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DanceSafe.org : Raves and Club Drugs in the News : US MI: Suburban Cash, Detroit Drugs
Pubdate: Thu, 08 May 2003
Source: Detroit Free Press (MI)
Copyright: 2003 Detroit Free Press
Contact: letters@freepress.com
Website: http://www.freep.com/
Fax: 313-222-6774
Author: Suzette Hackney, Free Press Staff Writer


Users Drive To The City, Where They Find Easy Access, Light Penalties

On a chilly weekend night, the brown Pontiac 6000 raised little suspicion as it sat outside an abandoned house on Detroit's east side-- until the police officers saw two heads inside. 

Hunched down in the front seat, a 17-year-old woman from Rochester Hills and her 37-year-old boyfriend from Utica passed a crack pipe back and forth. 

The couple didn't notice the black police sedan rolling up beside them.  But the look of post-hit euphoria on their faces quickly dissolved into one of fear when the officers jumped out, knocked on the window and yelled, "Get your hands up! Now!"

To help stem Detroit's drug trade, city narcotics officers and Wayne County prosecutors are focusing on areas where buyers drive from the suburbs into some of the city's roughest neighborhoods, braving robbers, police and even death to get their fix. 

Drug users flock from nearly every sizable community in metro Detroit, including Bloomfield Hills, the Grosse Pointes and Livonia.  Police say their cash helps fuel a drug trade that contributes to violence and decay in many Detroit neighborhoods. 

Last year, police seized 1,423 vehicles in Detroit drug arrests.  Nearly 60 percent of those vehicles, or 842, belonged to people from outside Detroit.  The numbers were similar in 2001, with 62 percent of the 2,160 seized cars belonging to non-Detroiters. 

Maurice Morton, chief of special operations in the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office, said fewer than half of the 6,500 people charged with simple drug possession in 2000 and 2001 were from Detroit.  The majority -- about 60 percent -- lived outside the city, he said. 

Detroit Police Cmdr.  Gerard Simon, who heads the organized crime and gangs division, said of the Detroit drug trade: "In no way would I say that Detroit has crime because of the suburbanites, but we can prove that there is a significant number of people who come into our city and provide the customer base for criminal activity.  Why? Because they'd rather do it here than in their own neighborhoods."

Detroit Police Inspector James Moore, who is in charge of the narcotics northwest section, says suburbanites come to the city because they know the chances of going to jail for buying drugs are slim. 

In fact, some of those arrested never set foot in a courtroom except to pay the misdemeanor fine.  Their penalty is often a brief jail stay after being arrested, and loss of their vehicle, $900 and the time it takes to retrieve their cars. 

Though drug arrests are up in recent years, Detroit police officers often write misdemeanor tickets -- similar to traffic tickets -- for offenders because the amount of drugs confiscated is usually small. 

During the height of the 1980s crack epidemic, police were making more than 5,000 drug arrests per year, and virtually clogging the court system, Moore said.  The city then passed an ordinance that made certain drug offenses misdemeanors, yet the same offenses remained felonies outside the city. 

Outside of Detroit, the possession of small amounts of cocaine or heroin is a state felony punishable by up to four years in prison.  And possession of marijuana, a misdemeanor, can net up to a year in jail. 

"It's a double-edged sword for us because it creates an environment that welcomes people to come buy drugs in Detroit," Moore said.  "The penalties are less harsh.  The charges are less harsh.  In Ferndale or Warren, it would be a felony to be caught with narcotics."

The city controlled-substance code is still used by police when they make small drug busts. 

Morton said 99 percent of those facing state charges of possession avoid going to trial by pleading guilty.  Those convicted are typically sentenced to probation and forced to participate in a drug-treatment program, he said. 

Drugs in Detroit

Wayne County Prosecutor Michael Duggan said the wide-open drug trade in some Detroit neighborhoods is attractive to buyers. 

"They're coming into Detroit because that's where the dealers are selling openly.  You cannot find drug houses in the suburbs where guys are standing out on the porch selling while cars drive up."

Day and night, drug dealers in Detroit brazenly loiter on street corners and in front of abandoned houses, waving and shouting to passing cars.  Some hang T-shirts in trees as a signal to buyers.  Others simply call out, "You need?" or "I got it."

If a buyer wants crack, he or she will ask for "rocks." Heroin buyers ask for blow, which used to be slang for cocaine. 

But marijuana is the top-selling drug in metro Detroit and statewide, followed by crack and heroin, according to the Michigan Department of Community Health, which releases an annual drug abuse trend report for Detroit and Wayne County. 

There has been a spike in the use of opiates and stimulants, such as methamphetamine.  The use of drugs found mostly at parties and nightclubs, such as ecstasy, also has increased, according to the report. 

Many drug dealers set up shop -- not coincidentally -- near the entry points into the city.  Police and prosecutors say the heaviest drug traffic is in the 6th ( Plymouth ), 8th ( Northwest ) and 11th ( Davison ) precincts because the areas have easy access to I-96, Woodward Avenue and I-75. 

The Brightmoor neighborhood, roughly bordered by Puritan, Evergreen, Schoolcraft and Telegraph on the city's west side, is one area where dealers are setting up shop like corner stores, Duggan said. 

Longtime Brightmoor resident Edward DeCorcey calls his neighborhood of more than 40 years the drug gateway to the suburbs, much to his chagrin. 

"I've been in the middle of this thing since crack hit real heavy in 1982," said DeCorcey, 67,who lives on Dolphin near Fenkell and Chalfonte.  "Since then, things have gone steadily downhill. 

"You name it, you see all kinds of cars -- Mercedes, Ford 350 trucks with the extended cabs, BMWs -- and the drivers are well-dressed folks," he said. 

City versus suburbs

Simon, the commander in charge of the organized crime and gang unit, said some dealers flag down conspicuous drivers, those in SUVs and luxury cars. 

Because the hot drug areas are in predominantly black neighborhoods, some dealers won't sell to strangers unless they are white, Simon said. 

"The dealers assume that if you're coming to buy as a minority, then you must be a police officer," he said. 

Though police say they are careful about making assumptions based solely on race, some undercover officers -- black and white -- acknowledge that their suspicions are heightened when they spot situations such as white people driving pickup trucks with Red Wings decals cruising the streets late at night in a mostly black area. 

Carl Taylor, a Michigan State University criminologist who studies crime and poverty in Detroit, said the act of suburbanites coming into a nearly all-black city to buy drugs represents a race and class issue. 

"We know that this society is not going to tolerate open drug markets in Livonia, Troy, West Bloomfield or other suburbs, and there was a time when we didn't tolerate them in Detroit," said Taylor, who grew up in Detroit.  "Detroit, like most big cities, has become the center for sin and vice for the suburbs.  It's part of the hypocrisy and one of the major points of dishonesty in American culture. 

"Those who will purchase their drugs or come to the city for sex are the same ones who will go home and eat dinner with their family," he said.  "While watching the news, they'll shake their head at all the problem people and problems of Detroit.  But they contribute to it."

Drug-Infested Streets

Police call it the red zone.  The Woodward corridor in the 11th ( Davison ) Precinct-- bound on the north by 8 Mile, on the west by Woodward, on the south by McNichols and by John R to the east -- is a drug hot spot. 

On a recent Thursday night, a 30-year-old Clinton Township man left a known drug house in the red zone and was quickly pulled over by police.  Officers frisked him and searched his white Ford truck.  They didn't find any drugs, but they did find the foil in which they believe the man had heroin. 

Officers asked the man what he was doing in Detroit.  The man, who already had a conviction for conspiracy with intent to deliver, told police he was driving up and down streets, looking for a friend. 

"I know he lives around here somewhere," he said.  "I was hoping I would recognize his car."

Officers asked the man his friend's last name.  He didn't know it.  Officers asked his friend's phone number.  He didn't know. 

But because they did not find any drugs, they let him go with a warning.  "Don't let me catch you in Detroit again," an officer said. 

Collateral Damage

With the drug trade comes other crime. 

Herbert Rapson, a 56-year-old Milford man, was found shot to death in his car on Feb.  19 in the 11th Precinct in northeast Detroit.  Police say his death may have been linked to the drug trade. 

The killing is still unsolved, but the man's family told investigators that he had a crack cocaine problem and may have been buying drugs. 

"There's no question that a large number -- if not most -- of the homicides are relating to drugs," Duggan said.  "I think a huge amount of violence we have in the city is related to the drug trade."

Rapson was found at 6 a.m.  on the 100 block of Longwood with a single gunshot wound to the head.  There are some indications that robbery could have been a motive, said Detroit Police Homicide Inspector Craig Schwartz.  "Might he have been down there buying narcotics and that's why he was in the position to be robbed? Certainly." Schwartz said. 

A Car For Crack

Inspector Billy McFarley said he estimates that at least 50 percent of the stolen cars reported in his precinct are the result of so-called crack rentals-- in which a drug user trades his or her car for drugs.  The east end of the 11th Precinct, the area bounded by VanDyke, 7 Mile and Mound roads, has seen an increase in its concentration of drug activity, and with it, a rise in the number of reported stolen cars.  Crime statistics show there was a monthly average of nearly 250 cars reported stolen in the precinct so far this year. 

"Once they come down off their high, they say, 'Oh shoot.  I don't have a vehicle anymore.' What's the easy answer? Somebody stole it," McFarley said. 

Darrin Marshall's life ended as a result of a crack rental. 

Darrin was an 11-year-old sixth-grader at Nolan Middle School in Detroit. 

On a warm day last October, Darrin was playing with neighbors and bouncing a basketball on a sidewalk near his home in the 11th Precinct. 

He didn't see the speeding Ford Taurus as it jumped a curb and plowed into him.  He died shortly afterward at Children's Hospital of Michigan in Detroit. 

The driver, Rontae Hill, 21 of Detroit, was speeding at more than 70 m.p.h.  when he wrecked the car at the intersection of Andover and Remington, police said.  He had been driving the Taurus for a few hours after making a crack-for-car trade, police said. 

Hill got the car from Sean Sims, 30, of Mt.  Clemens.  Sims told police he was in Detroit looking for crack cocaine and lent his girlfriend's car to Hill in exchange for the drugs, according to court testimony during a preliminary examination.  Sims said he passed out in a crack house while Hill cruised in the car. 

Sims pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit a legal act in an illegal manner, for furnishing the car to Hill.  Sims faced a possible 5-year prison term for the charge, a felony, but was sentenced to 2 years' probation and ordered to live in a halfway house. 

Hill eventually pleaded guilty to manslaughter with a motor vehicle and was sentenced on Feb.  7 to 3 to 15 years in prison. 

A Night Out

With undercover officers posted nearby, the 37-year-old Utica man paid $15 for a few rocks of crack, then parked his Pontiac 6000 in front of an abandoned house on Grinnell near VanDyke in the small hours of a recent Saturday morning.  It was around 1 a.m., and the block was eerily dark with just three occupied homes, a bunch of vacant lots and the dilapidated house. 

Suddenly the police swept in on the man and his 17-year-old girlfriend.  The man said he loves his girlfriend and drives her from her Rochester Hills home to Detroit so she can get crack.  He even pays for it.  "We were going to go back home, but she said to park here," he explained.  "She said it was safe."

He told officers he had tried crack twice, both times at the urging of his girlfriend.  When police pulled the couple from the car, he had the crack pipe and a rock of cocaine.  He was later charged with violating the city's controlled substance code and possession of narcotics paraphernalia, both misdemeanors.  His car was impounded. 

"I never wanted to get involved in this, and I told her that a thousand times," he said as police were putting him in handcuffs.  "I'm telling the truth about everything, so help me God."

As for the Rochester Hills teen, she said her mother knows that she smokes crack. 

"She knows it, but she doesn't like it," the teen told officers.  She said her mother has been urging her to get help. 

"I come from a loving family," said the petite teen with long blond hair.  Police gave her a $50 loitering ticket and sent her walking down the dark street, alone. 

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