Pubdate: Sun, 22 Jul 2007
Source: Chicago Tribune (IL)
Copyright: 2007 Chicago Tribune Company
Author: Darnell Little, Tribune staff reporter
Bookmark: (Drug-Free Zones)
Bookmark: (Mandatory Minimum Sentencing)
Bookmark: (Crime Policy - United States)


Drug Arrests Reveal Racial Gap

On Ohio Street, just north of Garfield Park, three drug dealers stood 
on a corner surrounded by litter, vacant lots and boarded-up houses, 
waiting for customers who strolled up on foot and pulled over in 
cars. Some passed right underneath a flashing police surveillance 
camera less than a block away.

Only a few weeks earlier in this same West Side neighborhood, Chicago 
police had shut down a bustling open-air market selling 
fentanyl-laced heroin, arresting more than a dozen members of the 
Conservative Vice Lords street gang. A patrol cop later described the 
bust as an example of the mushroom effect -- pull one out and several 
more just pop up in its place.

In the suburbs, police say drug dealing has an entirely different, 
more private face.

"There are some who work out of their apartment or residence, some 
who will just meet you wherever they feel safe in meeting you. Some 
people will do it out of their work," said Lombard Police Chief 
Raymond Byrne. "It's kind of the opposite of the city."

Twenty-five years after President Ronald Reagan declared a war on 
drugs, many law-enforcement officials and criminologists say drugs 
are now cheaper and more potent, and as easily available as ever.

What the war did do was help drive the nation's prison population to 
more than quadruple its size from 1980 to 2005, with urban blacks and 
Latinos hardest hit -- a dramatically disproportionate result of the 
different networks that developed to distribute drugs.

According to federal data, blacks make up just 13 percent of the 
nation's illicit drug users, but they are 32 percent of those 
arrested for drug violations and 53 percent of those incarcerated in 
state prisons for drug crimes.

In Illinois, studies show that more than 70 percent of the state's 
illicit drug users are white, while 14 percent are black. But 65 
percent of arrests for drug offenses are of African-Americans. And 66 
percent of inmates in Illinois prisons for drug offenses are black, 
and Illinois' incarceration rate of blacks for drug possession is the 
highest in the country.

The never-ending flow of drugs, and the disparity in punishment, are 
leading an increasing number of judges, attorneys and criminologists 
to the conclusion that the nation's efforts to fight drug use with 
the criminal justice system will not, by itself, get the job done.

Tim Evans, chief judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County, said more 
people in the criminal justice system now recognize that treatment 
and other options are far more effective in reducing drug use.

"There was a thought back in the 1980s that it was better to be tough 
on crime than to be said not to be tough on crime; that if you just 
lock these people away that somehow that's going to solve 
everything," Evans said. "Hasn't worked. And I believe now the 
pendulum is swinging away from lock 'em up and throw away the key 
back toward trying to find a rational way of solving this problem."

Impact of 'Safe Zone' Laws

And the more lawmakers try to fine-tune drug laws, the more 
pronounced the imbalance becomes.

A Tribune analysis of recent "safe zone" laws, increasing penalties 
for drug sales near schools, churches, parks and other public places, 
shows the laws blanket many densely populated minority neighborhoods, 
further boosting the punishment level for urban dealers.

In explaining the disparity in incarceration, criminologists point to 
a basic difference in the way drugs are sold in cities and suburbs, 
one that makes African-Americans more vulnerable to arrest and 
imprisonment for drug possession and sales.

Drug dealing in inner-cities happens largely in open-air markets 
controlled by street gangs, who run a sophisticated, organized crime 
enterprise that, police say, is responsible for the bulk of violent 
crime in urban areas. Police target these marketplaces because that's 
where most calls for police services originate.

Open-air drug markets are rarer in white, middle- and upper-class 
neighborhoods, where dope dealing typically occurs within social 
networks, in places that draw little police attention, criminologists say.

"Police go looking for this stuff in cities where they don't look for 
it in suburbs because it's not causing the same kind of violence," 
said John Klofas, a criminologist at the Rochester Institute of 
Technology. "And if you're only looking at this as punishment for 
drug use, then it's a complicated set of circumstances that in the 
end produces this outcome that is, in fact, quite unfair."

In Illinois, the racial disparity in drug arrests is driven mainly by 
Chicago. In 2005, Chicago police made 47,000 arrests for drug 
offenses, and 79 percent of those arrests were of African-Americans, 
according to the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority.

Illinois does not track arrests by ethnicity, so it is impossible to 
pinpoint how Latinos fit on this spectrum.

But anecdotally, police say black neighborhoods are home to nearly 
all of Chicago's open-air drug markets, mostly in high-crime, 
high-poverty areas on the city's South and West Sides. 
Law-enforcement officials estimate the drug trade is responsible for 
up to 70 percent of the violent crime in the city.

"Most of the violence in Chicago on the West Side and the South Side 
is gang-related and it always stems back to some kind of fight over 
narcotics or narcotics turf or a narcotics corner," said Walter P. 
Hehner, deputy chief of narcotics prosecutions for the Cook County 
state's attorney's office. "Drug dealers, hookers, panhandlers, all 
hanging out there looking for money so they can get high."

Imprisoned at Home

Ald. Walter Burnett's West Side 27th Ward was the site of the first 
open-air drug market shut down by police this year. Burnett said he 
is constantly fielding calls from residents who want police to shut 
down drug operations in the area.

Not only do residents feel they are imprisoned in their homes by the 
gang violence, he said, but they are also frustrated by the constant 
property crimes and street hustling committed by the drug users 
traveling into the neighborhood to buy dope.

"They steal everything," Burnett said. "They steal water hoses, they 
steal garbage cans, they steal gutters off of buildings. They break 
into houses, they break into cars. If you have children or a wife, 
you don't want them outside because these [drug users] are going to 
be walking all around looking like zombies."

Shutting down these outdoor markets is a centerpiece to the police's 
strategy of attacking guns, gangs and drugs in Chicago. Last year, 
Chicago police shut down 56 open-air drug markets, amounting to 
nearly 600 arrests. Frank Limon, chief of the Chicago police's 
Organized Crime Division, said police are pushing aggressive street 
operations such as undercover surveillance, drug buys and reverse 
stings, in which cops pose as drug dealers to snag buyers.

"That's all we continually do is set up operations where we can 
arrest buyers and go after sellers," Limon said. "Even though it's 
one corner, it's one less open-air drug market that's available for 
users to go to."

Police efforts have not gone unnoticed by drug users. Angel, a 
32-year-old heroin user from Chicago who frequents West Side open-air 
markets, said the threat of arrest for buying drugs is greater now 
than he can remember in his 12 years as a heroin addict. Angel claims 
that he's been arrested five times for drug possession after buying, 
and that he's been stopped by police dozens more just being near a 
West Side drug market.

"It's hot," Angel said. "Hotter now than ever. You go out there at 
the wrong time and you're just looking to get locked up."

But Angel continues to buy drugs from open-air markets.

"I've been locked up and it's no joke," he said. "But when you're 
dope sick, you're going to go out and cop."

Nicole, a 21-year-old heroin user from Park Ridge, said it's much 
easier for her to buy drugs in the suburbs, but she goes to Chicago's 
West Side markets because she believes the quality is better. Stories 
of overdoses from fentanyl-laced heroin sold in the city only serve 
as an enticement for suburban heroin users, she said.

"The twisted part is, when I hear about a spot where people have died 
because it's so good, I want to go there," Nicole said.

Disturbing Trend in Chicago

Chicago alone accounts for two-thirds of all drug offender arrests in 
Illinois. But what disturbs some like Cook County Assistant Public 
Defender Kristina Yi is the homogeneity of those arrested for drug 
crimes passing through the Cook County Criminal Courts building at 
26th Street and California Avenue.

"You can't miss once you walk into that building that the majority of 
civilians coming in for their own cases or a loved one's case are 
predominantly black people," Yi said. "There are some female blacks 
arrested for simple possession, some older blacks, very few and far 
between some Caucasian males brought in for simple possession. But 
rarely did we get a case that involved someone that's not a minority. 
Usually they were young male blacks."

Arthur J. Lurigio, professor of criminal justice at Loyola 
University, said police are simply following reports of crime.

"If you live in a suburb that has a small police department and low 
crime, the chances of you being stopped when you're walking down the 
street or driving in your car is significantly less than if you live 
in Englewood or Harrison or Wentworth," Lurigio said. "The police are 
not there because they're racists, the police are there because 
there's more crime there and there's more calls for service there. So 
if there's more police in a neighborhood, you're just more likely to 
be stopped, no matter what."

Hehner, of the state's attorney's office, said arrests for drug 
possession often result from other kinds of police stops -- officers 
are looking for violent offenders, but they see suspects trying 
hurriedly to get rid of their drugs, so-called "drop cases." It's an 
unavoidable part of good police work, he said.

Bob Lee, of the Felony Trial Division at the Cook County's public 
defender's office in Bridgeview, views it differently. He says many 
of the drop cases he sees in court stem from police efforts to 
curtail drug use by sweeping whole neighborhoods.

Paul Butler, a law professor at George Washington University in 
Washington, D.C., believes that what's driving aggressive policing in 
black neighborhoods is simple racial profiling. Butler said police, 
including black officers, selectively enforce the drug laws in the 
black community because they believe that blacks simply need more 
drug law enforcement.

"Police and prosecutors use the statistics about the number of 
African-Americans who get arrested for drug use as a reason to look 
more closely at African-Americans for that crime," Butler said. "And, 
of course, if you're especially looking among African-Americans, then 
you'll find more African-Americans. There's an important relationship 
between looking for something and finding it."

Not only are blacks more likely to be arrested for possession and 
sale of drugs, they are also more likely to face stiffer punishment 
for those crimes because of sentencing enhancements tied to 
particular drug offenses. Federal law, for instance, mandates tougher 
sentences for crack cocaine, the smokable version of cocaine popular 
among inner-city drug users, than for powder cocaine, a form of the 
drug more prevalent among suburban whites.

Blacks are also disproportionately affected by amendments to the 
Illinois Controlled Substances Act that prescribe mandatory prison 
terms for selling drugs within 1,000 feet of places such as schools, 
churches, public housing and parks. According to the Illinois 
Department of Corrections, 90 percent of Illinois inmates with a 
primary offense of violating these so-called "safe zone" laws are 

A Tribune analysis examining the locations of churches, schools, 
public parks and public housing developments found that nearly 70 
percent of Chicago is within 1,000 feet of one or more such site.

A sampling of predominantly African-American neighborhoods in Chicago 
revealed that 97 percent of East Garfield Park, 99 percent of West 
Garfield Park, 98 percent of Woodlawn, 96 percent of Englewood and 82 
percent of Austin fall within "safe zones."

"Chicago is going to have huge pockets of its square mileage that are 
in protected zones," said state Sen. Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale). "It 
would be useful to see how the drug-free-zone laws have worked. And 
if it hasn't worked, either modify it or take it off the statute books."

'Intimate Sales' In Suburbs

That density of public facilities does not exist in most suburbs. 
Neither, suburban police say, do the open-air drug markets that make 
obvious targets.

"Open-air markets are very unusual out here," said Paul Marchese, 
supervising attorney of the Narcotics and Gang Unit of the DuPage 
County state's attorney's office. "I've been here for 16 years and I 
can count in the single digits what we would imagine an open-air drug 
market in DuPage County."

Without the open-air drug markets and the attendant violent and 
property crime that orbit them, suburban police officers don't make 
the huge number of arrests for drug offenses like in Chicago, 
according to Terry Lemming, statewide drug and gun enforcement 
coordinator for the Illinois State Police.

"Open-air drug markets are an immediate problem because of all the 
related violence that goes with them," Lemming said. "The intimate 
sales of the suburbs are not a situation where the safety of citizens 
is at risk. The more intimate drug sales in the suburbs have to be 
attacked with a different way of enforcement."

The disparity in arrests has contributed to a lasting perception that 
blacks use illegal drugs at much higher rates than other racial groups.

However, a 2003 study by the University of Illinois at Chicago's 
Survey Research Laboratory found that rates of illicit drug use in 
Illinois were in fact essentially equal across racial groups. 
Nationally, similar results were found by the U.S. Department of 
Health and Human Services 2005 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

"One of the very significant misconceptions about drug use is that we 
sort of spontaneously assume that the majority of people who use 
illegal drugs would be minorities, which is not true," said Young Ik 
Cho, a professor with the Survey Research Lab at UIC. "Over and over 
again we have been emphasizing the fact that it is not really 
specific or exclusive to certain groups. It's all over."

That's the essential problem with using the criminal justice system 
to wage a war on drugs, said Camille Kozlowski, a chief of the Cook 
County public defender's office in Skokie.

"African-Americans and minorities have always been overwhelmingly 
overrepresented in the criminal justice system," she said. "So it 
stands to reason when you're going to fight this war on drugs, it's 
going to be the same thing.

"But if what you're really trying to do is stop people from using 
drugs, then wouldn't it be logical to go after everyone equally?" 
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake