Many government officials are finally admitting the war on drugs is a costly failure. That lesson is on display daily in this city.
Inquirer reporter Alfred Lubrano, in an article Sunday, detailed the devastation and despair wrought by the illicit drug trade in the Kensington neighborhood. Generations are being lost to cycles of addiction, violence, and a shortage of legal alternatives.
The article is part of an ongoing series on poverty and hunger in the city's First Congressional District, the second-poorest in the nation. In the article, University of Pennsylvania anthropologist Philippe Bourgois, who's living in Kensington part-time, chronicles the lives of drug dealers.
The story (found at go.philly.com/drugsdilemma) should be required reading for anyone who cares about trying to reverse decades of decay in the cities.
Kensington has been in the news recently as police search for a man who has strangled three women and attacked several others. The murder victims all had battled drug addictions. Beyond this immediate crisis lie other problems that can't be solved solely by law enforcement.
Drug dealers, who can earn up to $2 million per year, are hauled off to jail by police routinely. Usually, though, they're back on the street within hours. If not, rivals replace them. They work in a landscape of closed factories and crumbling housing stock neglected by absentee landlords.
There aren't enough jobs, especially in this weak economy. Even if well-paying jobs were available, the lucrative drug trade is too tempting for many to resist.
Most suburb dwellers try to avoid such neighborhoods. But one type of suburbanite helps to fuel the problem - the addicts who regularly drive to Kensington to buy drugs. The police see them all the time, and hear their lame excuses. Got lost looking for that fancy restaurant? Right.
The United States has spent at least $1 trillion on the war on drugs, but the streets of Kensington prove it hasn't worked. The job for police is as endless, Bourgois observed, as "sweeping sunshine off the sidewalk."
There must be consequences for people who violate the law, but the criminal-justice system alone can't solve the problem.
Nationally, there must be more focus on treatment and reducing America's appetite for drugs. Meanwhile, city and state officials must focus on policies that return jobs to the city. Not all the young people who give over their lives to drugs and violence can be saved, but more can be helped.