Pubdate: Wed, 02 Nov 2005
Source: Mountain Xpress (NC)
Copyright: 2005 Mountain Xpress
Author: Robert F. Wilson


A candidate for public office recently observed that the most serious 
problem facing Asheville is the problem of "hard drugs" and the 
attendant problems of child abuse, domestic violence, crime, etc. One 
is not sure what is meant by the term "hard drugs," but usually it is 
meant to refer to illegal drugs like cocaine (especially crack 
cocaine) and heroin.

Excluded are generally legal drugs like alcohol, tobacco and 
caffeine, and the illegal drug marijuana.

There are at least two problems with this way of framing "the 
problem." One is that all the problems cited in relation to the use 
of hard drugs occur in much greater frequency in any community as a 
result of alcohol use. The other is that the core problem is seen as 
residing in the drugs themselves and in their use and distribution. 
In reality, these drugs are primarily consumed in communities other 
than where their effects are most often observed.

The communities most identified with hard-drug use and distribution 
in Asheville are public-housing neighborhoods. Asheville's 
public-housing neighborhoods are predominantly populated by people of 
color with low incomes.

The epidemiological data on drug use indicates that drugs are used 
more heavily by white people, and that use increases with income.

The "problems" seen by our local officials are the result of 
something other than the drugs themselves.

Drug-control policy in this country virtually assures that the drugs 
that are most identified as problems by politicians will be 
distributed by the people, and in the communities, most at the 
margins of society. This is because those people most marginalized 
have the least to lose by engaging in behavior that has the potential 
for resulting in long prison terms.

And it occurs in those marginalized communities because of the 
dominating influence of the most marginalized residents and 
interlopers who come into those neighborhoods to engage in illegal activity.

Public-housing neighborhoods -- in large part -- replaced true, 
organic communities, in which there was a diversity of residential, 
social and economic activity, with artificial residential 
neighborhoods isolated from a robust economic and social life. The 
Block in Asheville is only one of several vibrant neighborhoods that 
urban renewal "renewed" into oblivion.

The dual and complementary problems of racism and poverty are both 
cause and result of the manner in which our community has chosen to 
beautify itself and remove the least empowered of our citizens out of 
day-to-day public view. (Except, of course, for those pesky homeless 
people who continue to besmirch our streets with their nervy 
panhandling. Here's a suggestion for all of you who find the unwashed 
panhandlers unnerving: Smile at them, nod at them, indicate you 
recognize they are human beings, even if you are not going to give 
them any money.)

It is noble that some of our public officials want to get rid of the 
hard-drug problem. (This is, it should be noted, contradictory to the 
Bush administration's conviction that the "real" drug problem is 
marijuana, and if people would just stop using that drug they 
wouldn't go on to hard drugs.

These people are even more clueless than our local officials.) The 
problems that people identify with hard drugs are, in fact, problems 
attendant to racism and poverty, and until our -- or any -- community 
is really ready to address these problems, drug dealing, violence, 
crime and child abuse will be observed disproportionately in those 
communities with the least resources to address them.

- -- Robert F. Wilson

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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman