhaps less drastic, plan.

Good luck with finals everybody; I hope the studying is going well.

-- AlexLawrence - 29 Apr 2008

Can I assume use would also be legal in these areas? Are drugs bought inside but brought outside used without fear of arrest?

I don't think its a bad idea but there is still all the criminal activity that took place outside of that area to get the drugs there in the first place (i.e growing, transporting, violence). This safe zone may alleviate violence in the immediate vicinity but would still subsidize illegal activities outside the zone. I think it may be a greater argument for legalization of drugs in general. At least its an original idea though.

-- JulianBaez - 30 Apr 2008

Vancouver has a supervised safe injection site (which may or may not stay open, pending the result of litigation in BC's supreme court), which allows individuals to inject illegal drugs and provides clean needles. It has the benefits you mentioned of giving relief organizations easy access to the people who need them, but dealing is not allowed. Safe injection sites do not address the problem of violence incident to dealing, however they could help get addicts into rehab, reducing the overall problem. To my mind this is a better approach if the goal is harm-reduction - I understand the argument about centralizing the crime and re-directing violence away from other areas, and I know that safe-injection sites don't serve that purpose. However I can't imagine that a Hamsterdam-like system wouldn't increase the volume of drugs bought and sold, making dealing more profitable and exacerbating the overall problem.

-- ClaireOSullivan - 30 Apr 2008

I remember watching that episode and it is one of the few that I have seen. I think its a very effective idea, particularly when the drug trade involves so much gang violence, as it does in Baltimore. In a city that struggles so dramatically to have economic development, it is certainly a way of addressing the problems of widespread drug dealing. Morally, there may be a different question, and there are racial aspects to the allowance of a drug dealing area in the middle of a predominantly minority inhabited area, but it is interesting as an idea nonetheless. Thanks for sharing.

-- AndrewWolstan - 02 May 2008

Oz had a similar concept in Season 4. Adebisi (led the black gang) was allowed to do whatever he want (drugs, booze, rape) as long as there was no violence. The concept worked for awhile and there was no violence, but eventually Adebisi couldn't keep control over all the prisoners, and violence crept back in. So while the system started as a tradeoff between drugs and violence, it ended with both drugs and violence. I don't know how closely this relates to the Wire but it seems to raise 2 potential issues

1) We may not be able to rely on drug dealers to obey the rules

2) The system may be designed more to improve appearances and less to improve actual inner-city life. (In Oz, Adebisi was allowed to sell drugs because the prison director wanted to establish a record of no violence in the cellblock he presided over. We wouldn't want Baltimore to create Hamsterdam just so that the mayor or the police chief can say they've reduced violence, while quality of life is worse than before.)

-- JaredBaumgart - 02 May 2008

Two comments: one serious, the other snark.

First, I'm wondering what people would think if it subject matter to be regulated was something different than drug use. This idea that there can be this "sphere" seems to go hand in hand with the idea that it would be "somewhere else." Also, I think the idea is a bit naive in its formulation that drug use (depending of course on what kind) can be separated from violence. It's a clever idea, but I think the idea of having to create an entirely new space is linked to the understanding that so many other, deeper sociological changes would need to take place in order for this type of system to have a chance of success.

Secondly, this just reminded me of a post recently a bunch of us were talking about (the wire has been mentioned officially in each of my classes this year...) Link

-- MiaWhite - 07 May 2008



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r8 - 07 Jan 2010 - 23:03:00 - IanSullivan
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