Monday, June 2, 2008

Two Elephants in the Living Room

This past Saturday's Vancouver Sun carried an in-depth piece on the murders at an apartment in Surrey last October. Four gang associates and two innocent bystanders were executed in the apartment. Police are still looking for the killer(s). There are interviews with the grieving families and explanations of the criminal past of the gangsters. Police talk about how hard it is to keep up with organized crime. The Solicitor-General promises tough action. Opinion polls indicate the public has little confidence in police to deal with organized crime. There are veiled suggestions that the court system lets police and the public down by being too lenient with criminals.

But there's an elephant in the living room. You know: the one everyone knows is there, but no one wants to talk about.

Two elephants, actually.

One is that the gangs are fuelled by drug money. Drugs. The bottom line.

And who's responsible for the drug trade?

We are.

We -- as a society -- have sent mixed messages to people. We're down on drugs, but don't want to do what it takes to keep people off them -- or get people off them. We send mixed messages, wringing our hands at the demon of crystal meth, crack and heroin, but taking a laissez-faire attitude towards addicts.

This is where the right-winger in me comes out, big-time. We've tried to infiltrate the drug underworld and nail "Mr Big" (in singular or plural form) for years, without trying to deal with the "demand" side of any economic equation. But so long as the demand is there -- so long as people shoot up, snort or smoke -- and we not only turn a blind eye but advocate giving them "a safe place to shoot up", there will always be dealers. We arrest one Mr Big (along with the attendant media frenzy over just how much money the guy was bringing in, how big his house is, how many Mercedes-Benzes he has and how glamorous a lifestyle he was leading), and 20 more will figure it's worth risking a stretch in the slammer.

But take away the belief among the users that they can smoke up in full view of the law and they won't face any consequences, and just watch what happens to demand. Even the rather off-beat ECON 100 class with Larry Boland at SFU told me the lineup to become suppliers would start to dwindle.

But how do we bust the users? What would we do with them? Send them to jail? In a trice (that's the Imperial measure: the metric is augenblick) there'd be some sharp lawyer on the line, finding some Charter right that's being violated. Force them into rehab? Even less feasible: one thing from the past four years in that area is, they have to want to be free of the addiction, or they'll just fall into it again as soon as their term was up.*

You can't -- in other words -- force someone to do the right thing. They have to make that choice themselves. But how?

That brings us to the other elephant in the living room.

A prime example is one of the brothers at Carrall Street. I may have mentioned him before: he's 64 now, had a stroke a few years ago so can't walk or talk very well, has a broken clavicle that sticks up through his skin (the surgeon says the "do nothing" option is the best one because he's concerned Jim might fall, break the plate that would be joining the bone together, and bring on infection. "I took an oath to 'do no harm'," the doctor told me. Funny how "do no harm" applies with a man who has a bone sticking through his skin, but do less harm is, apparently, perfectly acceptable for shooting drugs. But I digress ...)
Jim was caught smoking crack in his hotel room. His health care worker and I were discussing the case, and we both agreed that he had to get off the drugs (duh). There was a pause in the conversation, and then we both said -- practically in unison -- "why?"

Why, indeed? Why should he kick the drugs? He's 64 ... affected by a stroke ... with a broken clavicle ... living in a 10 x 10 room on the Downtown East Side.

What's the elephant? Lack of hope?

Yes and no. The elephant is that the hope is found in Christ. Jesus provides the hope that people need in order to rise above their afflictions -- the hope that makes them see that there's something better than living for the next fix. But no one wants to talk about that, which makes Jesus the other elephant in the living room.

And that's where we come in. We have to instill that Hope in people, and praise God, we see miracles, signs and wonders among the people who come to Gospel Mission/Carrall Street Church/The Lord's Rain. It's not another theory -- untried, untested and untrue and therefore perfectly positioned to garner millions of dollars in government funding and become the flavor-of-the-week social engineering rallying point -- but something that works over and over again -- much to the chagrin of the "ABC"** movements.

Praise God, too, that we're not dependent on government handouts, which invariably come with strings attached -- like "Don't Preach Christ - crucified or otherwise". We'll keep preaching Him, because that is the only true source of Hope for people -- especially those who are no longer being treated as people ... by other people.

BTW ... interesting sidebar to the story last week, that a BC Supreme Court Justice (there's an oxymoron for you!) ruled it would be "unconstitutional" to deny funding to the safe injection site. One of the brothers at Carrall Street mentioned off-handedly, "I missed the rally ... and it cost me $35." Apparently, that was the inducement to be part of the "spontaneous demonstration of support" for InSite. The money, he said, came from VANDU -- the support group for drug users ("VANDU's got money, man!") -- so they got groovy black t-shirts with the unsupported claim "InSite saves lives", a seat in a courtroom ... and $35. Orwell, thou shouldst be living at this hour!

*How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb? ANSWER: Just one, but the light bulb has to really WANT to change.
** ABC = Anybody But Christ (also called "Jesus Without")

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