The Real Victims
August 19, 2000
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The metro section of today's New York Times carries on its front page a classic example of the kind of limousine-liberal- style coverage that so often puts the newspaper at odds with the interests of law-abiding working-class people who live in the city. Under the headline "Lawyers Say Drug War's Tactics Draw Addicts Into Serious Crimes," the article focuses on complaints by Legal Aid lawyers that police are entrapping "impoverished addicts" into distributing drugs, then charging them with the more serious crime of distribution.
Smartertimes.com is against entrapment. But the Times might make a more credible case against the police's practices if it avoided some of the silliness in today's article.
To begin with, there are the references to "impoverished addicts" and to "lawyers for the indigent." "Impoverished" and "indigent" is the way the limousine liberals over at the Times say "poor." Part of the reason these addicts are poor is because they are spending their money on drugs. They seem to have enough money to support their drug habits. But the Times wants us to feel sorry for them.
The figure the Times most wants us to feel sorry for is a man called Steven Flowers, who is the main example used in today's article. The article tells us he has been "hooked on crack for 10 years," and that his encounter with police came when he was sitting on the stoop of his Harlem apartment house at 2 a.m.
We wonder how Mr. Flowers's law-abiding neighbors feel about having crack addicts hanging out on stoops in the neighborhood at 2 a.m., and whether they share the chagrin of the Times and the Legal Aid lawyers when the police try to put the addicts away for the longest possible period of time. We wonder this because there is no indication of it in the article, which contains quotes from the Legal Aid lawyers and Mr. Flowers but not a word from law-abiding citizens in the neighborhood. It's those folks, not Mr. Flowers, who are the real victims in this story. The neighborhoods that most Times reporters and editors and readers live in don't have crack addicts hanging out on the stoops at 2 a.m., which may be why the Times has so little sympathy for the measures that police are taking to correct the problem.
This morning's story contains some wonderful examples of those code words that reporters use to tell you just where they stand on a story -- "even" and "of course." The story tells us, for example, that "there were even a handful of cases in which people ran off with the $10 or $20 bills supplied by the undercover officers and were then arrested and charged with theft." The word "even" is a nudge from the reporter to the reader that says, "gee, can you believe this? Those police sure have crossed the line."
While the tales of the Legal Aid lawyers get the "even" treatment, the response of the police gets the "of course" treatment. The Times article says, "The police, of course, have a radically different view of the practice. 'If you go over to somebody and say, "I'm looking for drugs," and they say, "Hold on, I can get you some," then they're a dealer,' said Deputy Chief Thomas P. Fahey, a police spokesman. 'Arresting them is not an unacceptable practice.'" The "of course" is a nudge from the reporter to the reader that says, "don't pay much attention to this next sentence or two. It's just what you would expect the police to say."
A substantial section of the article is devoted to clients of methadone maintenance programs. The clients resell extra bottles of methadone to undercover police officers and are charged with crimes. The methadone programs are mainly funded by the federal and state government on the theory that methadone is better than heroin. But the very inclusion of the methadone examples in a story about how the drug war "ensnares addicts" serves to support Mayor Giuliani's contention that, rather than curing heroin addiction, methadone programs simply create methadone addicts. In an August 18, 1998 editorial, the Times wrote "Abstinence is a worthy goal, but medical experts say that methadone-to-abstinence does not work for many heroin addicts. They often need to take methadone for years at a time. Most scientists in the field consider methadone to be a medical treatment for heroin addiction, not a substitute dependency, as Mr. Giuliani insists." Well, if the methadone addicts aren't methadone addicts but just former heroin addicts accepting medical treatment, why is the Times including them in this story about how the police are preying on addicts?
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