The meeting of the Committee for a Drug Free D.C. was emotional. The audience gathered in the Rayburn Building on Capitol Hill last weekend wanted answers to the problem that seems to take a life a day.
But the panel of speakers, which included experts and media personalities, could only echo frustration. "We must do something," one speaker said. "There must be unity in the community," said another. "People have to start being responsible," one said. "We must save our children," said another.
At one point a man from the audience came forth. "I know we are at war with drugs," he said. "What I want to know is do we have the weapons to win it?"
For those looking for a quick fix, a decisive blow the equivalent of a nuclear strike, the answer is no.
Hunker down, citizens. This conflict did not start yesterday, and it will not end tomorrow.
As I see it, there are two main elements to the drug crisis in this city: a desire to make money and a desire for pleasure. Because both are all- American impulses, there is no point in thinking about changing them. What we can do is help people replace drugs with things that generate good incomes and bring healthy pleasures.
Although I am no expert, I think inadequate low-income housing is a driving force behind drug sales in the city. A lot of people sell drugs to help pay rent. Parents don't ask kids where the money comes from if an eviction looms on the horizon. Increasingly common are out-of-towners who promise to pay a single mother rent if they can sell drugs from the apartment. That deal wouldn't sound so good if the mother was not spending three-fourths of her income on housing.
A drug problem of some sort or another will always exist in this relief-craving country, but if we could alleviate some of the pain that comes from high rent and crowding, we could at least cut down on some of the more bizarre manifestations of drug abuse -- such as murder.
Second, the state of recreational facilities for children who live in poor areas of the city is appalling.
There is no reason a child living on Montana Terrace NE must walk past drug dealers in order to get into a recreation center. If police had been assigned to patrol the recreation hall months ago, they probably would not be out busting 12-year-olds for selling drugs outside the center today.
In the upper-crust neighborhoods of the city, fathers do this kind of policing as volunteers. Unfortunately, there aren't that many fathers in these poor neighborhoods.
People in this town talk a good game about wanting to "do something." Well, there is a lot that pepole can do in a recreation center.
In the absence of volunteers, however, better to pay police to do it and save lives than spend all of that overtime money on something as ludicrous as Operation Clean Sweep, which just runs people in and out of jail, from neighborhood to neighborhood.
There is no question that a well-run recreation center can get a kid as high as any drug. Any city serious about curbing the drug problem must have adequate recreation facilities for the children.
Next is drug treatment. Come on, folks. How can we as residents, in the same breath, say we want to solve this problem but "not in my neighborhood"?
For those who are already hooked, who are sick, drug treatment is essential, although -- admittedly -- not always successful. But it is worth a try.
I offer no guarantees with these suggestions. It's just something to think about. In a subsequent column, I hope to present alternatives for generating income and placing the value of money in its proper perspective.
For those of you still wondering what you can do now, consider what D.C. Public Health Commissioner Reed V. Tuckson said at the meeting last week:
"I want to get mad at what's going on. But I can't," he said. "I must get energized. I can understand people getting angry, but don't get so angry with your children that you forget to love them. You can start by hugging your child today."