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Examining the dynamics of drug violence

3Qs with Ramiro Martinez, a professor of criminology and criminal justice, and sociology and anthropology
October 13th, 2011

In recent months, more reports have sur­faced of esca­lating vio­lence involving drug car­tels in parts of Mexico. We asked Ramiro Mar­tinez Jr., a pro­fessor in the School of Crim­i­nology and Crim­inal Jus­tice and the Depart­ment of Soci­ology and Anthro­pology at North­eastern, to examine the cur­rent dynamic amid the Mex­ican drug vio­lence plaguing these regions. As a quan­ti­ta­tive crim­i­nol­o­gist, Martinez’s research looks at how vio­lence varies across eco­log­ical set­tings, and if vio­lent crimes and vio­lent deaths vary across racial and ethnic groups.

What makes the war on drugs such a dif­fi­cult battle, par­tic­u­larly in Mexico?

The internal battle in Mexico over drug market access and con­trol over drug routes into the United States is fueled by years of sus­tained illegal drug profits and the well-​​documented ability to evade local law enforce­ment. Drug orga­ni­za­tions can hire per­sonnel to sup­port their orga­ni­za­tions, pro­vide eco­nomic resources to their employees and asso­ciates, seek more profit in all sec­tors of the economy and, of course, ignore an under­funded law enforce­ment system.  The municipal-​​level police depart­ments in Mexico have been noto­ri­ously under­paid, under-​​supported and under-​​staffed for decades. These dynamics are dif­fi­cult to change. It is also worth noting that Mex­ican drug traf­ficking orga­ni­za­tions are largely engaged in a turf war over drug market access through the areas adja­cent to the U.S. border. Most of the country including Mexico City down to Quin­tana Roo — the state con­taining the beau­tiful beach cities of Cancun, Cozumel and the his­toric ruins of Chichen Itza and others — has been rel­a­tively untouched by drug market bat­tles. The vast majority of Mexico is not con­sumed with the vio­lence con­cen­trated in the northern Mex­ican states.

What does the recent esca­la­tion in vio­lence mean for the United States and border security? 

The U.S. border com­mu­ni­ties from San Diego, Calif., to Brownsville, Texas, them­selves are very secure. I am a native of San Antonio, Texas, and cannot think of a single border com­mu­nity that is under siege, at least when looking at crime data. As a researcher, I am more con­cerned about the rise of Latino hate crimes than border vio­lence in the United States.  
How­ever, some com­men­ta­tors insist that these are dan­gerous or “law­less” com­mu­ni­ties on the border. For example, con­cerns over the increased levels of crim­inal vio­lence and the com­pro­mised public safety caused by illegal immi­gra­tion were cited among the prin­ciple con­sid­er­a­tions under­pin­ning Arizona’s con­tro­ver­sial immi­gra­tion leg­is­la­tion (SB1070).  But there are no sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ences between homi­cides in border coun­ties or non-​​border coun­ties in the south­western United States.

How does the increased use of social media and the Internet by civil­ians to get the word out in their com­mu­ni­ties, and by the car­tels for intim­i­da­tion and to expand their reach, affect the United States’ and Mexico’s ability to address this situation?

This is a good ques­tion, and time will tell how the public can use social media to thwart drug gang mes­sages. Some­thing tells me res­i­dents have more voices and more out­lets, and hope­fully that can help them turn the tide. There are many obsta­cles on the path to cre­ating a better society.

by Casey Bayer


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