Progress is being made in the "war on drugs," says William J. Bennett, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
"Overall, it's no longer getting worse," he told a seminar at the American Press Institute yesterday. "Public outcry over drugs deserves the credit."
But before District residents give Bennett a round of applause, it should be noted that he was not talking about us.
He was talking about Kansas City, where Al Brooks and a group called Black Men Together hold regular night patrols through drug-infested areas. He was talking about Los Angeles, where the police chief is credited with reducing by more than half 230 open-air drug markets.
He even mentioned New York City, where, he says, "Kids are now regarding 'crackheads' the same as we used to regard winos."
When it comes to his own back yard, however, Bennett adds a caveat: "It's not getting better everywhere."
The fact is, it's getting worse here.
With all the hoopla over today's primary elections, to say nothing about relief over the end of Mayor Marion Barry's drug trial, attention has drifted away from the cold-blooded facts of life in this city.
The homicide rate continues to skyrocket. As of yesterday, 328 people had been slain this year, and many of the killings were drug-related. Crack- addicted babies, deformed and in agony, are still being born in record numbers as the first wave of boarder babies now enters kindergarten.
Psychotic, drug-crazed men and women -- on foot and in cars -- pose even greater threats to homes, neighborhoods and schools.
Progress is being made, says Bennett. Just not here.
From Raleigh, N.C., to South Dallas, Tex., drug use is being "denormalized," Bennett says. In Charleston, S.C., Minneapolis and Tampa, drug use no longer enjoys the celebrity status that it did during the "me generation" of the 1980s.
"You can't even get a drink or a cigarette at a Hollywood party," Bennett says he was told by a recovering drug addict in Beverly Hills.
Even the crisis in the Persian Gulf has not impaired the successful drug interdiction efforts in the Gulf of Mexico, Bennett asserts, adding, "We're optimistic about our cooperation with Bolivia and Colombia."
But not D.C.
"It ain't no model city," he says. "We took it up because it was bleeding to death. I'm pleased to say that we did what we could. But it's no secret: There is just no consuming passion against drugs in D.C."
Predictably, Bennett lays much of the blame at the feet of Mayor Barry, who was videotaped by the FBI smoking crack earlier this year and who was recently convicted on a misdemeanor drug possession charge.
"When kids see a Rayful Edmond III making millions selling drugs, they like what they see for lack of better choices," Bennett said in an obvious jab at Barry.
But poor role models was only one of Bennett's complaints about the District government.
"We liked Sterling Tucker," Bennett said, referring to the District's anti-drug czar. "But he's gone. We spent most of our time with him trying to get his telephone calls to the city returned."
Tucker tried his best, Bennett said, to make sure that the District received federal money earmarked for the city's war on drugs.
"But the money was lost because the city failed to put the grant applications in," Bennett said.
"When you look at which cities are getting better and which are getting worse, the main variable is effort," he said. "It's the difference between who is throwing up his hands in despair -- and who is fighting back."
All across the country, Bennett claims, the national attitude toward drugs is changing for the better. Interdiction efforts are becoming more and more successful. More people are receiving treatment as they discover that drugs just don't pay. There is a decline in casual drug use, he says, and the country appears to have reached a peak in the epidemic of addictive drug usage.
But not in D.C.