Deputy D.C. Police Chief Isaac Fulwood was standing downtown amid a phalanx of police officers the other day when I said maybe Mikhail Gorbachev should visit Southeast Washington. That way, so many police would flood the area that drug dealers would be forced to take a break in their action.
"Well, there would be a lot more policemen over there," Fulwood said. "But I'm not sure that would stop the drug dealers."
Fulwood noted that more police are already assigned to the drug-infested areas of Southeast Washington than any other part of the city, and that he spends more time in the Seventh Police District than he does in any other part of the city.
Yet the drug trade continues to flourish. So far this year, 57 murders have been attributed to the drug wars in that area alone.
If increased police activity has not put a dent in the drug business, what is to be done?
I said legalize drugs, and take the profit out: That would at least stop the killings.
Fulwood said no.
"We have to continue sending a message that drugs are bad," Fulwood said. "Legalizing drugs would send the wrong message. Besides, legalizing alcohol didn't stop bootleg liquor salesmen and legalizing the lottery didn't stop the numbers. So there is no reason to think legalization of drugs will stop the illegal drug traffic."
So where does that leave us?
"We have to find a way to keep getting the message out that drugs are bad," Fulwood said. "I have a big problem with the media for not getting the message out."
So the press keeps writing stories about drug abuse, community groups keep holding "say no to drugs" conferences, antidrug rallies and seminars, and the problem still gets worse.
I am close to being convinced that this community will never approve the legalization of drugs. Fair enough.
But why then is the city so apathetic when it comes to drug treatment facilities? Why in a city with more than 15,000 heroin addicts did RAP Inc., which lost its lease on a building in the city, have to leave?
I get the impression that this community is prepared to ride out what is perceived as a temporary drug wave. We seem to believe that the current drug abuse epidemic will one day subside when "the message" finally gets through.
The reason, I think, that this community is willing to take this wait-and-see attitude is because the primary victims of drug abuse in this city are poor black people.
Not long ago, The New York Times ran a story about how drugs are now wreaking havoc on the poor people, while middle-class people seem to be learning their lessons.
With the help of expensive insurance-underwritten counseling and detoxification programs, middle-class drug users are finding their way straight again.
For the poor, working and otherwise, it's a vastly different story. They are the ones using crack and PCP and they are ones who have incorporated drugs into a killer underground economy.
Meanwhile, federally financed studies show that the people turning away from drugs are the most educated and affluent -- the same group in charge of making the drug laws.
"In the heroin crisis of the late 1960s and again with crack in recent years, it was the threat to the middle- and upper-middle-class kids that put pressure on legislatures and Congress," said Dr. Mitchell S. Rosenthal, the president of a drug abuse treatment facility in New York. "There is a danger that if they felt less of a threat, the resources won't stay with the problem."
In the end, we will be stuck with a problem that only gets worse.