Children Lost to Drugs

May 15, 1991

The recent arrests of a 10-year-old, an 11-year-old and a 12-year-old on drug-peddling charges establishes a new, tragic trend of using children as dope dealers and walking "stashes" in Baltimore. Police now fear that young children will also become victims of the violence that accompanies the drug trade and its turf battles.

None of this should be surprising to anyone who has toured the city's most notorious drug neighborhoods. Open drug-dealing around the clock goes on virtually unchecked. If little kids years ago used to emulate their elders' furtive beer and whiskey drinking by consuming soft drinks from brown paper bags, today they dream about the flashy gold chains and expensive Air Jordan sneakers they see worn by neighborhood hustlers. Trafficking or stashing drugs offers a way for kids to get those status items. "These kids want so much and we have so little," moans a mother who lost control over her 11-year-old son.

What frightens narcotics detectives is that they see no solution. Some experienced officers even talk about a generation that is likely to be lost as drugs and violence take their toll. And while many parents in poverty stricken neighborhoods desperately try to control their children, others condone their behavior and welcome the additional income their offspring bring in from the streets, whether through drug trafficking or prostitution. That sends the children a strong message. "When their parents are in it, when their peers are in it, when everybody else is in it, it's apparent to them that it's right to do it," says Sgt. John Sieracki of the Eastern District.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's decision to deploy police on city playgrounds was a good move. But considering the magnitude of the problem, it is little more than uniformed propaganda. Indeed, no measures can guarantee results. Former District of Columbia Police Chief Maurice T. Turner Jr. experienced this just a few months ago, when a 15-year-old he was mentoring was gunned down in a drug-ridden neighborhood. "Despite everything I wanted to do, my influence was waning," Mr. Turner reflected. "If he was going to survive, he needed to get out of the environment he was living in. Otherwise, he was doomed to failure."

There is little the larger society can do in dealing with phenomena that result from the collapse of the traditional family unit and other complex circumstances. But we all can demand more decisive action against the drug lords who are bringing drugs into the country and their protector countries. If we can flex our muscle in the Middle East, certainly we should be able to use our muscle to stop the drug trafficking.

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