Ten-Year-Olds on Drugs

Ten-Year-Olds on Drugs
Posted by FoM on February 05, 2000 at 07:39:06 PT
By Colbert I. King
Source: Washington Post
You've got to hand it to those pols down at One Judiciary Square, laughingly referred to as "leaders." They sure know how to make themselves look like unsupervised seventh-graders--the food fight over the school system's governance structure being the latest example. They want respect. They're not going to get it this way. What's worse, the mayor's and D.C. Council's antics are a distraction from the real problems that are eating away at the District's social fabric.
The story is found in the cold statistics produced by the D.C. Pretrial Services Agency. They have an almost numbing quality.Fifty-four juveniles, age 16, were arrested in the District last December. Thirty-two of them, or 59 percent, tested positive for drugs. Thirty-two 15-year-olds were also arrested; 19 of them, or 59 percent, had drugs in their system. Another piece of data: A 12-year-old apprehended by the D.C. police also tested positive for drugs.November wasn't any better. No, it was worse. Of 49 16-year-olds taken into police custody, 71 percent tested positive for cocaine, marijuana or PCP; 22 15-year-olds placed under arrest also tested positive for drugs.One November entry jumps off the page: Two 10-year-old children arrested--one tested positive for drugs.Would that only one arrested preadolescent turned up with drugs in his system last year. Not by a long shot. There was a 12-year-old in October, a 10-year-old in September, two 12-year-olds in July, one 11-year-old in June, two 12-year-olds in May, one 10-year-old in April, one 12-year-old in March, one 10-year-old in February and one 12-year-old in January. All tested positive for drugs.The nation's capital.These statistics reflect drug usage among juveniles arrested and tested prior to their initial court hearings. They say nothing about D.C. children and teenagers outside the criminal justice system who are using marijuana, cocaine and PCP. It's a safe bet, however, that illegal drug use isn't confined to only those who've been busted.And don't think for a moment that the November and December statistics are some kind of anomaly. Check this out. The detection of drugs in the systems of arrested juveniles has been relatively constant over the past five years. The percentages of arrested juveniles testing positive for drugs from 1995 through 1999 tell the story: 60 percent in 1995; 64 percent in '96; 64 percent in '97; 64 percent in '98; and 65 percent last year. In fact, according to the agency's most recent report, year-end totals of PCP use among arrested juveniles increased from 1998 to 1999. So did marijuana use. Only cocaine use decreased from 1998 to 1999--by one percentage point.Enough with the numbers. Where am I headed with this?Think back carefully. When was the last time you heard anyone in a position of responsibility in this city, from the mayor to the council, from preacher to business or labor leader, call for a serious and sustained public campaign against the scourge of drugs on the youth--and soul--of this city.Yet it's hard to identify a more corrupting element in the District. This week's Post story by Allan Lengel on the police department's latest crusade against open-air drug markets offered a glimpse into the damage that illegal drugs, and those who deal them, are inflicting on the District's next generation.The piece showed what a number of us have seen or have suspected was going on in some of our neighborhoods: Young children and teenagers serving as lookouts for drug hustlers, tipping them off by phones or beepers when the police are spotted; drug dealers buying loyalty and protection by bribing kids with trinkets and slipping cash to their mothers.Drug dealers not only are defiling our communities; they are corrupting our children. Imagine--boys and girls as young as 5 or 6 years old being taught that the police, not drug peddlers, are the ones to watch out for; that helping people break the law or lying in their defense is okay if it gets you some money in return; that cash is king and everything else is a distant second.And what's being done about it? Virtually nothing. Irresponsible parents who are letting the streets raise their children are allowed to wriggle off the hook with alibis about being stressed out by the woes of daily living or some such rot. ("Careful now, we don't want to injure their self-esteem.")Politicians know they don't make themselves popular, and pastors know it doesn't help the collection plate, when they start hammering at the destructive conduct that is tolerated in some of our communities. They keep their disapproval to themselves--except in the privacy of their homes or when they are among friends. Better to utter platitudes and get on with it.As for children from homes where adult supervision and discipline are missing and disrespect for authority is spawned, we mandate that they be dispatched to public school each day for superintendent Arlene Ackerman, her principals and teachers to somehow "fix."Oh, but it would be false to say this is a city that doesn't care, that can't get fired up.Just let some issue with potentially juicy overtones of color and class come along--such as replacing an elected school board with an appointed panel--and watch as the adrenaline starts pumping in our demagogues, racial paranoiacs and conspiracy theorists. As a city, we can sure get into that stuff.Even as loads of our children are going to hell. Saturday, February 5, 2000; Page A19  Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company
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