Jan 23, 2008

Central District News take on Drug Enforcement Disparities

The Central District Blog is a wonderful addition to local neighborhood blogs: they're even managing to monitor and record SPD activity via radio scanner. The blog also lets YOU set up your neighborhood page there (go do it!).

Here's their take on the Drug Enforcement Disparity issue.

And don't miss Ellen O'Neill-Stephens second message to us. But remember her warning from her first message:

This could also get quite heated. Andrew Taylor and I vividly remember how representatives from the public defender agency accused the residents of the Miller/Madison Community of being racists themselves and promoting gentrification.

1 comment:

Jeff Toce said...

Source: http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/opinion/317682_blackfamily30.html
Washington state is the third most prolific incarcerator of blacks for drug offenses in America. Even though blacks constitute only 3 percent of our population, 51 percent of all people sent to state prisons for drug offenses are black. In fact, in Washington, blacks consume illicit drugs at rates slightly under that of whites. The "crack thang" does not account for the disparity. The U.S. Sentencing Commission estimates that 65 percent of crack users are white. However, 90 percent of federal crack cocaine defendants are black.

Why the disparity? One answer, according to a recent Brandeis University survey, is the fact that Seattle police, like officers in other major cities, target poorer neighborhoods where visible retailing occurs with "buy and bust" techniques. This excludes police focus on affluent areas where people comfortably sell and smoke their crack, snort their powdered cocaine, ingest their methamphetamines, Ecstasy and marijuana safely cloistered inside their houses and condominiums.

I live near 23rd and Union and am faced daily with the unpleasant side effects of the open-air drug market that migrated there after the closing of Deano's/Chocolate City.

My Opinion:
I agree with the article that "buy-bust" techniques disproportionately affect minorities in lower income neighborhoods. And yes- the net effect of that policy borders on racism, as is evident by the disproportionately large minority population in our prisons. But I disagree with the notion that we're "filling up prisons with poor, non-violent drug users instead of violent criminals". Yes- most users are non-violent. But violence and property crime surrounds an open-air drug market. Trust me- in my 'hood, people get mugged and people get shot...at. (Ok, maybe their aim might suck, but holding a gun sideways looks cooler.)

The flip-side of that argument is there are far fewer people in affluent areas out on the corner dealing. There are far fewer crimes of violence that are a bi-product of that open-air drug market. "Safely cloistered inside their houses and condominiums" means people in those areas aren't bothering other people with their drug use. As Scott points out above, the police attention was brought because of the impact the drug activity had on the neighbors- not because they were minorities.

We face a dilemma here as a society. How do we deal with the violence and other crime that surrounds open-air drug markets, without unfairly targetting minorities? Well- if you ask me- you can't do it with enforcement action. We can't blame the police- they are just doing their jobs. It's the system that's broken. We need to get those people off the streets. We need to treat their drug addiction. We need to provide them with education and training. And then we need to provide them with jobs and opportunities.

In the words of Father Boyle- "Nothing stops a bullet like a job."