A Wake-Up Call On Drug Dealing

COMMENT

February 14, 1993|By BRIAN SULLAM

C The late-night shooting of a young African-American man over a bad drug deal is as rare in Carroll County as it is common in Baltimore's inner-city neighborhoods.

But let us not fool ourselves. Drug dealing takes place in Carroll. As a result of the Jan. 29 killing of Gregory Lamont Howard, we are discovering a lot we didn't know about drug dealing in this county. And much of this new information challenges our comfortable preconceptions.

All too often, we have considered drug trafficking to be a problem that is confined to the big-city African-American neighborhoods. While much of street dealing takes place in those inner-city neighborhoods, many of the customers come from the suburban communities surrounding Baltimore.

Now that Baltimore's streets have become so dangerous for sellers and customers, they are moving to more friendly environs -- such as Carroll County. Why else would four young adults from Owings Mills and Reisterstown be driving through Westminster late at night looking for drugs?

Not only is drug dealing moving out to the county, so are all of its problems: drug rip-offs, shootings and general mayhem.

With Mr. Lamont's death, people living in Carroll can begin to understand what it must be like to live in sections of Baltimore City.

For the past several months, drug dealers congregating on corners, their customers cruising by in cars, occasional arguments and sporadic gunfire have been part of the daily rhythm of life for the residents living in the neighborhood around the 100 block of Westminster's South Center Street.

The neighborhood's law-abiding residents -- many of them refugees from Baltimore's mean streets -- would like to move. They want to have a neighborhood where their children can play in peace, where adults can walk home at night without being harassed by dealers and drug customers and where gunfire doesn't disrupt the night.

"I grew up in the city, so I know wherever there are drugs, there are problems," said one father who lives in that neighborhood. "I am constantly worried. I got a family. I'm scared to let my kids outside to play."

After the brazen drug dealing on South Center Street was brought to their attention, the Westminster police and the Carroll County Drug Task Force arrested a few people. But the dealers have returned. Residents are concerned that dealers will begin congregating en masse at the street corners once the weather warms.

Now is the time to stop this open-air drug market. The police, with cooperation from residents, can drive out this market. Residents need to alert the police whenever the dealers begin to loiter and sell. Police have to saturate the neighborhood with uniformed and plainclothes officers. If enough pressure is put on the dealers, they will leave.

Pressuring the dealers, however, is not a permanent solution. They will just move to another locale and reopen for business.

Aggressive policing throughout the county can prevent the drug dealers from re-establishing their markets elsewhere in Carroll.

Dealers are businessmen. Like legal businesses, they need a good environment that attracts customers. As long as police keep the dealers on the move and harass customers, the dealers will never be able to operate effectively. If they can't make money in Carroll, they will move on to more hospitable areas.

In order to put these dealers out of business permanently, we also need to deny them customers. Drug education has been an effective tool to convince many youngsters not to use drugs. Still, many young and middle-aged adults use drugs. Not all these people are hard-core addicts. They are gainfully employed adults who occasionally smoke a joint or snort cocaine.

One of the big myths about drug use in this country is that it is confined to poor African-American communities. There is a great deal of drug trafficking in many of those neighborhoods, but drug dealing didn't become a multi-billion dollar activity by servicing the poor. Large numbers of middle-class recreational users keep the drug business booming in America.

Many adults who grew up in the Sixties still view getting high as a benign activity. Weekend use of drugs may not impede their ability to work or care for their children, but the widespread drug use is having a devastating impact on the rest of our society.

These adults have to be convinced that drugs are eating away the society that binds us together. Effective anti-drug efforts must discourage these people from buying drugs. Once they stop, much of the demand for drugs in this county will disappear.

When the closest one gets to drug dealing is the litany of shooting and drug overdose deaths on the 11 o'clock news, it is easy to think that the problem is somebody else's. But it affects us all.

Maybe last month's horrible killing will help Carroll County residents better understand how corrosive and destructive drug dealing is to a community and how they cannot turn their backs on places such as Baltimore, where entire sections have been overrun by thugs selling drugs.

Drug dealing is an opportunistic cancer that can quickly metastasize to unsuspecting communities. Unless the people of Carroll County mobilize against this disease, the cancer, which is already here, will spread.

Brian Sullam is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Carroll County.

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