Most of the 248 people who made Dallas one of the nation’s deadliest big cities last year died in obscurity, “industrial byproducts of the city’s drug trade,” reports the Dallas Morning News. Drugs drive what the paper called the “murder machine.” Flaring tempers, bad judgment and payback grease its gears. Ordinary arguments become gunfights. Friends become enemies. Apartment complexes become killing fields. The drug trade draws customers from every race and economic group, but four out of five homicide victims in 2004 were black or Latino. And about half of the victims were black and Latino males under the age of 35 – even though that group accounts for only about 22 percent of Dallas’ population. The killers are often black and Latino, too.
Deaths are not confined to “minority” neighborhoods. As police squeeze drug dealers in one area, they scuttle to another. As apartment complexes deteriorate, dealers can colonize them within days. A close look a drug-related shootings shows how hard it can be for terrified residents to fight back – and how huge an effort the city’s beleaguered Police Department must make to halt the violence once it takes hold of a neighborhood. “The drug business is a violent business,” said Judge John Creuzot, Dallas County’s presiding felony criminal judge and manager of a drug court program. “Power and respect is important. But lost in all that is a complete absence of moral values that human life is important.”