By Rich Figel
At heart, I'm a libertarian who doesn't want government meddling in my personal affairs -- unless what I or someone else does may harm others. I also believe in the free market system... up to a point. There are too many crooks and greedy bastards out there who will game the system, or take advantage of decent hard-working people just to make more money. When it comes to law and order, however, my liberal values become compromised. The national debate over the Trayvon Martin "self defense" shooting and local news about criminal activity around Otto Cake in Chinatown are two sides of the same coin, although they may seem totally unrelated on the surface.
What connects them is the failed War on Drugs. What's the number one reason for robberies and burglaries? Addicts -- and unemployed/low-income people who turn to drugs for escape -- need money to pay whatever dealers can charge, based on supply and demand. It's why we feel the need to have Neighborhood Watches, and carry guns or install security cameras. Which are just bandages that do nothing to address the underlying problem: taking care of the addiction first. In other countries where drugs are treated as a health problem, the government takes steps to supply drugs or treatment to addicts -- so it's less necessary for those addicts to commit crimes to feed their habits. Doesn't that make more fiscal sense?
Some of you will say: but that will lead to MORE addiction! Not true. Studies show that while making drugs legal may lead to a short term increase in usage or experimentation, the addiction rate stays pretty much the same. Legal or illegal, there will always be roughly 10 percent of the population that gets addicted to alcohol, drugs or something. Tougher laws -- even death sentences -- do not change that statistic. It's a genetic thing.
The urge to defend our property is instinctual. But carrying a loaded gun on a Neighborhood Watch? That's asking for trouble. Yet for people in crime-infested areas, what are the options? That's why I sympathize with Otto (real name Scott Michael McDonough) who has been harassed and assaulted by drug dealers in Chinatown. He took pictures and video of the alleged criminals. Then last night on TV news I saw a Honolulu police officer say you should NOT take photos or video of drug dealing or other illegal activity because the bad guys might seek retribution. Instead, the officer said you should call 911. Right. This coming from the same police department that says it's too busy to respond to every complaint, while they're out writing tickets for jaywalking or setting up speed traps in the middle of the day.
I've been in Otto's shoes. My wife and I live next to a park, where kids will congregate and break out joints or pipes to smoke one thing or the other. When they do it right behind our house, they've crossed the line. I have called 911 before, but the kids are usually gone by the time the cops arrive... and when the men in blue do respond quickly, they can easily spot the police cars entering the parking lot, and just walk away. So I started taking photos and video of the kids first. Then I tell them they better leave before I call the cops. One or two will always mouth off. That's when I hold up the camera and ask them to continue talking so I have more evidence to present to the police. That usually shuts them up, and they split. For good.
It got me to thinking that Trayvon would still be alive if George Zimmerman was carrying a camera instead of a gun. Yeah, I can hear the NRA saying that's ridiculous because the bad guys are all carrying lethal weapons. Unfortunately, the gun doesn't make any judgement on who is good or bad once it is fired. Dead is dead. So should Otto arm himself and presume he must be willing to shoot someone just to protect his business? Or would it be more sensible for him and other shop owners to install security cameras -- maybe hook them up to a monitoring room in the Chinatown police station. If HPD doesn't have enough manpower to walk the beats, perhaps a pair of eyes can watch a bunch of streets at one time on video monitors. And that is where my views on personal liberty become conflicted...
I hate the idea we have to surrender our rights to privacy just because of a few bad people. But until we decide to get real about the underlying causes of crime -- addiction being high on the list -- I don't know if we have any alternative, other than packing heat or carrying a camera. At least in the latter option, if you shoot first and ask questions later, no one gets killed.
ADDENDUM (4/18/12): To commenters who claim there hasn't been a significant increase in the number of guns owned in Hawaii, check out these statistics from the State Attorney General's office:
REPORT FROM THE ATTORNEY GENERAL'S OFFICE – The Department of the Attorney General has released its annual report detailing state firearm registration statistics for calendar year 2011.
A record high total of 15,375 personal/private firearm permit applications were processed statewide during 2011, marking a substantial 20.1% increase from the previous record high of 12,801 applications processed in 2010... Firearm registration activity increased dramatically over the course of the twelve years for which these data have been systematically compiled and reported. From 2000 through 2011, the number of permit applications processed annually climbed 136.9%, the number of firearms registered soared 170.3%, and the number of firearms imported surged 148.3%.
The current episode of Career Changers TV is being preempted by high school sports this weekend, but you can still DVR it on other days or watch video segments on the CCTV YouTube Channel. Lots of chocolate-related stories in this month's show! Check it out on OC16.