Defending the virtues of liberty, free markets, and civilization... plus some commentary on the passing scene.
Tuesday, October 21, 2003
Drugs, Murder, and Race in Chicago
(Part I of a II part series)
I've driven through the area many times, even in broad daylight trade is in high gear. Their bravado is surreal, almost like watching a movie. 'Touters' walk the streets yelling some variation of "rocks and blows! Whatcha need!?" and direct customers to the point of purchase. This is the drug trade on the West Side of Chicago. It runs with the efficiency and openness of a Portillos drive-thru.
It is this openness that prompted Operation Double Play, a massive drug sting targeting West Side neighborhoods. The operation involves officers getting to drug hot spots early on the day and arresting dealers, the police later return posing as dealers, leading potential buyers down alleys or between buildings to be arrested, processed, and their vehicle (if they arrived in one) impounded. Since August over 2,500 arrests have been made.
It is a two pronged strategy, both buyers and sellers are targeted, in an attempt to push the drug dealing out of the neighborhoods, as Chief of Patrol James Maurer told the Chicago Tribune: "We're going to make it so unprofitable to run a dope ring in this city, you're going to have to move to Iowa. I want the message to go out that this is not a city to buy dope in."
Last Thursday the Chicago Police sent that message again, in what they called the "largest one day operation of its kind of any city in the nation." And it was as "nearly 1,000 police officers from across the city, accompanied by dozens of TV cameras and reporters invited to witness the operation, spread over 20 locations throughout the Austin and Grand Central Districts on the West Side."
But it's not so much size and ambition of the sting that is staggering, but rather that the CPD actually publicized plans of the sting that morning. Apparently, they made the assumption that those interested in buying crack and heroin aren't likely to read the morning paper or listen to morning news radio. They were right, the sting netted 463 arrests by nightfall then was shut down for the safety of the officers. That alone is a testament to the cavalier nature of the West Side drug trade I alluded to previously.
So who were the buyers? Of those arrested, estimates say about 1/4 were local to the neighborhood, 1/3 came from out of state or the suburbs, and the rest from other neighborhoods in the city. The racial breakdown hasn't been given for this past weekend, but Mary Mitchell of the Sun-Times points to these numbers in her Sunday column:
In previous stings, police arrested a total of 1,871 people. Of that number, 1,256 were black, 361 white, 293 Hispanic, and 4 were Asian. But don't let those numbers fool you. Because police are targeting drug spots on the West Side, obviously more African-American drug users are being snared.
I am not exactly sure what she thinks those numbers may fool me into believing, I think though she is trying to point to the fact that drug stings in black neighborhoods will tend to yield more arrests of blacks. True enough, and a worthy note for those that thought the West Side may be a white neighborhood.
"If police had set up stings in Pilsen, Little Village or at any of the North Side drug spots, I suspect even more white drug users would have been caught. Even more white drug users than what? It's not clear, does she mean more whites than blacks would be arrested in stings in those neighborhoods? She might be right. Does she mean such a sting would net more whites overall than the West Side sting? No way, not in absolute numbers, the drug trade in those neighborhoods is much less voluminous and much less violent. They aren't dealing on open street corners all day (where a sting would be most effective) and those neighborhoods as not subject to anywhere near the number of shootings and murders as places like Humboldt Park, Rockwell Gardens, or Englewood.
And this is where her column gets ever more curious. If I didn't know better I would think she's implying that police shouldn't fight crime in black neighborhoods, unless they can do it without arresting more blacks than whites. I'll let you decide.
Although some people make excuses about why blacks are selling drugs on the corners in the first place, they're missing the point. Most white people won't set foot in a predominantly black neighborhood. They don't shop there. They don't invest their money in setting up businesses there. They don't even drive through there.
I'm not sure I've ever in my life heard one offer an "excuse" that explained "why blacks are selling drugs on the corners in the first place" and even if I had heard or come up with one on my own, I would have been "missing the point" anyway. Because the point is whites don't invest or spend money in black neighborhoods, so why should they be allowed to go there to buy drugs? I'm trying to follow that logic and I keep concluding that if whites would ever start investing in black neighborhoods then it would be fine for them to buy drugs there, at least in Mary Mitchell's mind. Never mind though, because whites DO shop in black neighborhoods, in fact Mary herself points to 361 that tried to. Of course it is illegal drugs, but never the less a black man selling something in his "predominantly black neighborhood" got a bunch of money from a lot of "white druggies". If her argument is race and economics, then it makes no difference if that white kid walks away with sack of heroin or sack of groceries as long as he pays a black man.
So why should black neighborhoods be the dumping ground for the dregs of white society?
The same suburbanites who drive into the city looking for drugs would run a black pusher off their street corners at the barrel of a shotgun. But on Thursday, white druggies were crawling over West Side drug spots. Police posing as drug dealers lured them in like fishermen.That is a shaky assumption. I tend to think that the stereotypical surburbanite Mary dreamed up probably would take a pass on the "shotgun confrontation with a gangbanger" scenario in favor of an anonymous call to 911..... then go to bed.
There's something else.
Well Mary's 'something else' began with her going to the white drug spot and the black drug spot and contrasting the differences of the two groups. (she also notes the failure of white and black drug users to unite their addicted voices and purchase their drugs from a single location) The blacks included, trashy women, kids, hospital workers and a man who owned nine buildings in the area, in other words, people from a wide range of backgrounds and varying degrees of success. Though, I'll give credit where it is due, she was insightful enough to point out that, if not for a sting targeting drug purchasers, the police would have no reason to stop any of the drug purchasers. Sharp.
Since I went to two different drug spots -- one primarily frequented by black drug users, and one primarily frequented by white drug users (even drug users are segregated in this town), I couldn't help but notice differences in the two groups.
The black drug users included unkempt women with missing teeth, juveniles, a young hospital worker, and a man who claimed he owned nine buildings in the area.
Still, it didn't take much nerve for any of them to stagger up the narrow gangway in a neighborhood where people are so impoverished that when police arrived to set up the sting, they discovered someone had stolen the broken-down furniture they left behind after their last sting.
Absent the sting, police wouldn't have had any reason to stop any of the black druggies, even in a hot drug spot. After all, they could have lived in the neighborhood.
The whites. Well she didn't really offer much, except maybe a little disdain.
But white people? How are the hundreds of white drug users getting away running in and out of black neighborhoods buying narcotics? Again, they aren't getting away with it, did she forget (again) about the aforementioned 361 whites that were arrested?
Law-abiding citizens should have chased them all the way back to the suburbs. Isn't that what would happen if the situation were reversed? Oh, now I see, she doesn't mean getting away with it from the police, she means that whenever whites enter black neighborhoods, blacks should respond by chasing the whites "all the way back to the suburbs", (after all, that's what THEY would have done) as opposed to the current situation where they make a chunky profit off white kids (who don't invest or shop in black neighborhoods) and they chase themselves back to the suburbs. Huh?
On to her observations of the white drug buyers, well buyer really, she only mentions one so we'll make him the representative of all white suburbanites who buy drugs on the West Side.
I put this question to Phillip Santucci, 22, after he was busted in the 4800 block of West Arthington on suspicion of trying to buy heroin.
Yeah, if he knew where to get drugs in Downers Grove he wouldn't have driven to the 4800 block of West Arthington. In an attempt to further her point, she goes on to list some of the various suburbs that those arrested call home, as though each one has a 100% percent population of rich white kids, for which she also prefers separate punishments for.
"What does your neighborhood look like?" I asked.
"It's nice," he said.
"Are there any drug dealers standing around selling drugs?"
"No, I don't know where to get drugs in Downers Grove," he said.
All of the suspects were given the option of being under a year's supervision, community service or drug school.
She finishes with this.
White suspects caught in these areas should be required to spend a year volunteering with an anti-violence group.
Although police officials say about one-third of those who have been arrested in the ongoing stings come from the suburbs, a police officer said it seems more like 80 percent.
Profile white people? That is her solution to the problem -- to racially profile white people? In her attempt to characterize this epidemic in terms of race, Mitchell compartmentalizes every aspect into neat little categories of white, black, suburbanite, black druggies, and white druggies followed by recommendations as to how one group should wholly treat the other. Wake up Mary, this is not about race, this is not a CPD conspiracy to come up with a plan to arrest as many blacks as possible. These white kids don't come into the west side hoping to create "havoc" for blacks, only to go home laughing (clucking?) about it. They come in nervous and desperate for drugs. Havoc steps in because profits are high and gangbangers compete for "shelf space" (i.e. street corners) and they are not competing by offering a lower price or superior product. Do you think all of those shootings are because Bob the Blood gave Calvin the Crip the evil eye at the mall? No. This is about turf wars, motivated by profit and settled with violence. For gangs, displacement leads to aggressive attempts to take over turf in new markets. Over the last few years, Chicago has seen more than its share of displacement as Mayor Daley tears down the disaster of high rise public housing that his father started.
"They are destroying this community," he said. "There are some really nice people around here, and these people come in and add to their troubles."
It is a shame that the hapless Cubs fan who interfered with the fateful foul ball had to leave Wrigley Field under police protection, but Santucci and others like him breeze into the black community, creating havoc, without a bit of fear. By the time the shooting stops, they are back home in DuPage, Lake and Kane counties clucking their tongues over the mayhem that goes on in the city.
Maybe it's time to racially profile some white people for a change.
The result has been a bloody turf war that, over the past few years, has pushed Chicago to be the murder capital of the United States. What passes for improvement is that as of the end of September homicides in Chicago are down 7% on the year -- from 489 to 455. This is why the West Side was targeted. Officer Maurer was on the Roe and Garry show last week. In response to a caller who questioned the validity of the sting under the charge of racism, Maurer responded (and I'm paraphrasing here as I don't know the exact quote) -- ‘The people that live in these neighborhoods have enough obstacles in their life already, many are single mothers, many are living at or near the poverty level, many work late and have to come home at night. They shouldn't also have to worry about their children or themselves being shot every time they step out of their house. That is why we are there.'
Progress has been made, murders are down a whopping 75% on the West Side from a year ago. As long time Chicago journalist Carol Marin observed last month
"When the doors of those oversized police wagons flew open, close to 70 plainclothes tactical officers jumped out in plain sight.
Even Mary Mitchell couldn't ignore that, as she quoted Commander Eugene Ellis in Thursday's column "We get calls from people just thanking us for the peace and quiet for two or three days."
You couldn't miss them if you tried.
People in that neighborhood cheered. Mothers and their children came outside to sit on a battered playground and watch."
To be sure it's a small victory, but still it's victory against crime in a part of the city that needs it most. How will this effect the wider war on drugs? It won't. Arrest all the dealers you want for selling dime bags and crack rocks on the corner. As long as there's potential for that kind of money, there will be another kid out there trying to make it, until he is arrested, then replaced again, and 'round and 'round we go. How many years are we going to continue to lock up dealers and addicts before we realize that no long term good has come of it, especially when contrasted with the costs. When are we going to have a real debate about decriminalizing drugs? How many more years of innocents killed by crossfire are we going to tolerate before making any changes in national drug policy? What are the costs and potential benefits of legalizing or at least decriminalizing drugs? If drugs are legal, what will gangs have to fight over? Remember, if not for Prohibition, Al Capone would have never been.
Answers to these questions and more coming in Part II.
Note:The Carol Marin column listed above cannot be accessed without paying for it. You can find a free version of the text here.