Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Drug Draft

When I went with Tim and Dallas to the Sheriff's Department, one of the first decisions that was made was that we would have no secrets from the people who paid our wages, namely, the taxpayers. As a result, press releases flowed from the Sheriff's Department to the various media organizations in the county on a regular basis. We shared it all - the good, the bad and the ugly. We figured people expected us to be compentent but they didn't require perfection. Some things will happen despite your best efforts to prevent them - deputies will get suspended, prisoners will escape, cars will be wrecked - but people will understand as long as you are honest with them.

If you think about it, most politicians who have run into really serious trouble brought it on themselves by trying to hide their original transgression. It wasn't so much the break-in at the Watergate that brought down Richard Nixon, it was the cover up afterwards. It wasn't dallying with Monica in the Oval Office that got Clinton impeached, it was lying about it. It wasn't arms for hostages that opened Ronald Reagan to a years-long investigation, it was denying it. Belatedly, he accepted responsibility and was able to avoid serious political repercussions.

Washington is currently being run by the most secretive administration of my lifetime, perhaps of anyone's lifetime. The Bush administration prefers not to tell us anything. Of course, they try to lay it on 911, as they do everything, but that doesn't really wash. Would knowing who attended Vice-president's Cheney's meetings on energy really compromise national security or would it just confirm that Big Oil pretty much wrote our energy policy? Did they go back and re-classify papers that had been de-classified for decades because they were concerned for our safety or are they simply paranoid about allowing the people to know too much? Did they lie about their reasons for going to war with Iraq because they didn't think they could sell the war to the American people if they knew the case for weapons of mass destruction was as weak as it was? When your government officials lie to you for your "own good", you need to start being being paranoid yourself.

But we don't have to go so far afield to be concerned about official secrets. We have our own problems right here. Take the situation with the Wabash High School Girl's Softball Team suspending the rest of its season. The rumors were that some members of the team were involved with heroin. I've heard that myself and I think my sources are pretty credible. Principal Celia Briggs has denied those rumors but if they aren't true, she also hasn't informed the public what the truth really is. In the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, she is quoted as saying, "so people are looking at this like, 'wow, they suspended softball, it must be a big deal.'" She implies that what happened wasn't a "big deal", but if that is so, then why not just say what it was, rather than let the ugly rumors swirl? The only thing the public is told is that there were violations of the school's athletic code. What does that mean? I would think the students involved would want the real truth revealed rather than be tarred by the continued suspicion of heroin use. You have to be extremely careful in dealing with juveniles that their privacy is respected so I wouldn't expect names but if in fact, heroin was involved, the community as a whole needs to know it, mainly, so they can start to realize what a problem drugs, in general, and heroin, in particular, have become so we can begin to mobilize against it.

And I think most of us who don't work in law enforcement or in the judicial system truly don't have a clue how pervasive drugs, serious drugs, are here. I believe if most ordinary citizens had any idea how many overdoses happen in Wabash County, they would be shocked. I can count at least half a dozen in the last few weeks and I'm sure I don't know all of them. Some caused death while others only resulted in emergency room treatment and/or mental health counseling. I know of people who have suffered brain damage and of people who had to be treated through the neck because they'd blown out most of their veins mainlining. I know people who committed armed robberies in a desperate effort to get money for heroin. I know people who risk their own lives and the lives of others, including their children, in the dangerous process of obtaining the ingredients to make meth and in the even more dangerous process of "cooking" meth. I know parents whose hearts have been broken by children who "chose" heroin over college. And we can't write all these folks off as the "usual suspects". Drugs are now invading every socio-economic level.

We don't know about a lot of these situations because they aren't publicized. You never read in an obituary that someone died of an overdose or was rushed to an emergency room because of an overdose or was detained to a mental health care facility because of drug abuse. Naturally enough, it isn't something families want revealed. We are kind enough as a society to allow them to protect their loved ones. That is understandable, just as it is understandable that a principal wants to protect the reputation of her school and the privacy of her students.

But, I think perhaps, it is time for the secrecy to end. You can't fight a war when you don't have even a rudimentary understanding of your enemy. We have a drug task force in the county - two full-time city officers and an on again-off again county deputy, who I hope will remain on the task force permanently. Three officers is a lot for a county our size but despite their best efforts, they are overwhelmed by the enormity of their task. They can't do it alone. It is going to take all of our efforts - parents, teachers, other public officials, media, you and me- and knowledge is ammunition. The drug war here is rather like the Iraq war. It is being fought strictly by volunteers but not much is asked of the rest of us. I think it is time to initiate a draft.