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A symposium on teenage violence and drug use is timely indeed. Recently-released drug use surveys indicate that illegal drug use by teenagers is becoming increasingly prevalent. Media reports of violence among young people in central cities are almost mind-numbing in their frequency. At the same time that we hear of young lives being destroyed by guns and drugs, we learn that increasing numbers of young people are involved in the criminal justice system due to drug-related offenses. The proportion of state prison inmates under the age of twenty-one incarcerated for some drug-related offense doubled between 1986 and 1991. And we cannot overlook another very salient aspect of drug use and teenage violence connected with it—race. While it is true that statistics indicate that most drug users and most drug offenders are non-minority, it is also clear that African Americans make up a disproportionate number of both drug users and offenders. Consider data from a 1991 survey of illegal drug use estimating that 41.2% of frequent cocaine users were African American. Even more sobering are BJS statistics from 1991 indicating that all of the juveniles (those seventeen and under) incarcerated in state adult correctional facilities for some drug offense in 1991 were black. It is against this disheartening picture that I offer my comments to this symposium.

I have two goals for this short piece. First, I would like to layout briefly a theory from sociology that should inspire a change in the direction of law enforcement policy in general and drug-law enforcement policy in particular. As I will explain, these insights provide a basis for very concrete policy proposals, which I believe can make a positive difference in the lives of many teens and those of their families plagued by violence and drugs. Second, I would like to use these sociological insights to comment on the ideas offered by my fellow panelists, Professors Daniel Polsby and Mark Kleiman.

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