07/18/2012 03:21 EDT | Updated 09/17/2012 05:12 EDT

When Bullets Fly, Follow The (Drug) Money


Despite a deluge of investigative reports, television documentaries and even feature films that outlined the tangled web of players involved in the drug trade, it seems to me that people either don't get it or don't want to know.

Two people are shot dead and over 20 wounded in Toronto, a shooting that everyone in the neighbourhood knows is gang related. And when you speak of gang related activity, you speak of guns and drugs. Full stop. Its about the money. Everybody's making money. And the street beefs are about territory and perceived sleights and control of the drug trade. And the guys pulling the trigger aren't trained in the use of firearms so they just "spray and pray" as the cops call it. And innocent people get shot.

Follow the cocaine trail.

The cocaleros (cocaine farmers) in Bolivia and Peru aren't going to make the kind of money they need to keep their families alive by raising soya beans. Remember also that cocaine is a regular part of social life in South America. I remember being invited to dinner by a working class family in Argentina's third largest city, Cordoba. Following the meal, the host brought out a bag of coca leaves. Its about $3 for a half kilo. Everyone chewed them. Granma and uncle and even the teenagers. You don't get high, you get a lift, like having a coffee after a meal, but without the caffeine shakes. Its normal.

Of course, the manufacture and distribution of cocaine is a different kettle of fish. But its production is something that's been going on and will continue to go on as long as the "Norte Americanos" continue to consume 60% of the world's supply. Tons and tons of the powder enter the continent. Everyone who touches it makes money. Along the way, every touch means the product is cut. Ten kilos become 20 and so on. In fact, street level purity is way down compared to the '70s and '80s. But people continue to use.

The police and military get to buy the latest equipment to chase the importers. More and more police are hired to get their figurative arms around the "War on Drugs." In the '80s, the Iran Contra scandal revealed that drugs were used to fuel the costs of war on regimes not friendly to the United States.

I'm not telling you anything new here.

But you don't grow crack. Crack has to be made from that powder. So you get some baking soda and a beaker or jar and water and heat it up, shake it around and voila, an ounce that cost you anywhere between $1-$2 thousand dollars can be turned around and a dealer can double and even triple his money. A dealer can make two grand in a night. Beats minimum wage, doesn't it.

But selling crack in increments of 10 and 20 dollars is labour intensive. You need a lot of runners on the street, and time on the streets means exposure and the cops are always watching and waiting for someone to rat out the dealers. Bust a crackhead with a 10 piece and threaten them with jail and they'll give up their own mothers. Its at the heart of police strategy. The profits are such that territory is worth defending. And shootings happen. And innocents and not so innocents alike get killed. And the jails are full of street dealers. Not the masterminds, but those same runners who deal 10 and 20 pieces of rock to jonesing crackheads at two in the morning and get caught.

Sixty years ago in the United States, alcohol was illegal. It was called prohibition. Crime was rampant. Gangs battled on the streets then, too. Bootleggers sold their wares everywhere, even to schoolchildren. Police could do nothing. The vast profits of liquor smuggling fueled corruption and violence, and the alcohol scourge seemed poised to topple the American government. But on December 5th, 1933, prohibition ended and made alcohol legal. We could do the same today with heroin, cocaine, marijuana and other drugs of choice. But you know that's not about to happen.

So the mainstream media outlets can trot out their sociologists and university professors and talk about programs for at-risk youth and gun control and disintegration of the nuclear family but the indelible image of grieving families, usually black and poor, are what stand out. And no amount of social programs or government money is going to stop it.

And while the families of those dead and in hospital grieve, the banker who laundered the money and the drug barons who control the trade sit and grin, because today they made another billion dollars.