Thursday, October 3, 1996
Drug fighters stand up to street hoods

The Cincinnati Enquirer

My plan was to tell you about the drug dealers, the sleazy denizens of a criminal world you'd never see if I weren't along as your guide. I would give fascinating descriptions of these miscreants. I would use words like ''miscreants'' and ''denizens'' to prove how smart I am.

Once again, I overestimated myself and underestimated everybody else.

First of all, anybody can see a drug dealer, any time. They're on street corners all over town. Second, they aren't fascinating. In fact, they are boring and ordinary. And cowardly, if I may say so. Mostly kids. Dangerous kids, of course. They routinely kill each other and their customers.

Last year, 35 percent of murders here were drug-related. This is not counting the addicts who aren't yet officially dead. Since 1990, trafficking arrests among juveniles have increased 800 percent. The thugs are ages 9 to 18. Some of their ''helpers'' are as young as 6.

Powerful friends

''Drug trafficking is a big problem here in Cincinnati, especially among minority groups,'' Cincinnati City Councilman Charles Winburn said in February. ''Nobody has been talking about it.'' Well, I have always said that talking is one of the things Mr. Winburn does best, but he has definitely put his clout and connections where his mouth is.

Since that speech, Mr. Winburn raised $80,250 from such disparate sources as the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, Time Warner and American Financial Corp. Then he enlisted the most powerful group of all - a fed-up-to-here citizenry.

And, to me, this turned out to be the fascinating part. Twice a week, about 150 noisy people harass and disrupt the business of those who sell drugs in Avondale, Evanston and Mount Auburn.

Diane Goldsmith, Hamilton County Commissioner Guy Guckenberger's right arm and his left arm up to the shoulder, took me along one evening. She's a very nice person, and I'm sure that she had no idea that it would be raining cats and dogs, although I noticed that she had an umbrella.

We met in a parking lot on a Friday night. The crowd was black and white, Democrat and Republican, male and female, young and old. There were people from God's Bible School and from two convents, from Hyde Park and Forest Park and College Hill and Mount Healthy, in addition to people from the three target neighborhoods.

''It's everybody's problem,'' says Eva Roberson, president of Avondale Community Council. She has a very large umbrella, so I try to think of more questions. The crowd starts to chant.

That's what they do. They chant. They have bullhorns and a van with a speaker on top. They stand outside crack houses and on the street corners where drugs are retailed.

''Up with hope, down with dope.''

''How does it feel to be a drug dealer? We don't know. We don't stoop so low.''

Dirty hats, clean neighborhoods

James Jordan, of the Coalition of Neighborhoods, which coordinates the twice-weekly rallies, says it will take a lot of rainy, cold nights of facing down the dealers. ''We are going to keep up the pressure.''

Uniformed police escort buses to the location du jour. Citizen drug fighters wear yellow T-shirts and white plastic hard hats, plastered with stickers.

The stickers are like battle ribbons. ''If you've got a dirty hat,'' Mr. Jordan says, ''you've got a clean neighborhood.'' You get a footprint for marching, handcuffs if an arrest is made, and - my personal favorite - a roach. The roach means that you came upon a group of dealers and they scattered.

Of course, it stands to reason that if you run vermin off one street corner, they'll just find another. But think about how successful any business would be if customers never know exactly where to find the store. Drug dealers are not brilliant criminal minds. They're not marketing geniuses. They're just your basic thugs and bullies, taking easy money.

They are no match for Eva Roberson, James Jordan, Sister Kristin or any of the other tough guys I met standing in the rain on a Friday night.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.