It’s an oft-repeated movie scene that plays out too often in real life — a person of means drives into a poorer neighborhood looking for trouble. Typically, that means trolling for drugs.
What those buyers obviously don’t care about, whether they’re addicts or recreational users, is the trouble they cause for the communities they cruise. For example, a recent Star Tribune news story about drug-related arrests in north Minneapolis found that more than half of those arrested didn’t live in the neighborhood. In fact, nearly one in seven of the arrests involved people from the region’s affluent western suburbs.
Yet based on the total number of arrests and drug incidents, the North Side is labeled as a “high crime’’ area. Officials say drug transactions fuel additional, ancillary crime and public safety threats that also plague areas where drug deals happen.
Gang activity, shootings and other crimes that tear down communities are often rooted in the high demand for drugs. Drug buyers also make frequent stops at taverns and are more likely to be engaged in prostitution. Many buyers sample their purchases immediately, meaning they drive under the influence.
According to the news story, last year 56 percent of the nearly 1,400 drug-related arrests in north Minneapolis involved people who live outside the area. Examples included a 38-year-old Prior Lake woman who was pulled over near North Commons Park and a 35-year-old Eagan man who was arrested in the Shingle Creek neighborhood. Both were charged with drug possession.
It’s certainly not news to residents of the North Side and other challenged neighborhoods that outsiders contribute to their crime problems. But the telling statistics should open the eyes of outsiders who are quick to demonize the places where drug transactions occur.
Instead of labels, the focus should be on reducing demand and disrupting sales. U.S. Attorney Andy Luger and Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek say that technology has changed drug dealing in recent years, making it highly mobile and nimble. Today’s dealers use cellphones and text messages so that they can move quickly and carry smaller amounts, making it difficult to track and build cases.
In response, Luger said his office is pursuing smaller heroin dealers in addition to those involved in larger shipments. Both officials said they need expanded neighborhood vigilance to keep watch and report suspicious activity. Prevention is critical, too. More education in communities with all types of income levels can help stop drug abuse before it starts.
Like effective anti-smoking campaigns, strong messages about the perils and consequences of drug use can help steer people away. Friends, families and others need to encourage drug users to get help. Just imagine how much safer neighborhoods like north Minneapolis would be if those buyers with money who provide an expanding customer base would quit using and quit buying.