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Faking The Funk About Drug Busts
3/1/2017 3:34:15 PM

By Barney Blakeney 

I love writing these editorial columns. It gives me the chance to step away from my role as a news reporter and allows me to write what I think about stuff. But that comes with a cost. Others don’t always agree with what I think and sometimes that costs me.

Recently a friend asked after reading one of my columns if I didn’t mind losing friendships with the subject in the column because I criticized the guy’s actions. Well, writing op-ed columns ain’t about friendship, it’s about offering a perspective on issues pertinent to readers. Of course, it’s never good to tick off people in high places, so I had to think hard and long about writing this column. The last thing I need to do is tick off a bunch of cops.

But I’ve just got to say something about the recent announcement by North Charleston police they conducted a two-year undercover operation that netted some 42 suspects and 58 guns. When I got the press release I balked at first glance – two years, 42 arrests and 58 guns! I said to myself, heck I could walk from one end of the Macon to the other and identify more criminals carrying guns than that. I thought, heck every wannabe thug between Azalea Drive and Ashley Phosphate Road carries a gun. And I begin can’t imagine the amount of illegal drugs that can be found within that area.

At the same time I kept telling myself to be fair in my assessment of the cops’ initiative. As a cop reporter I know that identifying criminals and arresting them are two different things. There’s a little piece of paper called the U.S. Constitution that must be considered. People have rights, even criminals. Cops’ jobs are to catch criminals and criminals’ jobs are not to be caught. The smart ones in each of those groups do their jobs well. But of course, there are other factors in the equation.

There’s big money in illegal drug trafficking. North Charleston cops didn’t say whether or how much money they confiscated in the raids that resulted in 21 arrests, but a Charleston sweep last year after a six-month operation netted nine arrests, over $200,000 in cash, five pounds of weed and 1.5 pounds of cocaine in addition to pills valued at over $150,000. And all of that came from a bunch of College of Charleston students. One report of the bust characterized network of perpetrators as brazen and hiding in plain sight. The same goes for North Charleston. But I’ve got to give the police credit. Police work is no easy job. Cops will tell you, there’s nothing routine about what they do every day. A traffic stop or domestic dispute could end badly for the cop who has to confront the subjects. It often does. Those guys do a heck of a job, but like the rest of us, they’re hampered by their leadership.

I’m convinced most cops know how to do the job of eliminating crime and want to do that job. But that’s not always true with their leadership. The big dogs know how this works – the huge economic impact of illegal drug. I can’t believe that some of our municipal leaders can hold office decade after decade and not be able to figure out how things work. Either they’re too dense to figure out what to do or they don’t want to do anything.

In one report attorney Bill Nettles said despite the public perception of making sweeping arrests, our community won’t arrest its way out of the criminal quagmire we’re in. It’s a comment I’ve heard before. Charleston County Sheriff Deputy Chief Mitch Lucas says it all the time. Lucas, when he was chief jailor at the detention center once noted the jail was full and said we could fill three more – that was before Charleston County built its newest $100 million jail facility – and we still wouldn’t make a dent in criminal activity until we did some other things.

It’s common knowledge that it costs more to incarcerate someone than to educate that person, yet North Charleston schools are among the lowest performing academically in the county. North Charleston’s schools comprise the county’s largest constituent school district. And it has its highest concentration of African American students. So why aren’t municipal leaders in North Charleston making more resources available to their schools? We’ve got black elected officials in North Charleston living next door to murder scenes. They watch crimes being committed in their neighborhoods each day. I can’t imagine that happening in neighborhoods where white elected officials live.

And for many in those crime infested neighborhoods, the only opportunity for employment is slinging drugs. I can just hear one Silly Lilly who has sat in municipal office 25 years without introducing one ordinance to benefit her constituents saying, “They should get a job!” How does a black boy whose education has been stifled from Day-1 get a decent job after dropping out of school at 15 because there was no parent, no church, nobody there to look out for him? The leaders in the criminal justice system know that boy is a prime candidate for the economic machine that is our prison industrial complex.

I once covered a story about a local bail bondsman who, working for a local attorney, would bond arrested drug dealers out of jail, supply them with a new stash of drugs and send them back to the street to make the money owed for getting them out of jail and for their legal defense. It was a vicious cycle. Eventually the bail bondsman got caught running drugs up to South Carolina from Florida. His wife asked me to expose the attorney for his role in the game.

Many of our elected officials and some of our police leaders are complicit in the “find ‘em, fool ‘em forget about ‘em” charade where they conduct periodic activities to make it look like they’re working to eliminate crime. They know that until some things happen outside of law enforcement, the status quo won’t change. Law enforcement budgets are among every municipality’s highest. There’s big money in crime and not just for the criminals. I’m thinking the real criminals may be the ones making the announcements.

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