Bible teacher John Smith looks at the politics of addiction.

John Smith
John Smith

The intensity of the feeling over crack in the US is not fully understood overseas. In some towns, "crack houses" have become the source of almost weekly murders of young people. Residents are driven out, police will not enter the area and a sense of fear, anger and bewilderment grips the locals.

A few months ago, a hot conflict arose over a decision by Judge Lyle Strom who sentenced a couple of apparently hardened crack/cocaine dealers and distributors to 20 years in prison. A higher court, however, informed the judge that the mandatory sentence for the level of criminality involved was 30 years.

Critics of the legislation claim that crack sentences are as much as 100 times harsher than for powder cocaine offences and are racially biased because most crack criminals are black. Supporters of tough legislation point out the awesome addictive nature and consequent social devastation of the crack form of the drug. To the horror of conservatives, Judge Strom - in handing down the revised mandatory 30 years - apologised to those receiving sentence for the "unfair" harshness.

I must admit my responses seesawed all day. I've seen what drugs can do to otherwise loving, normal "good" kids. I particularly despise those who are not poor, who live well at the apex of the addiction pyramid sales empires and who often have no habit - yet damn kids whose unhappiness, peer group pressures, adolescent experimental curiosity or rebellions, lead them into the deceptive net of addiction.

But I know enough about society, social castes, poverty, racism, family cruelty and violence to know who are the victims. I am inclined to believe the sociological adage, "the rich get richer and the poor get prison". I am neither a doctrinaire conservative nor an unbending radical. I follow one called Jesus of Nazareth who had the knack of upsetting all sides sufficiently to be devoid of outspoken political support at the time of his very public trial and execution.

What I do know is this! Many of my strong-headed conservative friends are very long on their moral frameworks but singularly unlike Jesus who was well known for his close companionship with the marginalised - the poor in substance, moral standing and social connectedness. On the other hand, I'm tired of the post-leftist friends whose apparently intellectual solidarity with the marginalised is compromised by the most woolly-brained amorality when it comes to long range social values.

They bemoan youth homelessness but ignore the fact so clearly evidenced in Burdekin's inquiry - that the primary, almost sole ultimate cause of the problem is the breakdown of the nuclear and extended family. So I certainly feel sympathy for the black community often so drug-involved because of social deprivation and depression, yet I simultaneously feel overwhelming energy to send a clear warning to pushers.

It's back to a very old principle of Jesus - be as wise and acutely cunning as snakes and as gentle and harmless as doves. Martin Luther King rephrased it "tough-minded and tender-hearted". CR

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