Pubdate: Thu, 27 Dec 2007
Source: News Sun (IL)
Copyright: 2007 Digital Chicago & Sun-Times News Group
Author: Hasan Hakeem


It really would be nice to applaud the recent law enforcement action 
that took 21 suspected low-level drug dealers off the streets of 
Waukegan, or shall we say, "off the streets in the 1st Ward." The 
fact of the matter is that the 21 dealers have already been replaced 
and drugs continue to flow unabated not only in Waukegan, but 
throughout Lake County.

In Waukegan, it's easy to put a Band-Aid on the scourge of drugs in 
our community. I've been a witness to the "let's pick up some drug 
dealers" to convince the uninformed that we saved the poor residents 
of Waukegan's 1st Ward. These lowlevel drug dealers are convenient 
and easy to identify.

And the question we must ask ourselves is why the drug dealers are 
always nabbed in Waukegan's 1st Ward? And even more important, why 
are they always black? If black people are in the minority in 
Waukegan, how is it possible that the drug dealers are always black?

As a lifelong resident of Waukegan's 1st Ward, how does the arrest of 
these nefarious criminals enhance the quality of my life?

Now, as a rational thinking person, who happens to be black, here is 
what I've observed in the 1st Ward and is the case throughout many 
cities in America: The relationship between race, poverty, geographic 
location and drug convictions, according to the Justice Policy 
Institute (JPI), is the disproportionate incarceration of African 
Americans in drug cases.

While African Americans and whites use and sell drugs at similar 
rates, African Americans are 10 times more likely than whites to be 
imprisoned for drug offenses, according to the JPI report.

These low-level dealers are going to hang around the 
already-overcrowded Lake County jail for a while where they will be 
given three meals daily, a clean bed and cable TV. In the community, 
they already are social lepers who have no fear of jail.

If they receive any prison sentence, the state will pay $20,000 per 
inmate, or more during their very brief period of incarceration. When 
they return to Waukegan they will be much worse off than they were before.

The prevalent strategy of fighting drugs by arresting street corner 
thugs is repugnant, outmoded and indicative of a community powerless 
to stop the proliferation of drugs. The lucrative drug market will 
continue unabated in Waukegan's 1st Ward.

The high rate of poverty, unemployment and recidivism has created 
innate problems ranging from racial injustice and irreparable damage 
to families. We are now witnesses to the imprisonment of young black 
males who have failed to graduate from high school and are now behind 
bars at an incarceration rate six times higher than white dropouts.

The impact on our community is frightening when you consider that 
those who were incarcerated return with the mark of "felon" and their 
punishment will continue when they can't find employment; they will 
be alienated and forever discriminated against in society.

They will return to the illicit drug trade with its lure of fast 
money. It's a pernicious cycle that will lead to higher rates of 
delinquency, mental illness, drug abuse and reduces levels of school success.

In the future, there will be the ritual "drug sweep," a mere Band-Aid 
on a raw sore that continues to ooze and fester beneath the surface 
on Waukegan's South Side.

Hasan Hakeem is a resident of Waukegan's 1st Ward
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom