An Unlikely Battlefield In The Drug War

An Unlikely Battlefield In The Drug War
Posted by FoM on July 09, 2000 at 08:04:28 PT
By Paul Pringle, The Dallas Morning News
Source: Dallas Morning News
 Pioneer Park was named for the clean-living founders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The neatly groomed common of shade trees and footpaths is six blocks from Temple Square, world headquarters of the Mormon faith.It is also a prime location for scoring drugs."They're here if you want them," said Kathy Kennedy, 48, an admitted alcoholic and former heroin addict who has dabbled in cocaine and methamphetamine. 
Unemployed for years, she was killing the afternoon in the park, as she does most days. "There's every kind of drug. This isn't different than any other city."Salt Lake may be the last place one would expect to find a thriving narcotics culture. After all, the teachings of the Mormon Church  which remains Utah's dominant institution and is the wellspring of its law-and-order politics  forbid even coffee and cigarettes.But the drug scourge has not spared the Utah capital, for reasons that Mormon leaders concede may be beyond the church's powers of spiritual persuasion. They include the same earthly temptations, family failings and youthful rebelliousness that bedevil any community."I wish we knew why these things happen," said Harold Brown, management director of the church's social services programs. "We have our share of problems. We wish we didn't."Over the last few years, authorities in the greater Salt Lake area have reported sharp increases in the trafficking of heroin; cocaine; marijuana; methamphetamine, also known as crank or speed; and so-called club drugs such as ecstasy and GHB. The proliferation of meth laboratories has been especially dramatic."Meth is all around," said Ms. Kennedy, who moved here from Oregon last fall. Bone-thin and bleary-eyed, her face pitted with sores, she pointed toward a distant corner framed by maples and elms. "You can buy meth right down there. You can buy anything."Top-10 Drug State: Utah ranks among the top 10 states for total meth labs and No. 1 for "speed" cookeries per capita, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. In the early 1990s, the DEA and local police agencies raided about a half-dozen labs a year in the Beehive State. They busted 266 in 1999  mainly in the Salt Lake region  and are on a pace to at least equal that number this year.The typically closet-sized labs are turning up throughout the city and county, from downtown hotel rooms to suburban garages to foothill shanties along the emerald Wasatch Mountains. Outside Salt Lake, meth makers favor the deep recesses of Utah's national forests. The state has also posted record confiscations of speed smuggled into the country by Mexican dealers. "I didn't think there would be this much of a problem here. All I knew about Salt Lake City was the religion and things like that," said Keith, a Salt Lake DEA investigator who joined the federal bureau in 1998, after 15 years as a Dallas police officer. He asked that his last name be withheld because he works undercover.The 38-year-old agent, who was wearing a Dallas Cowboys T-shirt, fought off a yawn. He had been up since 4 a.m. to kick in the door of a suspected meth lab. The target was a small house in a quiet, blue-collar neighborhood within a mile of the DEA building. "There's a lot more meth here than in Dallas," said Keith, taking in the building's third-floor view of church spires, the skyline's signature feature. "It was surprising."The magnitude of the meth epidemic also surprised Lisa Jorgensen, a state children services worker assigned to the Salt Lake police. Her job is to rescue youngsters from drug-infested homes. In Salt Lake County, 65 percent of children taken from their parents by the state come from meth dens, according to the Utah Department of Human Services. "They live in just deplorable, chronic, horrible neglect," said Ms. Jorgensen, who was hunched over a computer at the downtown police station. "We get 20 to 25 cases a month."The DEA has expanded its Salt Lake staff to root out the meth labs. Federal prosecutors have also cracked down. They are zeroing in on meth peddlers who use Utah's sparsely inhabited highway corridors to ship the drug from Mexico. Since 1996, the U.S attorney's office in Salt Lake has prosecuted nearly 1,000 Mexican nationals for drug crimes, most involving meth."We're the crossroads of the West for Mexican meth," said U.S. Attorney Paul Warner. Troubling Trend: Meth aside, Utah is not afflicted with the level of drug-related offenses found in much of the metropolitan West. Its violent crime rate is roughly 35 percent below that of Western states and the nation as a whole. Nevertheless, the Utah trend for all drugs has been troubling.Seizures of heroin, cocaine, marijuana, ecstasy and GHB are up by substantial margins, the DEA says. Ecstasy and GHB top the list, soaring from 3,034 doses two years ago to 13,586 in 1999 and 120,827 in the first five months of this year."We hate to see it," said Salt Lake police Capt. Roger Winkler. He was standing in a windowless file room at the police station. The wall was plastered with mug shots of drug suspects arrested in Pioneer Park. "Utah has always been above this. It hits home."Ecstasy and GHB have exploded despite a Salt Lake club scene that is virtually dormant by non-Utah standards. The Mormon influence translates into tough limits on alcohol sales. Most bars require customers to buy memberships before imbibing. And they are often restricted to serving low-alcohol beer. But there is a sprinkling of nightspots in and around Salt Lake's hotel district, where construction is booming in anticipation of the 2002 Winter Olympics. And the blue laws apparently have done little to keep ecstasy and GHB out of the hands of young revelers."People can always find a connection," said Jan Hansen, a 20-year-old college student who was sipping a latte at Cup of Joe, a downtown coffeehouse. A jazz band was playing."Lots of things are frowned on here, but people still use them," said Mr. Hansen, a Salt Lake native. He sported a silver stud in his lower lip and a pair of earrings. "I've tried 'ex.'"His buddy and fellow student, Garrett Smith, 21, also told of sampling ecstasy. "At my high school here, there were only 20 good Mormons," Mr. Smith said, speaking above a saxophone wail. "The rest were, like, jocks who just wanted to get stoned."Widespread Plague: Salt Lake's drug counselors know the type. They have seen the demand for treatment spike 20 percent since the mid-1990s, driven largely by meth users under age 35. Clinic operators say that although most speed addicts are lower-income white people, the meth plague has cut across the socio-economic spectrum."I don't know why we're seeing proportionately more meth here than other places," said Dr. Bruce Jacobson, director of the Cornerstone clinic near downtown. "We wonder about that ourselves. ... "Obviously, we live in a more conservative area. But I can't say with any confidence or certainty what the influence of the Mormon Church is on the drug problem here."Barbara Hardy, who heads Salt Lake County's drug abuse programs, considers the church a mixed blessing in her mission. Its anti-drug strictures, she says, have undoubtedly steered countless young people away from narcotics. Then again, Ms. Hardy added, the church's pre-eminence may have fostered a false sense of security. Utah's population of 2.1 million is 70 percent Mormon, a figure that has been fairly constant for four decades. About 60 percent of the Salt Lake region's 1.2 million residents belong to the church."It's easier here to look the other way and say the drug problem doesn't happen," said Ms. Hardy. "Denial is a wonderful thing."Church spokesman Dale Bills sat down to discuss drugs in a paneled conference room at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, a renaissance revival monument to the religion's patriarch. The gem of marbled columns and stained-glass ceilings was once the Hotel Utah. It is across Main Street from Temple Square, whose six-spired worship hall is Salt Lake's tangible heart and soul. Tourists strolled the grounds behind high iron gates."Our message is the same, the doctrine is the same, the principles are the same," said Mr. Bills, referring to the church's stance on drugs. "We set a high standard, but not all kids are perfect."The church offers its own drug-treatment programs, including 57 weekly group-counseling sessions in Utah. "It's sort of our take on AA," said James Goodrich, the church's welfare director for northern Utah. Attendance is modest, however; 15 to 20 people turn out at each meeting. Mr. Brown, the Mormon social services executive, said the church has yet to see a marked upswing in demand for help."It has not been reported to me that we have any dramatic increases," he added. But he acknowledged that admission rolls at secular clinics might paint a darker picture.Don Mendrala, now in his fourth year as chief of the DEA's Salt Lake office, says he had envisioned a much brighter picture when he transferred here after stints in St. Louis and Chicago. "I thought this would be a nice, quiet community," he said. His desk phone was ringing. Night had begun to fall, a busy time. "I'd been completely unaware of the problems." The phone bleated away. Mr. Mendrala had to iron out the details of a predawn raid set for the following morning. "We want to get 'em while they're sleeping," he said.It was another meth lab. Not far from Pioneer Park. Salt Lake City, UtahPublished: July 9, 2000Copyright: 2000 The Dallas Morning NewsImportant:Committee On The JudiciaryU.S. House of RepresentativesWashington, D.C. 20515, July 11, 2000H.R. 2987, the "Methamphetamine Anti-Proliferation Act of 1999" Articles:Speed Limit 451
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Comment #7 posted by stupid stoner on July 10, 2000 at 20:48:48 PT
Dan B
I would like to comment on brother Dan's last quotes, as follows.AMEN!
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Comment #6 posted by CongressmanSuet on July 10, 2000 at 10:52:24 PT:
And too all you...
clean living, holier than thou Mormons, BAAAAH! (sorry, I couldnt resist). Remember, Joseph Smith, the founder of your "sect" was a convicted swindler who liked to charge people money to read their personalities using a phony magnetic box instrument. Im gonna have a drink and puff a cigarette now in his and you'r honor!
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Comment #5 posted by zion on July 10, 2000 at 03:28:28 PT
No offense taken, Dan.I just think that often religion is blamed for the WOD when I believe it is police and lazy parents who have done the damage and keep it going. True, religious organizations have been slow to condemn the abuses, but I believe that is changing. One can't keep supporting the draconian approach that law enforcement prefers and maintain a good relationship with God.
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Comment #4 posted by Dan B on July 09, 2000 at 23:19:42 PT:
In Response to Zion's Comments
Sorry, Zion, if my remarks offended you. I was addressing my comments to Harold Brown, who is the director of the Mormon Church's social services programs, and I recognize that he may not speak for all followers of the Mormon faith. In addition, I regret my wording when I addressed the church specifically. When I did so, I was responding to the remarks made by Harold Brown, and I should have specifically directed my remarks to him.Even so, I must address the issue of blame for the war on drugs. You are right to assert that the secular government is to blame for this scourge, but they did not create these laws in a vacuum. Many religious groups, including (but not limited to) many Christian churches and organizations, have always been strongly in favor of implementing these laws (see the recent article about the Women's Christian Temperance Union, for example), and many still support these laws, even when they see the damage they have caused to individuals and their families. Like it or not, the people who make the laws are politicians, and politicians are not likely to pass laws that will get them ejected from office. Religious groups have done much to further the cause of the drug war, often preaching drug war politics directly from the pulpit and often distorting the truth about drugs or, in the very least, distributing the government's distorted information. Some churches, like the Episcopal church, have actually come out against these laws and strongly support drug law reform, but sadly these groups are in the minority. It is true that the government originally developed and distributed faulty drug war information and that many religious organizations joined the drug war crusade after buying into false statements made by the government. But the fact that so few religious groups have taken the time to learn both sides of the drug war equation leads many of these groups to continue supporting these draconian laws. I honestly believe that most religious people do not want to cause harm to others, and I believe that many believe they are doing the right thing by supporting the war on drugs. Yet, too many times religious leaders have been irresponsible in their scholarship, the result being continued support of the war on drugs (which, as was previously stated, is really a war on drug users). I use passages from the Bible when addressing a Christian organization's stance concerning the drug war because I understand that the Bible is an authoritative text for followers of Christ. I want Christians (and I am one of them) to understand that Christ was/is not in favor of persecuting people for their sins. His primary goal as he walked the Earth was to give compassion and healing, to show tolerance and acceptance of everyone, regardless of lifestyle (that's why Christ kept the company of "sinners and tax collectors"). And I think that many Christian organizations have lost sight of the true nature of Christ, seeking to rid the world of both sin and sinners through legislation, rather than healing people's lives by showing God's grace through compassion and tolerance.I am not anti-religion (far from it), but I do understand the great impact churches can have in molding people's understandings of issues like the war on drugs. I think it is important to let the church know when it is wrong, and too many churches are wrong in their approaches to the drug war. Too many act as modern-day Pharisees, supporting harsh laws that do more damage than good. It is in this context that I wrote my comments to Harold Brown, and I apologize to those whom I offended.
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Comment #3 posted by FoM on July 09, 2000 at 20:13:49 PT
Good Comments Everyone
Just checking the comments and wanted to jump in this thread and say welcome back Dan! Hope you had a wonderful time. This is what is happening this week. I wonder what will happen? I guess we'll see real soon! Peace, FoM!Committee On The JudiciaryU.S. House of RepresentativesWashington, D.C. 20515, July 11, 2000H.R. 2987, the "Methamphetamine Anti-Proliferation Act of 1999"
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Comment #2 posted by zion on July 09, 2000 at 19:00:06 PT
Who's the chicken and who's the egg?
Is it religious zealots that are driving the secular government to embrace ever widening scope with criminalization of substance users/abusers? Or is the police agencies who are driving the zero tolerance, zero compassion approach, using religion as a convenient scapegoat to legitamize their crusade in the name of "morality"?I submit that secular government and police-state lobbyists have done the brunt of the damage that put us in this mess we now call the 19 billion dollar "U.S. War on Drug Users", and they are the ones that squarely deserve our disdain.
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Comment #1 posted by Dan B on July 09, 2000 at 14:57:59 PT:
Here's why, Harold Brown.
--"'I wish we knew why these things happen,' said Harold Brown, management director of the church's social services programs.We know why these things happen. They happen because religious zealots who don't bother to learn the basics of human behavior and motivation try cramming their twisted sensibilities down our throats by way of force and manipulation. They happen because religious leaders have enlisted the government in their religious crusades, rather than teaching tolerance and compassion (two things very important to Jesus Christ, by the way). Prison terms, illegal searches and seizures, fines--none of these reflect tolerance and compassion. None of these are the examples of Jesus of Nazareth.They happen because people are no longer allowed control over their own decisions. When decisions are made for people, people rebel. This war on people disguised as a war on drugs in the name of religion is the single greatest threat to American freedoms and, perhaps more importantly for those members of the Mormon Church who want to attract followers, the single greatest threat to acceptance of religious faith.Hear the words of your God, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints:"But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of Heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in..."Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness." (Matthew 23: 13, 27-28).
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