Letter to THE EDITOR, THE NEW YORK TIMES.
December 4th, 2015.
While I applaud the use of the front page of your publication to draw attention to our abominable gun laws in this nation, I find it appalling that the use of space was dedicated to a call to arms to end a call to arms, and equally appalled that the great minds that are behind The New York Times have missed entirely that it is not the laws nor lack of laws, nor the guns or lack thereof, that give rise to events such as we witnessed this past week. Symptoms can not give rise to tragedy. Symptoms are outgrowths and red flags and signposts. And guns and laws are symptoms.
If we really, truly as a nation desire to stop witnessing bloodshed and butchery and senseless acts of violence, then we as a nation must actually look to the things that breed such acts of violence: We, The People. What we witnessed this past week was not the failing of a few individuals. It was the failing of us as a society, in our individual complacency for what we have turned a blind eye to.
We Americans are less than 5% of the worlds population, and yet we alone account for 22% of the worlds incarcerated peoples. Which is another way of saying we as a nation have silently stood by and elected these same leaders you speak of that fail to keep us safe from violence by profiteering from the weapon trade, and yet not demanded them to do something about the fact that we create the same criminals and disenfranchised individuals that buy said weapons.
In effect, what you have used the best real estate of your good publication to do is to call for us to remove a tumor from a body that is racked with a cancer. We cannot be so naive to expect that the removal of guns will be the solution. It will not. Those that intend to inflect violence will find another way. We also cannot be so naive to tell ourselves that it is the fault of our elected leaders and that it is their failures that have led us to this grave crossroads in our society and these dark times that will surely only get worse. We are a democracy, we are tax payers, and those that are in office are a representative of the will of the people. We show them our support at the polls. We show them our support by our monetary contribution to the government they represent. We. No one else. We. You. Me.
If you want to change the way of this nation, if you want to reclaim our safety, if you want to uphold the ideals on which this country was built, then you must ask for more. You must ask for a refusal to carry on as an oppressive, racist, jailing society, and you must not ask this of our few elected leaders - that is in effect passing the buck and perpetuating an idea of false helplessness. No.
You must ask this of the complacent individuals that idly sit by aghast that this could happen on our soil, and yet continue on in our lives, unable to be bothered by the work that is required to actually do something to save our freedom and our justice. You must ask us all to stand up.
We will never be free or safe as a people as long as 1 in every 110 of us is not free or safe as a people. Start there. Start where it matters. Start with us.
Holly Glenn Whitaker
I wrote this letter to the editor of the New York Times in response to the December 4th front page editorial on gun control two weeks ago - a notable event, as the Times had not published a front page editorial since 1920. I knew it wouldn't be published, and after waiting my seven days for it to not appear in the Times, I spent another seven days deliberating whether or not to publish it here. After careful consideration, I have decided to, along with some additional information.
I am posting it here not because I am dying to get into a conversation about gun control on this blog (no thanks), but because it gets to the heart of a matter that is so deeply missed by our society at large and was so grossly missed by the Editorial Board of The New York Times when it chose to use the prime real estate of the publication to address the gun epidemic, a mere symptom of the crisis we face, instead of using the space to address the real crux of the matter: the insidious, overlooked, surging, unbridled epidemic that not only feeds our growing gun epidemic, but most every other social epidemic we face as a nation today - our failed war on drugs, and related mass incarceration.
Said the Editorial Board in its opinion, "It is a moral outrage and national disgrace that civilians can legally purchase weapons designed to kill people with brutal speed and efficiency." Agreed. But why, WHY are we not printing entire newspapers dedicated to our moral outrage and national disgrace that We, The People of The United States, are the worlds leading incarcerator of human beings, with over 85% of them arrested for crimes that are related to drugs and alcohol abuse and addiction? That We, The People of The United States, spend a mere $13 billion dollars a year on prevention and treatment for addiction, and some $51 billion annually on the War On Drugs? How are we still missing this? Even worse, how are we missing the interconnectedness of this to gun violence and all sorts of other social injustices and maladies?
Fact: The United States LEADS the world in incarceration rate. At less than 5% of the worlds population, We, The People, house 22% of the world's prisoners. 1 in 110 of US adults are in jail - that is over 2.2 million human beings.
Fact: "Over half of America’s federal prison inmates today are in on drug convictions. In 2010, 85 percent of the U.S. prison population were incarcerated for crimes committed while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs; crimes committed to get money to buy drugs; or crimes involving alcohol or drug law violations. Almost 80 percent of kids in the juvenile justice system are there because of problems related to their substance abuse." (Sheff, David (2013-04-02). Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending Americas Greatest Tragedy . Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.)
Fact: It costs on average between $20,000 and $40,000 per year to incarcerate an inmate in the United States (and upwards $47,000 in California and $60,000 in Colorado) - or $34 billion annually to house the inmates incarcerated on drug related charges. In contrast, we have budgeted around $1.4 billion for addiction prevention and $11 billion for addiction treatment for 2016.
Fact: 23.5 million Americans are addicted to alcohol and drugs, or about one in every ten Americans over the age of 12. Only 11 percent of those with an addiction receive treatment.
In summary, in the United States, we have a population equivalent to the size of Texas clinically addicted to drugs and/or alcohol - 23 million. 11% of these 23 million will receive treatment. Of our over 2.2 million incarcerated peoples, 50% are clinically addicted to drugs and/or alcohol, and 85% of them are there on some drug or alcohol related offense.
In other words, in the United States, we either incarcerate addiction, or we simply starve addiction. 1 in 10 of us suffer it. And our options are suffer without treatment, or go to jail because of our use or the crimes we commit that stem from our use.
THIS. THIS is what is wrong. This is a crime factory. We are punitive, and we are violent towards those who suffer, we starve them of the resources they need, and turn them into criminals when they need to be turned into patients. This is where an unimaginable web of crime and violence beings. And this is what deserves a front page editorial for the first time since 1920. THIS. RIGHT HERE. Because before we can even dream to do something about violence, we must dare to do something about its root cause. All of us must. And now.
HOW TO LeaRN MORE & Get involved.
Read Chasing The Scream. Read this, read this, read this. Not because Johann Hari is a great writer (he isn't), but because it's one of the clearest illustrations on global reach of America's war on drugs. It will blow your mind.
Push for reform: Chasing The Scream - Get Involved. There are various links to sites you can donate to, use a resources, become involved with.
Watch. The Anonymous People. Watch this. (Admittedly, I just did this weekend before publishing this. It's worth the time.) You can order it on Amazon, rent it on iTunes, or watch on Netflix. Or probably many other places. Easy to find.
Speak up, stand up. The most important way you can become involved? Speak up. Let me caveat this with you have to do what is right for you as it is right for you when it is right for you. I believe in your personal freedom and right to privacy. But we - those who suffer from addiction and those who know people who suffer from addiction - MUST speak up and come together and show our faces and ourselves. If we have recovered, we must not run through this and never look back for our brothers and sisters who are still dying and suffering behind us. In order to make a change, we must be seen and heard. Silence = death. End of story.