Exploring Community Based Responses and the Natural History of a Drug Market
Wes Abercrombie, Midlands Technical College, West Columbia
Mitchell Mackinem, Claflin University, Orangeburg
The prototypical open drug market neighborhood or “drug neighborhood” is a poor, urban, minority and socially disorganized location. This image of a “drug neighborhood”, a neighborhood with an active drug marketplace, is certainly popular and not without some support. Such neighborhoods develop and are not whole operating units without source. If we start with the idea that neighborhoods hosting drug markets are products of processes, the question becomes how areas do become drug marketplaces. Using field data collected over a multiyear study of a “drug neighborhood”, we will examine how a neighborhood became a drug marketplace. This examination tentatively suggests that there may be several paths for a neighborhood to become a drug marketplace and no single developmental model. The multi-linear development process has a clear implication for community policing and community social work.
Carver’s Circle is a neighborhood hosting a drug market, but not like others. The prototypical “drug neighborhood” is profoundly economically disadvantaged, with limited informal social control operating through disjoint social networks. Carver’s Circle, also called “the bottom”, was in no way profoundly disadvantage, or socially disorganized. Carver’s Circle is a rural, blue-collar neighborhood with a well-integrated social network and frequent application of informal social control. The movement from a quiet working class neighborhood to drug market place did not occur because of breakdown in social control, but was a product of strong social control tied with family values. Carver’s Circle, an integrated and cohesive area may represent a variation and possible alternative pathway for becoming a “drug neighborhood”.
1 Literature Review
The power of urbanization to destroy intimate communities is a long-standing theme in the foundation of sociology (Thomas and Znaniecki 1927). Durkheim postulated that weak social solidarity would result in greater deviance (Durkheim  1951). At the turn of the 19th century, Thomas and Znaniecki concluded the traditional social structure of immigrant Poles did not function in the new social environment for the second generation, leading to a state of temporary social confusion or state of normlessness similar to Durkheim’s anomie. This weakening of the customarily guiding set of norms and values created “social disorganization” (Thomas and Znaniecki 1927). Later, Wirth developed some of these simple ideas into social disorganization theory (Wirth 1931). Social disorganization theory maintains that in areas where there are weak social ties there will be higher rates of deviance. Social disorganization theory is a subcategory of social structure theory, which proposed delinquency and crime in inner-city slum areas were products of malignant ecological features and social forces (Siegel and Senna 1997). These early theories postulated that the forces of urbanization create crime through the destruction of social cohesion and informal control mechanisms.
Ecological features of socially disorganized areas included high levels of in-migration, out-migration, poverty, single parent families, low rates of educational attainment, high levels of population density, social isolation and ethnic diversity (Martinez, Rosenfield, and Mares 2008). Shaw and McKay employed a more systematic approach to the study of social disorganization to the inner city areas of Chicago during three different periods associated with high rates of in and out-migration: 1900-06, 1917-23 and 1927-33 (Schmalleger 2002). They found that immigrants congregate in neighborhoods with high residential instability, resulting in a profound weakening of social ties (Shaw and McKay 1969). Each of these ecological features undermine traditional bonds that provided informal social control mechanisms to regulate juvenile delinquency and crime (Bursik 1988). Residents express such bonds through religious services, school functions, political participation and recreational activities (Kubrin and Weitzer 2003). The breakdown of traditional social bonds, traditionally generated through family and neighborhood relations, is the mechanism by which social disorganization is promulgated (Adler, Mueller, and Laufer 2001).
The ecological features of urban areas create social disorganization that, in turn, rendered the communities unable to efficiently organize, resulting in an inability to develop common objectives to address chronic social problems indicative of the area (Kubrin and Weitzer 2003; Triplett, Sun, and Gainey 2003). Additionally, of the potential wide variety of ecological features, three key features of socially disorganized urban environments are high poverty levels, cultural variation among the populace and residential mobility (Wright and Ellis 2000).
Social disorganization theories of crime and, by extension, “drug neighborhoods “ have been well supported by contemporary research (Sampson and Laub 1993). The crime rate is expected to be proportional to the level of economic deprivation (Peterson and Krivio 2000). The crime rate also reflects levels of residential instability as measured by the frequency of rental properties (Smith and Jatjoura 1988). Neighborhoods where there is a profound concentration of poverty, strong intercommunity ties, social isolation and a lack of external social controls should experience greater rates of crime (Wilson and Herrnstein 1985).
Beyond the neighborhood characteristics, there are also social characteristics of socially disorganized neighborhoods that might be predictive of social control or lack thereof. In areas where there is perceived higher rates of crime the residents have lower expectations of child control. (Sampson and Laub 1993) In neighborhoods where there are perceived high crime levels, the adults in the community tend to withdraw that in turn promote more crime and more withdrawal (Gibson, Zhao, Lovrich, and Gaffney 2002). “Participation in maintenance order is generally the lowest in neighborhoods that need drug/crime prevention the most.” (Wilkinson 2007, pg. 188) Where there are strong social ties there will be stronger informal social control, conversely when there are weak social ties, as indicated by a residential instability, there will be weak informal social control and crime will result. Crime itself discourages the application of the informal social control, which in turn promotes greater crime. The impact of family problems is magnified in social disadvantaged areas. (Hay, Fortson, Hollist, Altheimer, and Schaible 2006) In sum, when social control is weak, crime tends to be high (Gottfredson and Hirschi 1990; Taylor, Fitzgerald, Hunt, Reardon, and Brownstein 2001).
The argument that social networks promote informal social control and thus repel crime assumes that those members of the network seek to repel crime. Kurbin and Weitzer argue that culture is an important and unstudied aspect of social disorganization theory (Kurbin and Weitzer 2003). Previous research suggests that there are three possible subcultures: a conventional culture, an oppositional cultural and a diverse and competing culture. (Kurbin and Weitzer 2003) A conventional culture could promote deviance if the lack of legitimate opportunities forces the residents into alternative strategies. Sampson postulated that a strong anti-social community network could exhibit a strong social network and powerful informal social control (Sampson and Laub 1993). It is not unreasonable to assume that when a deviant subculture emerges that a strong social control network would emerge with an antisocial ethos. For example, members of a New York City drug gang were well integrated into the middle-class African-American families located adjacent to their neighborhood. Consequently, neighbors were reluctant to use formal mechanisms of social control against members of their social network. As long as the gang members were not overtly disruptive of their neighborhood, the situation could remain the same (Pattillo 1998). One need not assume that a social network would need to operate within antisocial values. It is possible that a dense social network in a residentially stable neighborhood imposing informal social control could promote a “drug neighborhood” for pro-social reasons.
In sum, the forces of urbanization expressed through ecological features result in the loss of social cohesion, which makes the area unable to repel anti-social members and sub-groups. Clearly, research supports the idea that lack of social cohesion is related to crime and fear of crime. However, it is also the case that where an anti-social ethos exists social cohesion works to both protect and promote anti-social behavior. Socially disorganized locations provide an opportunity for anti-social individuals and sub-groups to flourish; conversely, social cohesion and an anti-social ethos can also promote anti-social individuals and sub-groups.
The inclusion of regulation of ecological forces in police function to address underlying social issues associated with crime and social stability may be traced back to early attempts at police professionalization. The Progressive Era in the United States began during the 1870s and extended into the 1920s (Wiebe 1966; Hofstadter 1960), other historians have it beginning in 1890s (Huyssen 2014). The period ushered in widespread movements that began national reforms such as women’s suffrage, antitrust laws, public education requirements, food standard regulations, the challenge of political trusts through municipal reforms, and the attack of economic monopolies through unionization. The era also shepherded a professionalization movement that transformed occupations into professions by establishing national standards, educational requirements, regulation and licensing for professions such as doctors, engineers, and lawyers (McGerr 2005; Gould 2001; Sklar 1992).
Inspired by the professionalization of other occupations, a movement to professionalize police developed (Peake & Barthe 2009; Bartollas and Hahn 1999; Vollmer 1936). The foundational period of this movement vary among scholars, ranging from 1901 to 1920 (Johnson and Wolf 1996) and 1905 to 1932 (Carte and Carte 1975) while some scholars extend it further. However despite support by such national leaders as Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt in the United States, there was broad resistance to and criticism of the professionalization and modernization of police (Perez and Barkhurst 2011; Sklansky 2011; Rudoni, Baker and Myer 1978; Douthit 1975; Mirich and Voris 1965; Brereton 1961).
For example, an infamous quote by Captain Alexander Williams of the New York Police Department in 1872 reflects aspects of initial resistance among some police leadership: “There is more law in a policeman’s nightstick than in the Supreme Court.” (Bartollas and Hahn 1999: 11).
Complicating this task, resistance was further inflated by the avocation of expanding police function from strict law enforcement duties to proactive community involvement. Police were to be trained in social work procedure and theory (Johnson and Wolfe 1996). The reformer’s argument linking theory and approaches of social workers to police method arguably helped form the foundations of community-based policing approach studied in this research (Greene 1998; Goldstein 1990; Greene and Mastrofski 1988; Jones 1963; Taylor and Roberts 1985; Walker 2006).
Some researchers propose during this period many social workers were engaging in and leading community driven proactive programs that addressed underlying social conditions associated with environments that hosted crime and spawned other social problems (Simon 1994; Abe 2003; Bruno 1957). The community based social work approach focused on social workers empowering the community to identify social issues and problems, to determine an efficient way of addressing these within the scope of accessible resources and devising local programs to address them (Hardcastle, Powers, and Stanley 2011; Simon 1994; Guerra 2003).
There are several aspects of community based policing that differentiate it to some extent from community based social work. One exception is that political and economic organization as a community empowerment tool is often more strongly associated with community level social work (Simon 1994); the professionalization movement in the United States has traditionally advocated the separation of police from involvement in economic interests and political movements in the communities they police (Bartollas and Hahn 1999; Vollmer 1936). A primary exception is the power of arrest possessed by the police. Commonly in community based policing approaches police use arrest as a tool to surgically and aggressively remove a small and select group of organizing and key criminals to de-resource the remaining criminal participants (Mastrofskii, Worden, and Snipes 1995); social workers do not directly have this ability. Nevertheless, the underlying paradigm of community based orientation addressing underlying problems was clearly present in both fields (Jones 1963; Bruno 1957).
Some researchers suggest what we call bureaucratization was ultimately selected as the reform direction; changes designed to reorganize the structure of policing and social work to reflect a more limited industrial or business structure rather than the broader scope of concerns associated with the original progressive shift in underlying community oriented paradigms (Reisch and Andrews 2002; Uchida 1989; Walker 1983). New bureaucratic priorities resulted in diminishing support for community based approaches in both social work and policing in the United States (Kelling and Coles 1998; Taylor and Roberts 1985) that are still reflected in current objections to integrating social work theory into a community-based policing approach (Thompson 2015; Harcourt 2005; Taylor, 2000; Rudoni, Baker & Meyer 1978).
In both fields bureaucratization resulted in a strong internal administration closely regulating a labor force of specialists based upon internalized objectives. Authority and power was commonly diffused through expertise. Action addressing concerns and problems were often fixed in policies and procedures that truncated police and social workers to pre-approved programs and patterns of action approved by a hierarchy of internal and political authorities. Social workers and police despite expertise were often denied broad discretion in applying that expertise (Walker 1983; Reisch and Andrews 2001; Uchida 1989; Bruno 1948).
In the 1960s, the scope of Americans' traditional distrust of consolidated power deepened to accommodate perceived the police as agents of centralized authority (Skolnick 1975). It was argued this situation could support the sources of police authority shifting to local levels, as in the Reform Era’s amalgamation of community oriented social work and policing to some degree (Friedmann 1992; Goldstein 1990).
3 Defining the Community-Based Policing Paradigm in Context
Community-based policing is defined as a paradigm in which the police, social workers, other social agencies, private companies, and members of the community work together to identify, solve and control local problems (Trojanowicz and Bucqueroux 1994; Goldstein 1990); this definition also applies to Community Social Work Practice (Hardcastle, Powers, and Wenocur 2011; Younghusband 1968; Simon 1994). These problems are targeted because they are believed to maintain disorder and create an environment that hosted crime (Friedmann 1992). Efforts to address these issues take the form of indigenous programs operated and designed by community members, community organizations, and other social agents working together as partners with police (Oliver 1998). This paradigm rejects police responsibilities limited to law enforcement and expands these responsibilities to include community building and general social-order maintenance (Friedman 1992).
Legitimizing police actions, beyond strict criminal justice actions, opened police actions to include reinforce productive aspects of community structure by addressing shared concerns through an established consensus among local leaders and police (Greene 1989; Trojanowicz and Bucqueroux 1994). The resulting targets of action can encompass a wide range of issues including local crime problems, cleanup drives, crime prevention programs, traffic problems, sanitation concerns, general social-control issues, elder assistance, neighborhood watches and other activities (Oliver 1998; Trojanowicz and Bucqueroux 1994; Goldstein 1990; Oliver 1998). Police become community organizers, activists, and leaders. As such, police authority and success partially stems from local support and familiarity with the specific community which is coupled with a community social work oriented skill set.
The study of Carver’s Circle is part of a larger research project examining the operation of community policing in real-world neighborhoods approximately 20 years ago that provides a current view of what occurred there. In the course of studying police officers in performing community policing we discovered the neighborhood of Carver’s Circle. The community policing focused on the drug trade in Carver’s Circle.
The history of the drug trade in Carver’s Circle was gathered using qualitative research methods. These methods included qualitative interviews of residents, participant observation of neighborhood community policing sessions and record collection (Denzin 2009; Jorgensen 1989; Rubin and Rubin 1995). Interviewees were not directly involved in the drug trade and the researchers did not directly witness drug sales or related criminal acts. Primary research continued until saturation from each source was encountered (Glaser and Strauss 1967).
The study used triangulation to determine significance for the full range of observations (Denzin 2009). Specifically, we compared and contrasted different sources of information about an event or understanding such as newspaper articles, resident interviews, police officer interviews, drug addict interviews, and research observations.
The study employed three basic data collection strategies: interviews, participant observation, and documents collection. Community residents, community leaders, and community police officers were interviewed, totaling 53 formal interviews. Selection of interview subjects were based upon initial referrals of “gatekeepers” and the individuals’ cooperation. Police officers were the initial interviewees. The officers supplied referrals and introductions to community leaders for interview. Other interviewees were identified by community leaders, police and other residents.
Information gathered by the initial interviews that lead to other interview subjects were followed up based upon cooperation of the subjects. The interviews were a combination of semi-structured and open-ended formats (McCraken 1988; Schensul, Schensul, and LeCompte 1999). This approach was chosen to supply the researchers with data for an in-depth qualitative study (Rubin and Rubin 1995).
These initial interviews were then followed up with short-term, semi-structured interviews consisting of both open-ended and close-ended questions developed from the information from earlier interviews and observations. These follow-ups were used to clarify and expand upon their information and our developing understandings. The interviews were taped to ensure accuracy.
Accuracy of interview information was determined based upon comparison to understandings from other interviewees and other sources of information in the study. For example, shared understandings among the interviewees that were further supported by information sources such as police reports, ambulance drivers, newspaper articles and researcher participation experiences were used to indicated shared understandings. These were used to identify subject matter or direction for further investigation.
During this study, 47 unique events over 2 ½ years in the Carver’s Circle community were attended, a wide range of information from each event was recorded. Meetings between community officers and community residents formed the bulk of the observed events. By participating in the actual doing of community-based policing, a developed an emotional, physical, and empirical grasp of the subject was developed (McCraken 1988; Prus 1996). Participating gave a firsthand understanding of how things were organized, the resources needed to complete tasks, the time needed, how the actors worked with each other, how tasks were prioritized, and how people organized themselves. Cliques among the actors, and the leaders were identified. By being there, information was obtained that might otherwise not have been noticed (Prus 1996).
Documents and reports were collected including police reports, letters, announcements, meeting minutes, census reports, area maps, information brochures, and budgets. Beyond gathering basic descriptive information the documents help develop a rich description of case histories, and enrich the social and physical descriptions of the neighborhoods (Miles and Huberman 2002).
The data was analyzed using normal coding and sorting methods (Glaser and Strauss 1967; Jorgensen 1989). For example, it was noted in Carver’s Circle that community meetings as a process created an indirect link between the department trust-builder category and the officer trust-builder category. This link functioned by the community-based officer introducing and vouching for the credibility of other policemen to neighborhood residents. The residents displayed a higher level of trust in someone introduced favorably by a person they trusted relative to someone without such an introduction.
5 An Overview of Carver's Circle
Carver’s Circle is located in the southern region of the United States of America. It is a five street community of black residents, mostly retired. Much of the inhabitants are now elderly women who have survived their husbands. A matrifocal community sandwiched in a rural strip between a large suburban town and the State’s capital city, most of the populace consider themselves to be largely socially conservative, Christian, family-oriented and traditionalists.
The resident leadership were elderly and disproportionately male. During interviews and casual conversations over the course of the research, the residents recalled the effects of institutionalized discrimination on their community. They explained their recent ancestors, relying on the networks formed through family and church, built the small community while they worked and lived under Jim Crow laws: city, county, and state laws imposing a racial apartheid in America’s southern states.
Many of the elder residents used this history to account partially for their distrust of local authority. Local government was viewed as being controlled by a dominate class within the “white race.” Many residents viewed laws as tools of social control of this dominate group of whites, not as a tool of protection against injustices.
Leaders of Carver’s Circle explained that because of these experiences, the community became, to a degree, isolationist and independent. They traditionally identified and solved their own problems whenever possible. Residents identified family and church as their primary social resources for problem solving.
Mr. Reade, a resident for over 53 years, explained that when the drug trade first started in the area, it was limited to two small families. The three younger members of the families were drug users who started selling to friends to fund their own habit. These sales were low volume and mostly limited to residents. Mr. Reade said that many of the people were trying to protect their own family members who were involved in the trade or some related criminal activity as either profiteers or clients. Mr. Kemball confirmed Mr. Reade’s account:
Well, it [the neighborhood] was really nice. I mean most of the roads back here were dirt and that big housing development wasn’t there." He pointed to the left with his cup of coffee. "Those apartments behind us weren’t there either… Just a few people sold it at first, but their families were hiddin’ it for them, you know. There was only about three families in this whole community at first. I guess everybody knew somethin’ about it but, it wasn’t happenin’ in their home so they looked the other way. I can tell you there is a lot of money in it.
The local residents would not call the police on the drug trade because it was family. To their way of thinking, no one from the neighborhood was being hurt and to intervene would put family members at risk. Mr. Kemball explained, “You must understand that those people only trusted each other. Sure a lot don’t like what they was doing, but they weren't gonna put their own blood in jail for it either.”
While family ties and distrust of local authority seemed the strongest reason, residents believed that drug involvement was a temporary phase their family members were going through. Some residents marginalized the damage their neighbors wrought and explained that interference would endanger themselves. Mr. Lestrade, a resident activist whose stepson is a recovering addict, said:
They weren't trying to hurt anybody. They was just sellin' em what they wanted. You can't stop that, drugs is everywhere [...] I wasn't callin' no police, ha ha ha [...] no sir, I gotta live in the bottom.
While the families and residents were not willing to call the police that does not mean they did nothing. Residents tried informal sanctions as a way to control the behavior. Mr. Reade said:
I told the boy to stop using drugs [...] I said his mother was real upset over the whole mess. Me and his momma worked hard our whole lives and never did nothing like this. I told him to just look at himself in the mirror, stealing from his own family! He had a family that loved him and he came from better than this.
In at least one instance, not only were the children lectured about their wrong doings but also the grandparent lectured the parents of the children. This took the form of pointing out the children's unacceptable behavior and the parents' failure to lecture the child promptly. Mr. Croy said, “I called them people over there and told them what their son was doing. I told them that he better stop for he got somebody hurt [...] that's what I told them.” Mrs. Brown agreed in a separate interview: “A few of us talked to him, but nothing was done. He kept right on.”
The family matriarchs did discuss the matters among themselves, but this was largely used to confirm the shared and understood remedy. On some occasions, the residents consulted the neighborhood pastor when informal counseling did not result in the desired behavior change. Miss Reade, a lifelong resident and a leader in the largest family in the community, described how some people first dealt with the situation:
Some of the grandmothers and mothers talked to their children. They told them what they were doing was wrong and to stop. But they didn't. What were they supposed to do? They were not going to call the police on their own children. What was I supposed to do? Call the police and hope he wasn't there when they come by? He wasn't doin' nothing.
The traditional remedy failed as Mr. Croy said, “I talked to him and so did his mother. But, what can you do past that? He's a smart boy, but don't know as much as he thinks.” These informal mechanisms were ineffective. Drug dealing and family protection continued. Over a short period, the neighborhood’s reputation as a local drug market spread. The sellers expanded their merchandise and the customer volume increased dramatically and quickly. Within a year, there was continual traffic though the neighborhood. The sellers continued to sell drugs to outsiders.
The residents were not entirely innocents. Overwhelmed by the unrepentant youth; many became involved in the business. By some counts, there were as many as thirty residents, the majority of residents, involved directly or indirectly in the industry. Direct participation consisted of using drugs and selling drugs. Indirect participation consisted of concealing knowledge about drug activities, allowing property to be used for drug storage, acting as "lookouts," or not preventing drug activities. While money was certainly a major motivation participants the residents understood they protected the small number directly involved in the drug trade. As Mrs. Tyson reported:
They were hiding drugs, not selling drugs. They would just put the stuff up. When he wanted some he'd come over and get it. They believed they kept him out of trouble and made money that way too. Sure those people knew what was going on. They lived in the house. But they just turned their heads, they weren't gonna call anybody, they weren't gonna get them in trouble.
They sold drugs, stored drugs, hid money, housed prostitutes, sold alcohol, dealt in stolen property, and acted as lookouts. At the drug trade's zenith, some families were making thousands of dollars a week. This was "really big money to these people."
The social structure of the neighborhood worked to the advantage of the local dealers. Residents were highly independent and the concept of family loyalty was sacred to them. Virtually everyone in the neighborhood was interrelated. The leaders of the neighborhood, an informal matriarchal circle of elderly residents, were concerned with "saving" their family members involved in the drug trade. Their possible solution did not include calling the police. As Mrs. King described:
We didn’t want him to go to jail. He was making mistakes, but calling the police on him wouldn’t help. When he got his head straight he’d have an arrest [record]… what’s he supposed to do then?
The minority of members of the Carver’s Circle were male. While elderly women and the female community pastor were considered important and respected members of the community, males compromised the majority of community leadership. However, there seemed to be unison among community leadership regardless of sex that the community’s duty was to discourage activities in the drug market without involving police. Mr. Bennett explained: “I just wanted it to stop. That is what most everybody wanted. Nobody wanted anyone going off to jail. They just wanted them to stop with it.”
Mrs. Brown warned: “You call the police on these families and you will be living alone. These were their grandchildren.”
Social factors determined much; but, as noted by Officer Gregson, the neighborhood was perfectly located for street drug sales. It was between two large urban areas, several miles from a large city, and close to a major university. This location supplied a ready-made population of buyers. The bordering interstate and highway provided easy access for the purchasers. Both the neighborhood’s main streets led to dead ends, allowing only one way into the neighborhood. There were abandoned cars, empty houses, vacant trailers, and thick woods in which to sell drugs, use drugs, and hide.
If the rare police car came down a road, the sellers and buyers could see the police before the officers could see them. The buyers could hide their drugs and run through the woods to their nearby vehicles. Buyers often parked at a nearby church or gas station and walked in the neighborhood through the woods. Neighborhood dealers simply walked into their houses. By the time the police arrived at the scene, the street was deserted.
In summary, four factors allowed the “drug neighborhood” to develop. First, you protect family. Police and jail was not what family did. Kinship brought not only tolerance, but also indirect physical assistance. Second, residents believed the behavior was temporary. The kids would return to their senses with time and informal counsel; the matriarchs will take care of their own. Third, only the outsiders were using the drugs and they were somebody else’s problem. Finally, some families, a majority for a time, financially benefited from the enterprise. Maybe the beliefs cleared the conscious for the money, maybe the money was secondary; but people made money.
6 The Outsiders
As long as sellers were limited to the neighborhood residents protected by kinship ties the arrangement could continue. According to many residents, within a year the "outsiders" came in. With the outsiders came crime, calls to police, and eventually change.
No one is certain where the outsiders came from; depending on who was speaking the outsiders came for different places. Residents fell into two camps about the origin of the outsiders. One group maintained the outsiders came from Whitechapel and another group maintained the outsiders came from the nearer Capital City. Whitechapel is a large urban area about 3 hours away. According to these accounts, the suppliers in Whitechapel realized the volume of drugs being sold in the area and wanted more than a wholesale profit. The Whitechapel people sent their own vendors into the neighborhood.
In the second account, the out-of-neighborhood dealers originated from Capital City, a few miles down the highway that bordered the neighborhood. Sources who believe this account explained that users buying drugs from the neighborhood alerted outside dealers of the increasing neighborhood trade levels. Dealers from Capital City then moved into the area to capitalize on its location and pre-established clientele.
By combining both accounts with newspaper articles and police reports describing area drug raids, a picture of three competing drug-selling groups emerges. Local kin related dealers continued to sell drugs. As the volume of drug sales increased, suppliers from Whitechapel sent their own dealers into the area. During roughly the same time, competing drug dealers in neighboring Capital City moved in also.
The invading dealers quickly overwhelmed the local dealers. The outsiders then started competing among themselves for control of the area. A conflict broke out between the drug dealers in the neighborhood that escalated violence. The struggle centered upon which group controlled the residents. Family relations did not naturally protect the outside dealers. All sources agreed these outsiders used the threat of violence and the induction of children into the drug trade to control the residents. According to residents and local law enforcement officicials, the amount of drugs sold in the neighborhood continued to increase. The outside drug dealers did not limit themselves to just drugs. They sold guns, alcohol, cigarettes, stolen property, and sex as well. The neighborhood became so criminally active it acquired several different street names: "the hill," "happy town," "the jungle," "the south border," and "the bottom." Officer Gregson described the situation:
It was bad. The residents, they pretty much felt like prisoners in their own homes. The kids couldn’t go out and play. The people said they could not walk around and visit their neighbors or relatives because of all this activity¼ random gunfire all the time… everybody kept saying the gunfire was twenty-four hours a day, drug activity twenty-four hours a day, the outsiders kept coming in and just making total terror in the area.
Interestingly by all accounts, the client base fueling the rapid expansion of the illegal market was fueled by non-residents. Customers were traveling from Capital City and the neighboring suburban town to make illegal purchases. Buyers were predominately black Capital City residents, but patrons commonly included white students from the large neighboring suburbia and the colleges in Capital City. Carver Circle residents found themselves overwhelmed by outside buyers and the market controlled by outside sellers.
The violence in the neighborhood accelerated. Mr. Halliday, whose nieces and nephews were drawn into dealing, was quoted in a newspaper article: "... they said they would burn my house down. I used to be afraid for my wife, but now that she is gone, I’m not afraid anymore. I’m not afraid of them, I’m not afraid to die."
Neighborhood children were being drawn into the drug trade in various ways. Some children were encouraged to hang around the areas where the outsiders dealt drugs. The outsiders used the children either as lookouts or to hold drugs. One teenager told the researcher the outsiders asked him to tell his friends at school to come into the neighborhood and buy drugs.
Some residents speculated that the outsiders employed the children in order to force the residents into protecting the outside dealers as an attempt to shield the children. Police interviewed agreed with this assessment. Residents feared that the police would arrest their children. The outsiders had no reservations about using the local children, unlike the days when the dealing was a neighborhood event. The productive function of family loyalty as protection and problem solving device was reversed: family loyalty was used to by the drug dealers to shield the drug market.
The fundamental nature of the drug trade and its effects shifted at this point. Unable to manage the outside dealers, many residents became frightened. A largely internal argument began among the residents. The neighborhood was divided into two camps: those who did not support police interdiction in the drug market and those who did. Research interviews identified a simple distinction between these two groups.
Those that supported police involvement either had children in jail on drug related charges or had no children involved in the illegal market. Those that did not support police involvement were identified by some residents as involved in the illegal market themselves. They were suspected of storing drugs. Others had children or grandchildren working as sellers or lookouts for the outside dealers.
Some residents did call the police several times a month in response to street crimes. The Carver's Circle community, among the police, developed a reputation as a high crime area. The police knew the crime level in the area was only a symptom of an underlying problem: street-level drug trade. In addressing the root problem, the police found themselves in a predicament. The residents were not making complaints about drug sales. When the police responded to some other complaint, the residents insisted that they knew nothing about any of the people involved with drugs. When pressed, some residents admitted they had "heard" about drugs being sold but knew nothing more about it.
The police found themselves precluded from dealing with the underlying problem itself and limited to treating the repeating complaints. The police had conducted drug raids in the area based upon information gathered from sources outside the neighborhood. Police did arrest some street dealers and drug users. Nevertheless, quickly after the arrests the drug trade started back up again. As a resident explained, "They were just getting the street peoples, not the ones that was bringing and doing the real selling. They would just come back an’ the thing starts up." The police were frustrated. As one officer explained, "We put them in jail, they are let out, and the people suffering won’t help us... everything had to be the hard way."
The police concluded they lacked the information to respond effectively to the drug problem in the neighborhood. A narcotics officer explained that they needed to know who was bringing the drugs into the neighborhood, when they were brought in, and what type were brought in. The police needed to know if the drugs were stored in the neighborhood or somewhere else. They needed to know specifically who was selling the drugs and where. They also needed to know to whom the drugs were being sold.
Chief Doyle’s office received a handwritten letter from Rev. Whyte requesting police help in the Carver's Circle neighborhood. She explained that drugs had become a problem in the neighborhood and she was worried about the effect the criminal activity was having on the children who lived there. Rev. Whyte said she wanted the police to help in creating a crime watch program. Still, Rev. Whyte represented only those in favor of police interdiction in the drug market.
A majority of community eventually supported police involvement after the tragic death of a local young man murdered by an outsider drug dealer. Fear overtook family protection. It became clear traditions of limiting problem solving to the traditional network among families had failed as the resources of the community had been overpowered by the outsiders. Carver’s Circle residents provided the information for the police to identify many of the key outsiders.
The resulting raids only arrested three residents of Carver’s Circle, but over fifty arrest warrants were issued for outsiders. Arrests quickly expanded beyond these original fifty as further investigation resulting from the raids identified other outsiders involved. Law enforcement removed the criminal element, but there was the possibility of more outsiders moving in to fill the demands for a drug market.
The physical structure of the neighborhood was changed over a 2-year period. The residential leaders and local law enforcement organized many meetings, crime watch programs, cleaned up garbage, closed buildings, and developed many other community policing programs.
The social and political capital of the police and the church outside of Carver’s Circle were also brought to use. Local lawyers volunteered their time to oversee the legal condemning, seizing, and clearance of abandoned houses and property. Using the resources and labor volunteered by local businesses, a park was built on the combined land of these properties. County and state politicians were placed under pressure to pave the community’s roads and strategically place small asphalt rises in the road called “speed bumps” to slow down and control traffic. City workers erected street lamps to expose nighttime activity. The physical structure of the neighborhood no longer supported an open, illegal, street market. More importantly, law enforcement strengthed the social organization of the neighborhood.
Carver’s Circle history does not match the typical socially disorganized open drug market found in preceding studies. Strong family norms and informal social control led to increasing drug sales within the community; not the traditional disorganized drug marketplace. While the generalizability of these findings is not established, it does offer potential research directions. While tentative, the history of Craver’s Circle suggests the path toward becoming an open-air drug market depends on establish community norms and relationships. Such insights might prove useful in community specific programs that take into account the individuality of localities such as in community based social work or community oriented policing.
Unexpectedly, the strong family values of the Carver’s Circle residents shielded drug dealing in their neighborhood. When the outsiders moved into Carver’s Circle they hired neighborhood residents to be a part of their drug-dealing network in an attempt, partly, to control the community members and retard their willingness to use external formal control mechanisms. Whereas, previous research suggests that the typical open drug market is profoundly economically distressed, limited social networks and weak social control; Carver Circle had none of these.
The typical formulation of social disorganization theory maintains that weak social ties evidenced to by residential instability will lead to weak informal social controls, which in turn will promote crime. Crime then encourages social network leaders to withdraw from informal social control thus increasing the level of crime. The Carver’s Circle example offers a complication for social disorganization theory. Strong social networks can operate within antisocial norms, as is the case of gangs; strong gang loyalty might promote drug dealing. In the Carver’s Circle example the family values inadvertently promoted drug dealing. The need to protect the young people, family’s fiscal supplements and general reluctance to bring formal outside social control mechanisms into the neighborhood all resulted in the promotion of a drug-dealing environment.
The underlying approach of community based policing in this study would seem to support the application of community based social work in the United States as a tailored response to problems and issues as well. This approach may have the potential to avoid many of the problems of community cooperation, program effectiveness and resource allocation confronted by social workers originating from outside authorities that were originally confronted by police in these circumstances.
Community policing efforts seemed to have offered a bridge between the community leadership and outside authorities. Traditional distrust between communities under stress and outside authority isn’t limited to police and is experienced by social workers as well. Involvement in the community as a stakeholder by community police without undermining the authority of the community leaders is an embedded principle in some American traditional social work approaches and in modern Radical Social Work in the United States as well. This study’s findings suggest a similar partnership between social workers and residents to identify latent issues, problem residents, local resources and the scope of toleration for outside assistance may be productive in some cases for social workers as well.
Drug dealing markets in neighborhoods develop and diminish over time and through a series of processes that we do not fully yet understand. It is important to think of social disorganization as a multi-linear process with many junction points at which the neighborhood may follow different paths. Some of these paths might lead to increasing crime while others may actually lead to diminishing crime. From the singular example of Carver’s Circle, it is impossible to elucidate the idea that there are many developmental paths in a socially disorganized neighborhood; however, the Carver’s Circle example stands in stark contrast to the "typical" development of a neighborhood hosting a drug market. As such, this research suggests that stereotypes of the urban neighborhood as a location of weak ties and social disorganization, while not baseless, inhibits effective policing and community organizational interventions. Community intervention based on distant state defined best practices may not remedy unique variations in community development, as in the case of Carver Circle. Careful assessment of the norms and social relationships in an open drug market area are required before effective interventions may proceed. Interventions must be tailor to the unique progression and social relationships within the neighborhood.
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Wes Abercrombie, MCJ Ph.D.
Midlands Technical College
1260 Lexington Drive
West Columbia, SC 29170
Mitchell Mackinem, PhD.
400 Magnolia St.