D.C. Struggles With Stubborn Drug Trade 

D.C. Struggles With Stubborn Drug Trade 
Posted by FoM on January 30, 2000 at 21:33:42 PT
By Allan Lengel, Washington Post Staff Writer
Source: Washington Post
A police cruiser recently rolled up on 57th Place, a troubled patch of Southeast Washington. Behind the wheel, Anthony Guice, a stern and strapping public housing police officer, spotted a group of young men he had come to know as neighborhood drug dealers.In seconds, the men vanished between the worn red-brick, two-story row houses. Twenty minutes later, the cat-and-mouse ritual resumed. Some of the men returned, only to disappear again as the police car came back around.
Nearly two years ago, police targeted 57th Place and nearby streets, using a $300,000 federal grant to mount a full-scale, five-month assault against the open-air drug market there. Ultimately, 150 dealers and 250 customers were arrested. All seemed well  until some drug dealers returned three months later."There's still a drug problem there," said D.C. police Lt. James Boteler, who led the operation. "It's not nearly as bad as it was before. On 57th, it was like a carnival atmosphere."The 57th Place project illustrates the difficulties  even with the most extraordinary efforts  of eliminating open-air drug markets, one of the most visible symbols of lawlessness in urban America. More than a decade after the city began a concerted effort to eliminate street sales, Washington today has at least 60 open-air markets, each defined as a two- to three-block area where drugs are peddled outdoors.Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) is the latest to lead a crusade, vowing that "drug dealers are not going to be on the streets while I'm mayor." In September, he promised to shut down six flagrant markets, and top police officials met this month to plot a tougher drug-market strategy.But converting rhetoric and lofty ideas into results is no easy task. Interviews with drug addicts, dealers, prosecutors, residents, politicians, judges and police show the complexity of the problem and what Williams is up against:Police complain that sentences are still too light and laws too lax, making the District a magnet for drug sales to city and suburban customers alike and allowing arrested street dealers back out by morning.Street dealers react to police crackdowns by setting up shop just a block or two away. And they're carrying fewer drugs to avoid felony charges.Some dealers have taken to selling marijuana instead of crack cocaine or heroin because the District's lenient marijuana laws greatly reduce the risk of prison sentences.Drug sales remain an enticing form of employment, a reflection of the dearth of economic opportunities and lack of education prevalent in many neighborhoods. And the District has fallen far short in providing drug treatment.Inroads have been made. Last summer, police made more than 1,000 arrests of suspected traffickers with the help of the Summer Mobile Force, a nightly patrol that united with vice and narcotics officers in targeting drug corners. Some outdoor drug peddlers were displaced, or they became more low-key and less apt to indiscriminately flag down cars for sales, police say.Still, "we're not short of open-air drug markets; there's tons of them," Sgt. John Brennan, a veteran narcotics officer, said as he drove his unmarked Ford Taurus from Northwest to Southeast one evening, pointing out each market along the way."You send an undercover on this block right now and we'll make a case, no doubt about it," he said as he headed down Park Road NW, off 14th Street, past the glares of suspected dealers.Helping the Neighbors:The battle against open-air drug markets is complicated by the entrenched attitudes in some neighborhoods. Many residents refuse to help police  some out of fear, some out of disdain for the police, some out of loyalty to dealers they grew up with or are related to. In certain neighborhoods, some residents are also customers.Guice, the public housing officer, said some residents let dealers slip into their homes when officers arrive. "They've got an open-door policy," he said. "We care about what's going on, but the citizens need to care even more."In some areas, young children and teenagers, some on bikes and skateboards, watch for police, particularly unmarked cars. Some are given cellular phones and beepers."Everyone looked out for the hustlers because everyone looked up to them," said a former drug dealer who peddled crack around Minnesota Avenue SE. "They [children] are taught to tell the dealers when the police are coming. They get paid. They get candy. You give a basketball."A drug dealer in Benning Heights, in Northeast, said he often buys ice cream and throws a block party. "You got to give back to the community," he said.The seeds of loyalty are planted at an early age. On one recent evening, three boys, 3, 6 and 9, played behind row houses in the 5600 block of A Street SE. They were asked whether people sold drugs there.The two older boys pointed to a spot about 20 feet away where a few men had stood before a police car pulled up. The children said the men sell drugs in tiny plastic bags.The boys were asked: Are the men good guys or bad? Good, both said assuredly."They give us money so we can go to the candy store," the 6-year-old said. "They're pretty nice. They give us . . . dollars, 50 cents.""They watch out for my mother, too," the 9-year-old added.A 12-year-old walked up. He said no one sells drugs behind the row houses. When the 6-year-old tried to correct him, the 12-year-old quickly hushed him up.Boteler, who led the $300,000 effort to close the drug market in the area, said neighbors have to call police and chase off people who don't belong. "We can't have a police presence 24 hours a day," he said.But even when neighbors fight back, results are mixed. Police and residents recently chased dealers away from 16th and D streets SE, where drug corners had operated for years not far from the Capitol. The dealers then shifted to 15th and C, neighbors said."The kids have nothing to do. They have no jobs. They want money; it's a quick way to get it, " said resident Pam Hairston, 45.Residents in the 16th and D area, one of Williams's six targeted drug markets, have worked with police as part of the mayor's push for cooperation. They said they've noticed some improvement. In the past, they felt like they got little help from the city.Drug Business Strategies:Over the years, as police have cracked down, dealers working the streets  whether in the District, Prince George's County, Alexandria or New York City  have responded by shifting strategies.Dealers increasingly keep their stashes under rocks, in abandoned cars, in fast-food bags. If caught, they are carrying less than a dozen rocks of crack or packets of heroin. Some worry about felony charges or mandatory minimum sentences in U.S. District Court, where the bigger drug cases are prosecuted."With respect to crack cocaine and the mandatory minimum of five grams [about 30 rocks of cocaine], we do see people more often breaking up amounts into less than five grams to sell or carry," said Steve Roman, who led the U.S. attorney's federal narcotics unit in the District until entering private practice a few months ago. "There's a fairly wide [understanding] of how the federal sentencing guidelines work among drug dealers of a certain sophistication."To avoid getting nabbed by marked patrol cars, some dealers distance themselves from transactions, police said. Some take money from a customer, who is then directed to a corner where someone else delivers the drugs. Other times, a dealer directs customers to a bag of drugs atop a windowsill.But when dealers are caught, most wind up in D.C Superior Court.On a recent Tuesday, Shawn A. Rogers stood in Courtroom C-10. Rogers, 19, had been arrested at an open-air drug market at Ninth and L streets NW and charged with possessing 16 tiny packets of crack. The prosecutor noted that Rogers was awaiting sentencing in two other cases: a drug and a domestic assault conviction."A lot of guys on the street know if they get arrested they'll be right back on the street, and they know their cases will take a lot of time to go through the system," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Martin. A typical case can take a year to go to trial, and with several delays, as long as three years.Martin said that each month, about 20 defendants in his caseload are sentenced for felonies, most involving cocaine or heroin sales. About two-thirds have at least one previous conviction. But he said most get probation or a suspended sentence.In federal court, some dealers get sentences of 30 years or more, particularly if violence was involved. But about 95 percent of the city's drug cases are prosecuted in Superior Court, where judicial discretion results in sentences all across the board. Most defendants get probation. Those who don't typically get one to three years in prison.Rogers's case was fairly common: Several weeks after he appeared in court on the cocaine charge, he received a suspended sentence of one to three years for his previous cocaine case. He also was ordered to serve three days of a 180-day sentence for domestic assault. Rogers, now free but under court supervision, is awaiting trial on his latest cocaine charge.In the 57th Place operation, about a third of the 150 drug dealers caught during the five-month investigation were sentenced to five or more years in prison, police said. The other two-thirds got sentences ranging from probation to about two years.Police say some drug dealers mock them, particularly when charged with a misdemeanor. "They laugh about it and say, 'I'll be out tomorrow,'" said Officer Paul Regan, who patrols in Northeast Washington.The frustration is compounded in court. Prosecutors complain that some juries won't convict on drug charges because they distrust the system. Once arrested, some defendants simply play the odds, hoping the cases get dismissed.From January 1999 to mid-November, 25 percent of the 4,513 felony and misdemeanor drug cases in Superior Court were "no-papered," meaning that prosecutors decided after the arrest not to file charges because of problems with the case, according to the U.S attorney's office.An additional 27 percent were dismissed after charges were filed, sometimes because the government was not ready for trial, a drug analysis proved negative, the defendant pleaded to another charge as part of a plea bargain or the case was moved to U.S. District Court.About 42 percent of the drug suspects pleaded guilty. Only 4 percent of the cases went to trial. Of those, more than one-third of the defendants were acquitted.Many police say the D.C. laws are too lenient, particularly for marijuana. In the District, it's a misdemeanor to possess or distribute marijuana, whether it's one joint or 10 pounds. The same goes for possessing small amounts of crack or heroin. The maximum penalties range from 6 months to a year in jail.In Virginia, by contrast, possession of marijuana with intent to distribute anywhere from a half-ounce to five pounds  or possession of small amounts of crack or heroin  is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.Because of the popularity of marijuana and the greater criminal risks of dealing cocaine or heroin, some of the District's open-air markets have shifted to selling marijuana and have become just as violent as markets peddling harder drugs.The D.C. Council is considering tougher legislation, in part at the urging of U.S. Attorney Wilma A. Lewis, who described the problem in a letter to the council last April. "Time and time again, marijuana dealers are arrested and immediately returned to the street," Lewis wrote, noting that one investigation linked 21 slayings committed over many years to three marijuana markets in Northeast and Southwest Washington.But the bill, introduced in May, has run into public opposition, particularly from "yuppies and buppies," said council member Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4). "There is a fear of unusual punishment for those who possess small amounts of marijuana."A Long Wait for Help:If the District's drug laws seem out of sync, so does its effort to treat addicts. Although the number of heroin addicts has jumped in the past five years to more than 14,000, health officials said, the number of slots in methadone treatment programs has decreased from 2,500 to 1,180 because of budget cuts. Hundreds of heroin addicts are on a waiting list, and untold others haven't bothered to sign up due to the wait."There's an unbelievable shortage of treatment," said Inspector Kathy Lanier, head of the D.C. police narcotics unit. "It's such a big part of the equation we've overlooked."Superior Court Judge Michael L. Rankin agreed, saying the solution lies beyond simply locking up dealers. "We haven't made a dent in the public's desire for illegal drugs," he said. "I think treatment is ultimately the answer."Rankin, along with Chief Judge Eugene N. Hamilton, advocates expanding the Superior Court drug court. Under that system, users and sellers arrested for any nonviolent crime  and who initially test positive for drugs  undergo therapy, drug testing and job training, if necessary. If they complete the program  about 40 percent do  charges often are dropped or they receive probation. The program lasts an average of about eight months for adults, 12 months for juveniles. About 400 people are currently being treated.Efforts are under way to improve drug treatment. Officials intend to add 330 methadone treatment slots soon. And with the help of money from Congress, the D.C. Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency plans to double the size of the city's non-methadone substance abuse program, which covers all drugs and alcohol, by adding 1,000 treatment slots. The agency also plans to expand routine drug testing for those on parole or probation."We see the system really hasn't worked, in part where we continually locked up youths in the city," said Deputy Mayor Erik Christian. "We're looking for means to stop this revolving door."Beyond treatment, other needs lurk, said Jasper Ormond, associate director of the court services agency. "What you have is a lot of kids out in the street, poorly educated, under-educated, who do not have the skills to get into the job market," he said. "They're not getting the level of rehabilitation and intervention they need."There are signs of hope. The percentage of adult criminal suspects in the District testing positive upon arrest for cocaine, heroin or PCP has dropped dramatically since the height of the crack epidemic in 1989, according to the D.C. Pretrial Services Agency.Turf battles among dealers also have become less common, and less deadly. As crack use started to spread in the mid-1980s, the city's homicide rate soared, with homicides reaching an all-time high of 482 in 1991. Last year, less than half that many people  229  were killed.Signs of Progress:There have been success stories. Residents and police in some neighborhoods drove away dealers by constantly patrolling the streets or videotaping dealers. Some markets were obliterated when public housing units were razed.Most markets on 14th Street have vanished in recent years, pushed out by stepped-up law enforcement and a resurgence of business and development. But on some side streets, markets still thrive.On Orleans Place NE near Gallaudet University, police spent about 11 months cleaning up a marijuana market, although there still is a trickle of street drug sales.On Forrester Street SW, one of the mayor's six targeted markets, police working with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration cleaned up an open-air marijuana market last year, after targeting the area for more than a year. Three residents notified police about dealers hiding drugs, and when they were selling.In the past six months, two police officers have been posted on the block from 4 p.m. to midnight daily, and residents have remained vigilant. In the 57th Place area, in contrast, police say that some residents have cooperated quietly but that they have never been as visible and persistent as on Forrester.Police and city officials have been pushing for more cooperation between police and agencies such as the Department of Public Works and the Housing Authority to eliminate abandoned buildings, clean up neighborhoods and evict drug dealers from public housing. The mayor hopes to add police to the force and plans to broaden the city's youth mentoring program. He's also contemplating hiring a drug czar to coordinate the effort.Some officers see the problem as never-ending. But Boteler, a veteran of the 57th Place battle, still has hope."I truly believe we can get rid of this problem, at least to the point it's not open-air, that it's driven indoors," he said. "It's gonna cost, but what are the alternatives?"By Allan LengelWashington Post Staff WriterMonday , January 31, 2000 ; A1  2000 The Washington Post Company Related Articles:Anti-Narcotics Efforts Make Drug Epidemic Worse - 1/14/2000 Corrupt War on Drugs - 1/03/2000
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Comment #3 posted by kaptinemo on January 31, 2000 at 13:06:46 PT
Welcome, cousins!
It's nice to see new name here, especially from Across the Pond.You won't find anyone here who will give you an argument. We know that a lot of the laws in our respective countries are wrongheaded to the point of insanity. Particularly here in North America, home of REEFER MADNESS!!! and life sentences for medicinal use. The main problem is the very legitimate fear many of us have about the State using it's extraordinary resources (paid for with our tax dollars, no less)to locate us (remember the stink of the EU revelations about ECHELON a few years ago?)and to destroy our lives by sadistic application of those wrongheaded laws. That's why a lot of people are still sitting on the fence (or hiding behind it) when it comes to pushing for legalisation.But, as we say here, push is finally coming to shove: the situation here is becoming less tenable for the DrugWarriors. 3 of the 4 candidates for President have smoked pot! What they say, and how they say it, will determine not only their political fate, but that of the War on Some Drugs.The time of decent people being branded as criminals because of their choice of intoxicant may finally be coming to an end. So, hang in there!
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Comment #2 posted by FoM on January 31, 2000 at 08:31:40 PT
Thanks Ben
Thank You Ben! You said it so very well!Peace, FoM!
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Comment #1 posted by Ben Sadler on January 31, 2000 at 06:41:50 PT:
rights and wrongs of persecuting pot smokers
The way I understand it is that Governments use "drug abuse" as an indication of the state of society. That is pretty much the case here in England.I was unfortunate enough to get busted last year('99)the local police force sent me on a rehabilition course - I have to wonder why for a non-addictive non-dependant substance. This led to no charges brought against me and no criminal record. What was the point in wasting public money and resources, perhaps if it had deterred me from smoking pot there would have been some point.In the UK the drug laws affect possesion, purchase, supplying, cultivating and importing a WEED! Amongst other drugs such as Heroine and cocaine (for the record I have no problem there for they are addictive and dirty drugs) Marujuania is a plant - who has the RIGHT to tell me that I can not smoke Marujuania , when I say the right I am not talking the legal right or the divine right [Queen Elizabeth claims divine right to be ruler of UK]the fact remains that we are all born equal 4 limbs, 2 nipples, 1 mind, so those who think that they control me and dare to label me deviant or who attempt to imprison me can think again.I am not British in the same way that you are not American or whatever label the ruling class has given you. I am human and I live on the world. I respect my home, my freinds, I do not drop litter, I am polite I say please 'n' thankyou, I do not fight - I make love, I dont spit or insult and I SMOKE CANNABIS therefore I am a criminal subject to all that it entails.Justify that!? Anybody who feels they would like to or wants to discuss the above then email me.
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