David Kennedy: The Story behind the Drug Market Initiative (Part I)

Professor David Kennedy, the director of the Center for Crime Prevention & Control at John Jay College
of Criminal Justice, explains how the Boston Gun Project laid the groundwork for the Drug Market Initiative pilot
in High Point, N.C.

ROBERT V. WOLF: Hi. I’m Rob Wolf, director
of communications at the Center for Court Innovation. For this month’s podcast I’m going to share with you some excerpts
from a presentation given to Center for Court Innovation staff by Professor David Kennedy, director of the Center
for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Next month will be part two of Kennedy’s
presentation. Kennedy spearheaded a number of justice innovations, including the Boston Gun Project’s Operation CeaseFire
and the Drug Market Initiative. The strategy share common elements and they also build on each other as Kennedy and
his collaborators learn as they go. In this first excerpt, Kennedy talks about the development of the Boston Gun
Project and how its success led Kennedy to start thinking about how to shut down open-air drug markets.

DAVID KENNEDY: Many of you will have heard about Operation CeaseFire and the
Boston Gun Project and all that sort of thing. When we did that work in Boston, it identified on the basis of stories
that we were told by frontline law enforcement, and which we were then able to apply some very simple research tools
to, it identified about 60 drug groups in Boston that turned out to be responsible for probably two-thirds, three-quarters
of the youth homicide in Boston and 50 percent of all homicides citywide. We also learned from the frontline cops
something that they have been doing to calm down particular groups, a crackdown—a very sophisticated robust but actually
recognizable crackdown. What was unusual about what they did, in addition to that, was they also had community partners—black
activist churches and neighborhood groups and such like that—who they would also focus on these groups to say to
them, “This is dumb; there’s a way out; here is access to other opportunities to mediation and interruption,” and
that sort of thing.  And they had built bridges to employers and agencies in the city so they could offer
concrete services and job placement and that kind of thing.

But they did all of these on a context
that while this was all being focused on the group, they would say to the group we are doing this because you are
shooting the place up. And if you want us to go back to business as usual, not to what you do whatever you want but
just to go back to the status quo, the shooting has to stop. What we added to it was an attempt to take it citywide.
So rather than doing it one group at a time, we identified probationers and parolees from all the groups in the city;
we had them brought to a meeting as a condition of their supervision; we read this basic script to them in the meeting
and said to them, look the next group that kills somebody after you all leave the room, that’s where this crackdown’s
going to happen, and if you want that kind of attention, let somebody you run shoot somebody. And after two meetings
the shootings stopped for all practical purposes, and that was the Boston Miracle. So effectively, what CeaseFire
did was discipline the drug crews and that left behind the next most important toxic public safety issue in these
neighborhoods, which is at that point untouched open-air drug market. There is nothing short of open public violence
that’s more of an insult to a community than a street drug market. And so, naturally enough, we started chopping
logic on whether this new set of ideas we’re working with might fit this problem. My recollection is that I had the
core of the drug market operation in my head by late 1996 or early 1997. 

That was Professor David Kennedy explaining how the Boston Gun Project laid the groundwork for the Drug Market Initiative.
It took him seven years to find a jurisdiction willing to test the strategy. That jurisdiction was High Point, North
Carolina, which applied the strategy to a neighborhood called West End in 2004. In this excerpt Kennedy explains
how the strategy focuses on the market rather than the drugs.

So one idea was that this was about drug markets and not about drugs. When I taught this at the Kennedy School, my
favorite moment was coming into my graduate seminar and closing the door and saying, “Okay, you’ve all spent the
last week doing readings about drugs and drug markets, which was all trouble neighborhood, street minority stuff.
So let’s talk about drug markets. Show of hands, who can buy drugs in this building?” And my graduate students would
look shocked. And every single time, two-thirds of them would raise their hand. And then we had a discussion about
why the Todman building at the Kennedy School government was a drug market which it is, of course, as schools are.
And then about why nobody thought about the Todman building at the Kennedy School, when we started talking about
drug markets, and the reason for that, of course, is that there’s no street-walking; there are no guns; there is
no drive-through buying; there are no groups of young men terrifying the residents. And that’s the difference between
framing this as a drug issue—and what that implies is we need to get rid of the drugs—and framing it as a drug market
issue, which says there are more toxic and less toxic forms of drug markets. Now what the West End was doing was
the most toxic form of the drug market. And if we could change that drug market even without doing anything at all
necessarily about drugs as such, that would restore the core community conditions.

Another key element of the Drug Market Initiative is the banked case, which is a case that’s prepared against the
key drug market participant and then effectively pocketed for a rainy day. The idea is to create a certain consequence
if the offender insists on continuing to participate in the drug market after being warned. But here’s Kennedy explaining
it better than I can.

KENNEDY: If we do the investigation, have the
case, keep the arrest available, that means we can say to somebody the next time you go out, your prison risk is
one in one; and because we have that ready to go now, we can put you on prior notice. And one of the astonishing
things to narcotics enforcement people is that guys who they believe don’t care about going to jail because that’s
what they say when you got them in handcuffs, when they’re put on prior notice like this, they don’t want to go to
jail at all. And this turns out to have a very, very powerful deterring impact.

In his presentation to the Center for Court Innovation, Kennedy also talked about other elements of the Drug Market
Initiative, including the importance of informal social control, that is, having community leaders and drug dealers’
families come out in unison and say, “We want you to stop dealing in drugs.” He also talked about the importance
of offering services to drug dealers to help them get jobs and skills. And he also dealt at length about one of the
key steps in the initiative, which is bridging the wide gap between law enforcement and community perceptions of
each other. As Kennedy explains it, the gap was so wide that when he initially tried to interest jurisdictions in
the Drug Market Initiative, they basically laughed him out of their offices.

The main reason that turned out that people thought this was beyond laughable was because both key, or so I saw at
the time, both key partners in this—and I was thinking them at the time as law enforcement and what we usually call
the community, which is good people in the community—both of those groups had entirely written off the other. And
if you are the way I am about this, which is the way most of us are about this, you have heard this and either you
identify with one side or the other or you just can’t take it in. And I was in the latter camp.  I have
been hearing it for 20 years, and it had bounced off my consciousness and fallen on the ground with a big clank because
I just couldn’t—I couldn’t deal with it. And it’s pretty simple.  On the community side, when you talk to
the community about drugs—and I’m talking about for the most part very, very long-term historically damaged, presently
devastated African-American communities—at best the community has written the police off. They have not done us any
good. We call; we plead. We still got drug dealers on the corner; we still got the crack house next door. The next
step from there, which is prevalent in all communities and dominant I think in most to them, is a belief that law
enforcement is either behind or actively taking advantage of the drug trade in order to do the community deliberate
damage. And this is the idea that the CIA invented crack and pumped it into the neighborhoods with Ollie North. 

And everybody looked at this lady in the back. You are doing what we do when we hear this. We smile; we
roll our eyes; we nod, right? And sorry, I pick on people. But this is what happens, right? People who are not of
this set of beliefs smile and roll their eyes and nod, and nobody knows what to say about this. It’s too insane for
words to actually believe that the government is doing this on purpose as a deliberate intervention to do racially
motivated harms in these communities. And that is, in fact, what many in many communities—most people actually believe.
And the first time I ever set foot in a drug market, I heard this from black residents in Los Angeles in the mid-1980s
and I’ve been hearing it ever since.

If you have that same conversation in law enforcement circles,
what law enforcement believes is the drug dealers are psychopaths. They are doing incredible damage to themselves,
their community; they don’t care. Their families are broken or they wouldn’t let their kids do the stuff. There is
no moral backbone left in the community because nobody stands up against what’s going on and says there’s right and
there’s wrong and act like it. Everybody plays the victim card at all times. And the cop kills the kid and there
are 5,000 people marching on city hall. But that’s not what’s driving the body count. And when a black kid kills
another kid, nobody says a word.

And you start a sentence—and this is a true story from Richmond,
Virginia where we were trying to get some of the stuff going—you start a sentence which begins it’s very hard to
work with the communities on this; and my second clause was because they are historically so angry at the rest of
us, and the narcotics guy, and this is what he did in Richmond, jumps in and says because they are all living off
drug money and that is what the cops really believe.  So I love my narcotics cops, friends; I really do.
They are amazing people and they are destroying the village in order to save it. They don’t mean to, but that’s what’s
going on. They stop everybody that moves; they kick on doors.

Anybody who’s ever done street drug
enforcement in any of these neighborhoods knows that rampant illegality is the norm; it just is. People get stopped;
they get searched; they get handcuffed; they get put on the ground; their rights are violated. There’s no respect
for probable cause. It is just the way it works. And the community does not like this. We work in areas like the
West End. We arrest cohort after cohort after cohort of young men. Majorities of males end up with criminal records.
They will never get a decent job. They have no reason to finish school. The collective objective damage of drug enforcement
on the neighborhood is catastrophic. And the cops know they’re doing it in order to protect the community. And they
are and I accept that and they believe it. The community looks at that and says this is just the Klan by other means.
And there’s this weird symmetry, right? The cops look at the crack dealers and say they’re not getting rich; it’s
not working for them; they’re not getting anywhere; they’re doomed. Everybody knows this isn’t going to work. They
keep on doing it, so obviously, they’re, you know, irrational and psychopathic. The community looks at the cops and
says they do the same thing over and over again; it doesn’t work and they know it doesn’t work. Obviously, they’re
corrupt and racist.

WOLF: You’ve been listening to David Kennedy
talking about the incredible misperceptions that can separate law enforcement from some of the communities that are
trying to help. He was speaking during a presentation to staff at the Center for Court Innovation about the Drug
Market Initiative, which he piloted in High Point, North Carolina. Next month we’ll hear excerpts from the rest of
Kennedy’s presentation. In the meantime, if you want to find out more about the Drug Market Initiative, you can visit
http://drugmarketinitiative.msu.edu. To learn more about the Center for Court Innovation, please visit our website
at www.courtinnovation.org. I’m Rob Wolf. Thanks for listening.