Puerto Rico has already seen 646 murders this year. The island, which is about 100 miles long and 30 miles wide, has a population of 3.6 million. While the number of murders is high, it is actually down from last year by this date when there were over 700.
That is good news, but not good enough. With more than 1,100 murders in 2011, the island led the nation (and still does) in murder. More than Detroit, more than Washington, more than New York City, and more than Chicago.
At present the island is on track to have around 800 murders this year. Total crime is also extremely high — in excess of 70,000 incidents and on track for another 100,000 this year. Of course, that’s reported crime only. Previous police superintendents have indicated that for every reported crime there are three to four more that go unreported.
To say that crime is epidemic in Puerto Rico would be an understatement. So what is the problem?
Yes, you guessed it; drug trafficking drives violent crime on the island. This is not the marijuana smoker lighting up and then lighting up a crowd with an AK-47. These are the local and international drug trafficking organizations fighting for supremacy, killing witnesses, and punishing disloyalty. Depending on whose statistics you use, anywhere from 50 to 80 percent of Puerto Rico’s murders are related to drug trafficking.
Violent robberies, kidnappings, and domestic abuse account for most of the others.
Curiously, while local drug gangs are as heavily armed as guerilla armies, honest law abiding citizens must jump through enormous hoops to acquire a weapons license. And even then, using the weapon in self-defense may not be acceptable under the long arm of the law.
Petty crime and property crime are driven by a number of factors. There is drug addiction, as many drug addicts will do anything to get money for a fix — from prostitution to pulling wires from public street lamps to sell the copper. Then there is a culture of crime that has been building for some time on the island. Contrary to Puerto Rico’s original culture of respect, it shows no respect for private property or for others and indicates a culture of entitlement on crack.
Solving Puerto Rico’s crime problems must be a multifaceted approach, as with the many problems facing the island.
First, the war on drugs must end. Only by legalizing, regulating, and taxing drugs do you take away the reason for most of the island’s murders. This action has a side benefit of reducing corruption since drug lords will no longer need to buy police officers and other officials to protect their businesses. It also reduces the total prison population, since it would allow the release of inmates who are in prison solely for drug crimes, and it would prevent wasted money on future prosecutions for those crimes.
Second, Puerto Rico needs a strong and quick death penalty. Violent criminals need to fear their punishment. Right now, outside of Federal Court, there is no death penalty on the island, except at the hands of the criminals.
Third, the age of entitlement must come to an end. People who have to work to earn their own food, housing, and medical care are less likely to spend their days stealing from others. They are more likely to value property and thus respect others. Schools must also teach and enforce the fundamental respect for private property and the basic rules of right and wrong. This should also be accompanied with teaching children how to be self-sufficient and to earn a living on their own and not expect the government or others to provide for them what is not theirs.
Fourth, prison should hurt. That means mandatory work, mandatory classrooms, and mandatory counseling and psychological evaluation and treatment. I would not be opposed to the use of corporal punishment for some criminals as well. I call it the “light socket principle,” we don’t take an unprotected piece of metal and stick it into a light socket with our bare hands because we know it would hurt. Somehow, some way we must inculcate this concept as it relates to crime into the minds of the criminal element. Mandatory work and education programs need to give them something to do other than crime when they get out of prison.
Finally, the right to keep and bear arms should be guaranteed and the right of self defense protected. Puerto Rico’s restrictive gun laws should be repealed or overthrown and the process for obtaining a weapon should be streamlined. No one should lose their weapons, even during an investigation when those weapons were used in self defense.
The message is clear: if you want a change, you must actually make a change. Yet, so many of these proposals are politically impossible — not because the politicians don’t see the need for change, but because the public finds many of them abhorrent. Yet if we do not act to change the policies that create or facilitate crime, do we not become an accessory after the fact?