Professor used first-hand interviews with traffickers to analyze theories
Dr. Martín Meráz García, assistant professor in the Chicano education program and EWU alumnus, wrote “Ordinary Individuals Who Become Narcotraffickers: A Theoretical and Interdisciplinary Approach to Drug Trafficking” to humanize the many different aspects of the drug traffickers that live in American cities.
The book focuses on drug traffickers in the U.S. who live in our neighborhoods. They went to prison for their crime and completed their sentences. García uses theories to analyze the additional psychological wants of drug traffickers.
“I take the approach of, ‘These people live in our communities,’ and essentially, I wanted to get to know them as a person, not as a criminal,” García said.
Throughout his childhood, García paid attention to his surroundings and that attention to detail turned into a fascination with drug traffickers.
García spent the first 12 years of his life in Mexico. He interacted with drug traffickers as part of his everyday social setting. Running into a drug trafficker at the store was not uncommon in his old neighborhood. “I saw drug traffickers as members of the community,” García said.
He moved to Tri-Cities, Wash., and noticed many similarities with Mexico in regards to drug traffickers being a part of that community as well.
According to García, the communities he lived in knew who the drug traffickers were because of their nice cars and houses.
“I was always interested in knowing what drove them, knowing why they did what they did,” García said.
García enrolled at Eastern while still interested in drug traffickers and the lives they lead. He continued to research the topic through undergraduate courses and graduated in 1999 with a Bachelor of Arts in government and pre-law.
Graduate school came next. According to García, when you go to graduate school, the professors are always telling students to complete their dissertation on “something you are really passionate about.” For García, that was an obvious choice: drug trafficking.
Taking on one of the only lifestyles that ever interested him, García dissected the different aspects of drug trafficking to learn the answer to the all-important question of why they do what they do. He wrote his dissertation on the theoretical aspects of drug trafficking.
In 2005, he decided to turn his dissertation into a book. He added a couple of chapters, edited the content, refined it and finally published it in January 2012.
“I took sort of a holistic approach by getting the perspective, not just of drug traffickers, but of law enforcement officials as well,” García said.
Throughout the chapters, he analyzes four theories: social learning theory, how drug traffickers learn to commit crime; social identity theory, the psychological aspect of why they do what they do; group theory, how these groups are formed; and image theory, how the drug traffickers see law enforcement and vice versa.
In order to properly research the book, he wanted to talk to drug traffickers. García knew this came with a few complications. He looked into how he could talk with them and keep all parties protected legally. There were also ground rules for these interviews where the drug traffickers could not admit guilt to a crime that they had not already served a sentence for.
Taking the holistic approach also meant talking to law enforcement officials. This included DEA, local police, probation officers, attorneys, judges and community members. García had to get most of these sources approved by the institutional review board, a process that took six months.
García found that drug traffickers “don’t just engage in it for material wealth … they have additional psychological wants.”
“They struggle to make a living,” said García.
He discusses current drug cartels in the last chapter of the book. García writes about the 35,000-45,000 people that have died since 2006 because of drug violence.
According to García, the main reason that people engage in criminal activities, like drug trafficking and violence, is socioeconomic.
“If we created policies that, for example, wouldn’t criminalize the simple possession of marijuana, then you wouldn’t have drug cartels in Mexico benefiting so much,” said García. “We have been fixated on criminalizing people for using marijuana, when, let’s face it, what do people do when they smoke pot? They are relaxing, being joyful.”
The state of Washington pays about $37,000 to jail an inmate for one year. In comparison, EWU students pay $16,433 in tuition for Washington residents and $26,121 for non-residents. It costs more to jail a pot smoker for a year than it costs to attend Eastern for the same amount of time.
“My philosophy has been, ‘Don’t put people in jail who commit minor crimes like marijuana possession. … Instead, use [the money] to fund education,’” said García. “The way we allocate resources is not the way we should be doing it, period.”
García is selling his novel, “OrdinaryIndividuals Who Become Narcotraffickers: A Theoretical & Interdisciplinary Approach to Drug Trafficking” for $40, available through him or the publisher. All of his royalties from the sale of the book will go to benefit the McNair Scholars Program at EWU.
Future plans for García may include writing a book that is not academic to make a profit for his hard work.
“Any faculty [member] who has written a book will tell you that you don’t become wealthy writing academic books,” García said.
He did it because of his fascination with why drug traffickers are the way they are and to help other people answer these questions as well.
“It’s a tremendous joy,” said García. “That is what we get when we write and publish a book, the benefit from the joy of seeing your work out there.”