The good folks in Wichita Falls, Texas are celebrating the arrest of 44 drug kingpins, with four or five additional arrests waiting in the wings.
“It’s a good number of arrests, but the reality is there are probably still five-times as many of these types of criminals out there,” Sheriff David Duke told the Wichita Falls Times Record News. “It’s a scary thing to think that this stuff is being sold in our neighborhoods, near our children. A lot of these dealers are armed because of competition with other dealers. And many will steal, rob and commit financial crimes to facilitate their operations.”
No one associated with the infamous Tulia drug sting of 1999 can read these words without recalling the proud pronouncements of Swisher County Sheriff Larry Stewart and his undercover man, Tom Coleman.
If you’re guessing that three-quarters of the arrestees are African-American, the Wichita Falls paper was kind enough to publish their mug shots in living color. Frequent references to “manufacture/delivery of a controlled substance” suggests that we are generally dealing with methamphetamine cases.
Many of the adulatory submissions to the comments section are vintage Tulia, but there’s a big difference. Twelve years have passed since the big Tulia roundup, and public skepticism has grown considerably. Consider this astute comment:
I support getting hard drugs off the streets, but your just looking at the “44 busted” title and not looking deeper into the story. Of the photos and names listed today, 34 of them were busted for “under 1 gram”, added together, that’s less than 2 table spoons. 3 were arrested for non-drug related charges. Only 2 listed were actually carrying any “weight”. How much money did it cost for this multi-department operation? While we cut funding to education? The aim isn’t to clean up the streets, its to fill the jail so that they can approach the city again to request the funding to build a new jail. A request the city has previously declined. The war on drugs has failed, it will always fail, where there is a demand, there will be a supply, and someone will step up to provide that supply.
A surprising number of readers understood that few of those arrested were getting rich off the drug trade, many of them (possibly most) are drug users moving a little product to support their habits, and that the pictures of the folks who are really financing the illegal drug trade in Wichita Falls won’t be found among the mug shots.
Several readers also understand that this drug bust, even if it proves to be by-the-book in every respect, will do nothing to reduce the availability of illegal drugs in their town.
These sentiments rocked the lock-em-up folks back on their heels. If sending dozens of user/dealers to the Texas Gulag for a decade or more doesn’t serve as a deterrent, what will?
Some advocated paying informants to rat on their neighbors (they were informed that this is standard procedure). Others suggested that an Arizona-style tent city, or asset forfeiture would teach the bad guys a lesson. They were informed that the Texas Commission on Jail Standards rules out the tent city idea, and that asset forfeiture is a routine (and frequently abused) practice in Texas.
Tragically, no one on either side of the war on drugs debate acknowledged that the folks in the mug shots are children of God and American citizens in good standing; in all the comments, the defendants are faceless and heartless thugs.
But I urge you spend a few moments looking at the pictures published in the Wichita Falls paper. These folks (especially the older folks) clearly have a sad history behind them–methamphetamine has clearly worked its magic. The desperation in the eyes of several arrestees suggests that their biggest concern is finding their next hit.
These are broken people, folks. Are they fully responsible for their plight? Yes. Are we fully responsible? Yes. Their damnation will not be our salvation, it will simply nudge us all a bit closer to hell.