WASHINGTON DTC — Washington.--Just when it appeared that our government had run up the flag of surrender in the war on drugs, law-enforcement authorities dropped a ''bombshell'' on the University of Virginia at Charlottesville.
In raids on three fraternity houses on this prestigious campus, police seized 12 sandwich bags of marijuana, three bags of hallucinogenic mushrooms, a bag of LSD tabs and scales, pipes and bongs that are used to smoke marijuana and other drugs. Twelve students have been indicted on charges of selling or distributing illicit drugs, including an amphetamine called ''ecstasy.''
This is an extremely important raid because it tells us a lot about why we have failed so far to wipe out a drug curse that has taken many thousands of lives, destroyed political careers, corrupted law enforcement officials and thrown the stench of crime over many in the banking industry.
The University of Virginia raids highlight two truths that most Americans have not wanted to face: 1) drug abuse is not merely a curse upon ghetto kids who are mostly black or Hispanic, but is a serious problem among affluent white youngsters; and 2) there can be no solution until we start locking up the ''respectable'' users who really finance the drug cartels, instead of concentrating on ''busting'' penny-ante peddlers in our inner cities.
Some of the parents of the indicted students are complaining in ways that make it clear why this society hasn't gotten serious about drug abuse. Fred Carter, father of James, a 19-year-old Virginia student who was indicted on two counts of drug distribution, says the lawmen were ''using a cannon to kill a gnat.''
Gnat? A hallucinogenic mushroom is a peril anywhere. But distributing illicit drugs isn't a big deal to Fred Carter when his son is charged with spreading the dope. He asks why the cops didn't raid ''the University of Richmond or Norfolk State.''
Sure. Norfolk State is predominantly black, and the University of Richmond has a far higher percentage of minority students than does the Charlottesville school. Mr. Carter thinks it was ''politically motivated and badly advised'' to intrude upon a high-falutin' campus that was supposed to be a sanctuary into which the lawmen dared not tread.
For much too long we've targeted the ''drug war'' on the Norfolk State Universities of America, leaving the University of Virginias as safe havens for users and distributors. That's one reason why almost one out of every four young black males is in prison, jails or somehow caught up in the criminal justice system.
Some in Charlottesville complain that the raids, in which the feds seized three frat houses, tarnishes the whole university's reputation. Now they understand that when the drug busters were arresting mostly black kids they were ruining the reputation of all of black America's youngsters, stereotyping and punishing law-abiding children of great promise.
Most colleges in America want to be a secret oasis, a sort of refuge whose leaders conceal the reality that students and professors rape and steal and abuse drugs, and even kill. No campus should be granted such sanctuary status. A generation of our youngsters is in more peril in our frat houses than it ever was in the sands of Arabia.
It's easier politically to fight the drug war on some ugly city street rather than on some deceivingly beautiful campus. But I applaud the drug warriors if they finally have decided to fight the drug problem wherever they find it.
Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.