In Murder-Plagued Camden, “Drug Economy Is The Economy”


With cocaine for Camden, New Jersey’'s addicts and bullets for his rivals, a young drug lord named Raymond Morales rose to power in the 1990s, terrorizing the city as he wrung it for profit, says the New York Times. By 2003, when Morales was arrested as he received 66 pounds of cocaine – a two-week supply, he told investigators – Camden had earned a reputation as one of the most dangerous places in America, where drug corners were far easier to find than supermarkets and where the bloody fight to control them kept some terrified residents in their homes after dark. A jury in federal court is hearing the details of those violent times. Morales, 35, who is cooperating with the authorities in the hopes of reducing the seven life sentences he faces, testified last month against three men accused of playing parts in Camden's drug trade. Two of them are accused of murder.

In other cities, such trials have become anachronisms, reminders of the years before gentrification and falling murder rates. In Camden, 45 people were killed last year, up from 32 in 2006. This year looks worse: Eleven people have been killed so far. Last month, the Police Department, ever in crisis, changed leaders for the fifth time in six years. While New York and Los Angeles have reduced their murder rates, violence continues to plague a smattering of other cities, including Detroit, Baltimore and Philadelphia. Like Camden, nearby Trenton and other small cities like Gary, In., also have been vexed by recent surges in the murder rate. Joshua Ottenberg, acting Camden County prosecutor, said the city's failing schools, lack of jobs and badly overtaxed court system did not bode well for efforts to reduce crime. “The drug economy is the economy,” he said, estimating that as many as half of the drug buyers in Camden visit from the suburbs.


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