KTTH OPINION

Rantz: Activist says Seattle’s open-air drug markets don’t exist, is racist

Sep 12, 2023, 2:42 AM

homeless drug market...

(Photo courtesy of The Jason Rantz Show)

(Photo courtesy of The Jason Rantz Show)

Real Change is a homeless advocacy group, but only in that they advocate policies that keep people living on the streets, often with untreated addiction. Their latest attempt to downplay the drug crisis, arguing that criticism of drug dealing is racist, is as bizarre as it is dangerous.

In an editorial for Real Change News, associate editor Tobias Coughlin-Bogue claims Seattle doesn’t have any “open-air drug markets.” He bluntly pretends they don’t exist and is merely a “sneering phrase,” while arguing we should give the homeless private spaces to purchase drugs and then get high.

What those of us see in downtown Seattle or the International District — addicts openly using products they purchase nearby in full view of the public and police — is merely our bias and anti-homeless sentiment running rampant. Or something. Much of his article just doesn’t make any sense, written like it’s the result of a contact high from hanging out near open-air drug markets.

The point of the piece is, effectively, to offer some positive press coverage of illicit drug dealing and use. The goal appears to be to legalize drug dealing and use and shame people away from criticizing Seattle’s drug-addicted homeless population. After showing examples of media coverage using the phrasing “open-air drug markets,” Coughlin-Bogue claims the term is being used because it “scares people.” How so? He offers a number of examples that sound like parody.

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Orientalism and anti-homeless sentiment

Coughlin-Bogue’s chief claim is that calling out open-air drug markets is somehow an “insidious” form of “Orientalism.”

“After reading enough of these pearl-clutching pieces, I can’t see any other reason for the modifier’s overuse,” he writes. “And how does it scare people? In perhaps one of the most insidious ways possible: by evoking Orientalism, a Western way of stereotyping and exoticizing peoples and cultures of Asia first described by literary critic Edward Said.”

The activist-editor said that the “drug market” sounds like a Walgreens, but the use of the term open-air drug market “sounds sultry and foreign,” like a bazaar. “Funnily enough, a fear of the bazaar is something that features prominently in many Orientalist works by Western writers,” he says. It’s fair, at this point, to wonder if this is a joke or just the musings of an ignoramus.

You shouldn’t be concerned with open-air drug markets, or believe the city deserves better, apparently. Never mind that these open-air drug markets are often spots that experience incredible amounts of violence. Indeed, the city’s biggest open-air drug market on Third and Pine was finally shut down after a series of murders. But don’t go clutching your pearls in concern because it means you’re actually criticizing Asian culture. (Does this guy know that it’s not just Asian cultures that embrace outdoor markets, by the way?)

Demonizing the homeless?

If it’s not “Orientalism” that’s to blame for the term, the activist-editor claims it’s merely a way to demonize the homeless.

“Closer to home, the University of Washington’s Amoshaun Toft, a professor of communications who studies media narratives around poverty and homelessness, has argued that, by closely associating our homeless neighbors with ‘dirtiness, drugs and danger,’ the media attempts to brand them as social deviants, thereby excusing society itself for failing them. Toft does not quite call this Orientalizing those neighbors, but he does cite Said in arguing that our characterization of them is designed to ‘other’ them,” Coughlin-Bogue writes.

Homeless are dirty because they don’t have consistent access to showers (or plumbing). Their homelessness is oftentimes driven by their addiction. And yes, they’re often a danger to others and themselves. Homeless encampments see a disproportionate amount of gun violence. And homelessness, in most cases, is not due to “society itself for failing them,” no matter what a crank UW-Bothell professor tells you.

Downplaying the drug crisis

Having established the “insidious” racism and othering of homeless addicts that we’re all perpetuating, the activist-editor moves on to justifying the drug use and downplaying the crisis. It makes some sense given he supports drug legalization and advocates giving addicts a private space to continue their addiction.

“But besides being more than a little xenophobic, describing these places — where people suffering from substance use disorders, untreated mental health issues and homelessness congregate — as ‘open-air drug markets’ does nothing to help audiences understand why those people are there in the first place. They are there because they are poor. They are there because they are desperate. They are there because they have nowhere else to go.”

Coughlin-Bogue isn’t clear about what this means. He seems to imply homeless have nowhere to go but to streets where drugs are openly sold and consumed. Of course, the notion that the homeless are there “because they are poor” is silly. The majority of poor people don’t congregate in open-air drug markets. And not all homeless are users; the homeless congregating at these spots are, however, addicts.

“We cannot arrest our way out of this, and the fact that nearly every use of the phrase ‘open-air drug markets’ in news articles and broadcasts appears alongside quotes from housed people or business owners calling for more cops and, in opinion articles, alongside arguments from the author that we need more cops is not a coincidence. That is, in fact, the intended purpose of the phrase: to build consensus in favor of more police funding and harsher enforcement by using fear,” he says.

It’s obviously true that framing open-air drug markets as illegal is intentional. They’re illegal. And they’re dangerous, which is why “housed people or business owners” ask for more policing. When something is happening that’s illegal and dangerous, normal people want police to intervene to, you know, stop the illegal and dangerous behavior. It’s not “using fear” to note that these open-air drug markets are dangerous since, after all, they’re actually dangerous.

A bizarre conclusion

Coughlin-Bogue ends his piece by demanding a private for the sale and use of illicit substances. And then he chastises the public for calling attention to the crisis.

“To truly face the fentanyl crisis we must reject fear, especially fear that is rooted in racism,” he demands. “We cannot keep Orientalizing and sensationalizing drugs and drug use. We cannot keep othering and criminalizing drug users. We need to be upfront and honest with ourselves. And we need journalists, who have a professional duty to present the public with honest, factual information, to lead the charge on this.”

If he was interested in truly “facing the fentanyl crisis” he wouldn’t be encouraging more illicit drug use that will kill more people, homeless or not. This isn’t about saving lives, it’s about legalizing drugs. That it appears in Real Change shows you how much of a joke the homeless advocacy group has become (and likely always was). And if anyone is dumb enough to curtail their criticisms of open-air drug markets out of fear they’ll be labeled a xenophobe by a fringe newspaper, they’d likely live in Seattle where residents are hypersensitive to losing any progressive street cred. But their silence, along with the advocacy from Real Change, will only lead to more dead homeless addicts.

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Listen to The Jason Rantz Show on weekday afternoons from 3:00 p.m.-7:00 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). He is the author of the book “What’s Killing America: Inside the Radical Left’s Tragic Destruction of Our Cities.” Subscribe to the podcast. Follow @JasonRantz on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook. Check back frequently for more news and analysis.

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