Myths & Facts Relating to Urban Violence

This page focuses on myths that are widely accepted as truth, especially on myths that tend to becloud understanding of the social dynamics of urban violence. Such myths tend also to prevent understanding of the way the measures recommended to the City of Oakland will work to reduce urban violence.

The First Myth is that drugs are a major cause of violence.

The truth is that drugs themselves are a minor cause. Drugs are primarily implicated in domestic violence, where alcohol is the worst offender. Domestic violence accounts for only a tiny fraction of homicides.

The commonly accepted illusion is that seemingly random deaths--in drive-by shootings--result from drug-induced dementia. The serious research shows that most drive-by shootings are the work of youth gangs ancillary to adult gangs competing in criminal enterprises such as trafficking in illegal drugs, property theft, and prostitution. The deaths of innocent bystanders is what the military classify as "collateral."

As explained in the opening paragraphs of the recommendation of the Dellums Taskforce: "Criminal gangs are inherently violent. Violence is THE way disputes are settled when, as is the case with illegal business, there is no recourse to law, law enforcement and courts for settlement of business disputes. Some violence follows the arrest or assassination of gang bosses when underlings compete to take over gang leadership. Some violence results when business deals go sour, or when one gang steals property from another, or when gangs compete for control of prostitutes or drug-market turf." Drug related violence is almost entirely of this sort--originating in the business relations of gangs selling illegal drugs.

The Second Myth concerns the nature of Addiction.

Addiction is NOT the result of moral fault or lack of character, as both addicts and the drug-free tend to believe. The companion myth is that an addict is hooked for life. Drug pushers carefully promote these false beliefs. It helps them keep addicts as their most profitable customers: Addicts account for an estimated 80% of drug sales.

Some addicts pretend to love their drugs, sometime even boasting of a friendly relationship with their addictions. The same pose can be found among alcoholics and smokers. It masks despair at the high costs of addiction (both monetary and social) and self-hatred for not being able to quit.

The authoritative voice on the nature of addiction is the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) in the U. S. Dept. of Health and Human Services. NIDA is our country's office for the scientific investigation of questions relating to drugs, addiction, recovery and prevention. NIDA's description of addiction is 100% consistent with the definition used by pharmacologists, psychologists, and psychiatrists. In the interest of dispelling the common myths about addiction. The following quote is taken from the NIDA website, (

"Drug addiction is a complex illness. It is characterized by compulsive, at times uncontrollable drug craving, seeking, and use -- that persist even in the face of extremely negative consequences. For many people, drug addiction becomes chronic, with relapses possible even after long periods of abstinence.

The path to drug addiction begins with the act of taking drugs. Over time, a person's ability to choose NOT to take drugs can be compromised. Drug seeking becomes compulsive, in large part as a result of the effects of prolonged drug use on brain functioning and, thus, on behavior.

The compulsion to use drugs can take over the individual's life. Addiction often involves not only compulsive drug taking but also a wide range of dysfunctional behaviors that can interfere with normal functioning in the family, the workplace, and the broader community. Addiction also can place people at increased risk for a wide variety of other illnesses. These illnesses can be brought on by behaviors, such as poor living and health habits, that often accompany life as an addict--or because of toxic effects of the drugs themselves.

Because addiction has so many dimensions and disrupts so many aspects of an individual's life, treatment for this illness is never simple. Drug treatment must help the individual stop using drugs and maintain a drug-free lifestyle, while achieving productive functioning in the family, at work, and in society. Effective drug abuse and addiction treatment programs typically incorporate many components, each directed to a particular aspect of the illness and its consequences.

Three decades of scientific research and clinical practice have yielded a variety of effective approaches to drug addiction treatment. Extensive data document that drug addiction treatment is as effective as are treatments for most other similarly chronic medical conditions.

In spite of scientific evidence that establishes the effectiveness of drug abuse treatment, many people believe that treatment is ineffective. In part, this is because of unrealistic expectations. Many people equate addiction with simply using drugs--and therefore expect that addiction should be cured quickly--and if it is not, treatment is a failure. In reality, because addiction is a chronic disorder, the ultimate goal of long-term abstinence often requires sustained and repeated treatment episodes. Of course, not all drug abuse treatment is equally effective."

The Third Myth is that prostitutes are in business for pleasure. The truth is that almost no prostitutes have abnormal libidos. For commercial advantage, they commonly flatter their customers by pretending great pleasure.

Many prostitutes were tricked into prostitution by pimps who disguised themselves as sweethearts and prospective husbands. A commonly used seduction technique goes like this: After he establishes himself as her lover, the pimp suddenly presents her with a temporary and acute financial crises. She is asked to help him out by going to bed with the creditor or a friend who wants her--and is willing to pay for her services. "After all," the argument goes, "she has been willing to do it for her sweetheart--why not to help her sweetheart get over his present financial crisis."

At some point in the seduction process, he introduces her to drug use (if possible, early on), and he feeds her developing appetite for drugs as fast as possible--to develop addiction. When she is properly addicted, she will have to turn tricks to earn money to feed her addition. By time she figures out what her pimp's real role is--and by time she learns that she is only one on a string of his girls-- there is no way out for her. She supports him, buying his heroin, and she supports him as her procurer of clients for her prostitution. The gang bosses take their cut from the pimps, and the victimized prostitute lives in poverty.