People swarmed to Charleston, a small town in deep southeastern Missouri, to buy drugs. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch says came from across the river in Illinois and other communities to buy crack rocks and bags of weed. In a poor economy, town residents eagerly met the surging demand. “It was crazy out here, you know what I’m saying?” said resident Lewis Fitzpatrick, 22, as he walked down a street that once hummed with action. “It was crazy out here.”
Last Monday, 45 residents were charged with dealing drugs. A summertime sting netted drug distribution charges for 103 residents. In a town with a 4,700 population, most arrests were from the black population, which makes up nearly half the town. A generation of the community’s young black men appears to have been swept away. “It’s like a ghost town,” said resident Doris Williams, who had a sister, two nephews,l and two cousins nabbed Monday.
Charleston harbored a drug problem for years, the Post-Dispatch says. It grew from users and low-level dealers selling $20 worth of crack, to players selling an eighth- to a quarter-ounce of the drug, officials say. Then city police and a regional drug task force tried to undo it all. The results were dramatic. Caught in the middle was a black police chief determined to clean up his town. Everyone seems to agree on the underlying problem: lack of opportunity for young people. It’s a story being played out in small towns across the country.
Charleston sits not far from the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers and the intersection of interstate highways 55 and 57. The prime location has failed to draw retail or industry, but it made the city attractive to drug dealers. “This is a little city sitting here between St. Louis and Memphis, just down from Chicago going south, and crime likes to totally take over small cities,” said Charleston police Sgt. Anthony Moody. Said prosecutor Jennifer Raffety: “Most of Charleston is in denial about what’s going on.”