Drug bust at San Diego State University reveals hidden side of drug trade

(FinalCall.com) – Statistics and research studies prove most drug offenders are White, but until a recent drug bust at San Diego State University, the media and criminal justice system showcased Blacks as the face of drug selling and abuse in America.

LaWanda Johnson of the Justice Policy Institute says that perception allows society, especially law enforcement, to hide this other face of drug trafficking in the United States.


“This bust provides a real chance for us to really dialogue about what happens to Black youth who get busted for drugs compared to White youth, and I’m waiting to see whether they are going to apply the mandatory 20 year minimum as a result of all these drugs they found,” Ms. Johnson told The Final Call.

The college drug ring was breaking the law with narcotic and gun possession just as much as youth standing on corners in Black neighborhoods, Ms. Johnson added.

According to the San Diego district attorney on May 6 the Drug Enforcement Administration arrested 125 people as part of its sting against the huge drug ring. Ninety-five students were arrested–54 taken into custody by the DEA and 41 by campus police between January and May 2008.

The DEA’s five-month investigation, “Operation Sudden Fall,” targeted the university after a student overdosed last May. Members of the Theta Chi and Phi Kappa Psi fraternities openly sold drugs, and one student, police say, even distributed text messages about cocaine sells to customers. Undercover police bought drugs more than 130 times from the drug ring.

During the investigation, another student from Mesa College died of a cocaine overdose at a university fraternity house.

From several fraternities and sites on and off campus, undercover agents seized varied drugs, including cocaine, marijuana, marijuana plants, ecstasy pills, methamphetamine, $60,000 in cash and weapons.

According the DEA, one cocaine dealer on campus was about a month away from obtaining a masters degree in Homeland Security. He also worked as a student Community Service Officer and reported to campus police. Another student arrested for possession of 500 grams of cocaine and two guns is a criminal justice major.

Hidden or overlooked drug turfs?

Some prison watch activists said the San Diego State University drug crisis should come as no surprise. “The drug use rates in the country are not reflected by those who are arrested or incarcerated for drug offenses. I think that anybody who’s been on college campuses knows that there’s drug use and sales going on really all across the country. The fact is that when we dig into it to look at who’s arrested for these offenses, they tend to be disproportionately African American men,” said Ryan King, a policy analyst with The Sentencing Project.

According to a 2007 study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, 49 percent (3.8 million) of full time college students binge drink and/or abuse prescription and illegal drugs.

The report, “Wasting the Best and the Brightest: Substance Abuse at America’s Colleges and Universities,” also indicated that between 1993 and 2005, the number of students who used marijuana daily more than doubled to 310,000 and those that used cocaine, heroin and other illegal drugs (except marijuana) jumped 52 percent to 636,000.

Part of the problem, according to about 38 percent of college administrators, is the public perception that substance abuse by college students is a normal rite of passage, which is a major barrier to prevention.

Different drug war, different reactions

The DEA raid at San Diego State University was met with sharp criticism from some drug policy advocates and observers, despite the legal violations and two deaths. “It would be different if they picked one or two of the worst offenders, or if there was violence involved, but what is the point of this? Don’t they have anything better to do than go after college kids?” asked Ethan Nadelmann, founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, according to an ABC News report.

Mr. Nadelmann commented that the bust will burden taxpayers with millions of dollars in court fees and inhibit the perpetrators from contributing to society. “Anyone who has gone to college knows there were always students who would deal drugs and who subsequently went on to prestigious careers in law, law enforcement, medicine and politics,” he said.

Mark Pothier, a spokesperson for the DEA’s San Diego office said the department has no control over the legal process, nor does it base its investigations on cultural or ethnic background. The SDSU/DEA joint investigation was initiated by a request for assistance by the university, he said.

“We tried to arrest some drug dealers that were peddling poison to students. That’s it. It’s no different than if a concerned coalition in Los Angeles said ‘Hey, they’re dealing drugs in our neighborhood, can you please come out?’” Mr. Pothier added.

Ms. Johnson commented that what’s different is the number of arrests and convictions. She believes that law enforcement must change their approach to handling Black and White youth involved in drug related crime.

What about the future of Black youth? Ms. Johnson asked. It is time the selective enforcement drug laws gets exposed, said Ms. Johnson, who doesn’t believe much will come of it.

“It’s just the tip of the iceberg, but I bet you that iceberg will stay just where it is. The DEA will get more backlash from this because these kids were in college and had a future, but when you’re Black and on the corner, you’re nobody? This puts a whole new perspective on the war on drugs,” Ms. Johnson said.

Wall St. drug deals vs. open air drug markets

Infiltrating primarily Black neighborhoods versus college campuses or other places where drugs are sold is a matter of containment, as well as law enforcement, according to Jasmine Tyler, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance.

“It’s easy to take a briefcase of cocaine into a business meeting on Wall Street. You go into your appointment, talk to the receptionist, you’re called in for your meeting, close the door, exchange money for drugs, and then set another appointment, but in the urban areas, there’s not that kind of privacy,” Ms. Tyler said. The open air drug market makes it easier for police to identify sellers and users, but that doesn’t mean a higher prevalence of crime in that area, just a higher prevalence of police and racial profiling tactics, she added.

Ms. Tyler said the U.S. needs to adopt more rational sentencing and treatment methods, such as treating crack and powder cocaine sentencing the same and creating programs to provide for culturally competent treatment.