JASON RANTZ

Rantz: New York Times puff piece falsely claims Seattle tackled the drug war

Aug 26, 2019, 5:49 AM | Updated: 8:55 am
Seattle's drug crisis has long been contentious. (AP)...
Seattle's drug crisis has long been contentious. (AP)
(AP)

In a Friday puff piece in the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof declared that the City of Seattle had figured out how to end the war on drugs. Huh?

Technically, I suppose there’s truth to the claim. To end the war on drugs, you literally just stop prosecuting drug users and dealers, and, lo and behold, the war on drugs is over. But the op-ed presents a rosy picture of the situation in King County because the author likes the programs being used, leading to massive blind spots to the consequences of our policies.

Kilos of cocaine found in banana boxes at local Safeway stores

A good portion of the piece highlights King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg’s decision not to charge what he believes to be low-level drug offenders for carrying heroin, meth, and other drugs. He doesn’t want them in jail, he wants them in treatment.

Consequently, he almost never charges criminal addicts, the preference being a pricey-but-effective drug treatment program that the author lauds as “a huge success” before admitting it’s “too early to have reliable data from the decriminalization experiment.”

Treatment is usually my preference, too, depending on the circumstances, though not for repeat offenders who either don’t want the help or don’t succeed in the program. At some point, if you’ve been given a dozen or so chances, your crimes need to be punished.

But, alarmingly, the article barely approaches the serious consequences of Satterberg’s approach. If he was better connected to the officers in the county, he’d have a better clue.

Cops now have little leverage over dealers and pimps. They can’t use jail as a way to get a drug user to admit where they purchased their heroin; they can’t push a prostitute to turn on their pimp. The user or prostitute know they won’t get arrested and, even if they do, they know they won’t be charged. This makes it much more difficult for cops to go after the dangerous predators flooding our streets with drugs and abusing and exploiting women forced into the sex trade.

If an addict has long-term success in a treatment program Satterberg pushes them into, that’s obviously a tremendous benefit to the individual and the community. But unless you get the drugs off the streets, we’ll see another addict — or several — take that person’s place. And we’re back at square one.

Kristof is an idealogue who prefers this approach — along with heroin injection sites — and his reporting suggests he looked for evidence to back up his beliefs. That happens in editorials; I am also biased. But look at the data.

King County just released a report showing another uptick in drug-related overdoses, including a sharp increase in meth-related deaths. At the same time, we have more addicted homeless taking over neighborhoods in Seattle. How’s that a successful end to the war on drugs?

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Rantz: New York Times puff piece falsely claims Seattle tackled the drug war