Skip to content

Examining the dynamics of drug violence

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

More Stories

Photo of the Capitol Building at night

High stakes for politics, SCOTUS in 2018

Photo of the crashed truck that was used in the October 31st attack in Manhattan.

Weaponizing Language: How the meaning of “allahu akbar” has been distorted

Northeastern logo

Why I love studying Spanish