In this dreary hallway of the Clarence Mitchell Courthouse, outside a packed juvenile courtroom, comes a fellow declaring himself a victim of the insensitive criminal justice system of our time and a marvelous heartwarming subject for a column in the daily newspaper.
"They want to take my baby away from me," he says.
"Two months old," he declares breathlessly. "They took her up to Mount Washington Pediatric Center, and they don't want to give her back to me and my wife."
"Why would they do such a thing?"
"I don't know," he says, all exasperated now, as if we should both rush off to storm the doors of the hospital, or the courts, or any other institution that would stand in the way of regaining custody of his baby. "They said something abut my wife smoking."
"Smoking?" I ask. "You mean, smoking cigarettes?"
He pauses now. He wishes to think about this reply of his, to formulate an answer that approaches some vague semblance of the truth without quite giving up the game.
"Well," he says slowly, "not exactly."
"You mean," I ask, "she's smoking crack?"
"Well, yeah, but..." But I'm already out the door now, if we've reached a time when the crack addicted, having brought us the next generation of the drug-addled, having handed the schoolteachers and the social workers and the police the first generation of a permanent biounderclass, are now attempting to paint themselves as some sort of victims when their children are taken away for belated protection.
At the end of 30 years of so-called wars against drugs, all of them lost, all of them ending in the various grubby courthouses and prison yards, or the morgue, we now have the current campaign for president, in which the candidate Dole attempts to rewrite the history of the nation and of his party's role in reaching the current state of narcotics traffic.
He does this in speeches around the country, and on television commercials that have begun airing around here, and to listen to the words is to realize that politicians believe we have either no memory, or no brains.
Bill Clinton is the cause of rising drug abuse, Dole informs us. As if it's Clinton in South Baltimore who's trading stolen meat for drugs. Dole says this at the end of maybe a month's hapless campaigning on the whimsy of some 15 percent tax cut, which exactly 14 people in the entire country believed, and thus the desperate Dole now feels compelled to begin some new approach.
Why drugs? Because, when Clinton inherited George Bush's drug policy staff, he cut it from 146 people to 25. That's the big headline item. And because everybody knows drugs are bad. And maybe, who knows, because the country's still laughing at Clinton's lame description of how he once smoked a joint but didn't inhale.
Is drug traffic bad? Of course. That's not a bulletin, is it? In the city of Baltimore last ear, there were 20,841 drug arrests, up nearly 7,000 from four years earlier. In Baltimore County, there were 1,715 cocaine arrests last year, up slightly from 1992, and the 1,638 marijuana arrests were twice the total of three years ago. In Anne Arundel County, juvenile drug arrests tripled (to 460) over the past three years, and there were 1,374 adult drug arrests last year, mostly in the northern parts of the county like Glen Burnie and Brooklyn Park, where there's easy access to city dwellers.
But, from such numbers, we blame Clinton? From cutting George Bush's drug policy staff? For openers, that staff has since been restored to its original size, and Clinton proposed record $15.3 billion for various government agencies to fight drugs. Also, not to be overlooked, when Dole was Senate majority leader, the Republican-controlled Congress cut back money for drug prevention and treatment in the Clinton budget.
But some of this sidesteps the larger issue, which is a simple reading of history that took us to crack addicts giving birth to the permanently damaged, and people trading stolen meat for drugs, and the current nervousness about the next generation.
Most of the drug traffic in this country comes out of the cities, and specifically out of the bleak, impoverished, hopeless black ghettos. For 30 years, as the various cries for help reached Washington, it's been an unspoken Republican policy to ignore these cities, and these impoverished neighborhoods, and these people who are black. Dole knows this; he was there for the votes.
On the racial element, you can check Dole's own apologetic words of the past several weeks, and the various belated overtures he and Jack Kemp have made to black voters. Republicans since Richard Nixon ignored such folks because the Republicans' political strategy was specifically geared to white men. They ignored cities because Republican voters had moved to suburbia.
While this happened, the cities went to hell. The drug traffic fueled the crime and the fears behind every element of urban life. And, at the end of all this, we wind up with a guy who can't understand his baby being taken away, just because his wife wants to smoke a little crack.
Pub Date: 9/19/96