Junkies, dealers feeling effects of the big bust

March 22, 1994|By MICHAEL OLESKER

She slips into yesterday morning's sunlight at 21st and Boone with her eyes darting this way and that and her arms wrapped around her torso, as though hugging an empty space. She crouches beside a car and angles her head to the left. Glances into a mirror, examines little pockmarks in her face. Then, every inch the lady, reaches one coat sleeve to her nose and wipes.

It's not going to be an easy day. She needs something to put in her arm, and there's nobody around who's selling openly. The cops were here over the weekend, more than a hundred of them sweeping through this neighborhood, and they arrested dozens of people on drug and weapon charges and put, for the moment, a veil of calm over the community.

For the moment, yes. After that, who knows? The neighborhood sits in the very shadow of the city's public school headquarters, on North Avenue, where they try to protect children from places like this, places where the drug dealers have ruined entire blocks and the prospect of money will still determine if last weekend's peace can possibly hold.

For the moment, the police have themselves a victory. For the moment, the dealers are lying low. For the moment, the lady's standing here at 21st and Boone, and she needs a little something, heroin or cocaine she says, either will do, a little something to put into a functioning vein until she maps out the brand new lay of the land.

She was out here Saturday night when the first wave of arrests was happening everywhere, and managed to slip away. The police kept asking her name, she says. She'd mumble something incomprehensible and move on. They were all over the place, running around with computer printouts and photographs, matching faces with the information in their hands, information put together during a six-week investigation dubbed "Operation Midway."

"I ain't seen so many police in my life," she says now. "They were detouring traffic. They blocked Greenmount Avenue." Her eyes sweep along 21st Street, seeking any familiar face. "They even arrested my cousin."

She says she's 27 years old, says she's been shooting stuff since she was 17. The neighborhood's history parallels her own. For at least 25 years now, as the drug dealers took over and the police seemed overmatched and the politicians seemed oblivious, things simply went to hell.

Then came the weekend raids, and 43 adults were indicted on drug charges, 22 arrested on drug and weapon charges, and five others were charged as juveniles.

"Bad stuff," she says now, still glancing about, still looking for someone who might have something to sell.

"Man, the police freakin' up everything," says a man standing behind her. "They're riding around in regular cars, Cadillacs and stuff. They kicked my cousin's door in. They said he was distributing heroin."

"Was he?"

"Well, yeah," he says, "but I ain't seen police kickin' in doors like this before."

"Will it make a difference?"

"Yeah," he says. "Right now, everybody's scared. These young boys out here, they don't want to get arrested, see?"

The tone of his voice is a little tough to read. It's not clear if he's pleased by the raids, or if he's berating the young dealers for not having the heart to buck these new tactics. It's not just drug trafficking that was attacked; for many, it was an entrenched way of life.

A few blocks away, at Greenmount and 21st, a uniformed policeman, Officer Daniel Rose, cruises the area and talks about the dawning of a new day.

"The raid," he says, "was like a jolt of energy. They know we mean business now. I feel like a new cop. You know, you keep locking guys up, and the next day they're back on the street. That's depressing."

He points to a nearby corner. Three men and a woman are there. The one in the purple coat, Rose says, has been dealing for years. The purple coat ducks around a corner. Once, he might have eyeballed Rose, might have strutted an attitude.

For this moment, he yields. How long the moment will last, nobody knows. It was quiet along 21st Street yesterday. The cops felt pretty good about themselves, and the junkies had to look a little harder to find a connection.

And soon we'll discover if the peace will hold, or if the moment will slip away like so many things in this troubled city.

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