BALTIMORE – Scariest among the reasons President Donald Trump has offered for building his Great Wall along the U.S. southern border is his insistence that it will stop narcotics traffic into America.
I live in a city with an estimated 60,000 drug addicts. This makes Baltimore a mirror image of troubled cities all across America. The only difference is that our addicts, and our overmatched cops, and our self-serving politicians, and our ruined lives, were given immortalized national persona in the HBO series “The Wire.”
In every community, with the drug traffic comes massive social upheaval. In Baltimore, not only about 300 homicides a year in a city with just over 600,000 remaining inhabitants, but the shadow of drugs and desperation driving as much as 90 percent of all street crime here, large and small.
So the president touches a nerve when he reminds us of the country’s drug problem, and attaches it to the southern border and the Great Wall that he offers the whole nation as protection, to which I will leave you with two words:
For who else but El Chapo personifies not only our enduring trouble with narcotics but our president’s obsession with the line separating the United States from Mexico? Who else but the recently imprisoned Joaquin Guzman Loera, 61, the Mexican drug lord newly brought to justice?
Finally, this monster’s behind bars, and maybe this time they can keep him there. It took decades to capture (and re-capture) him. It took 11 weeks to lay out his story in court, during which time we learned of multi-million dollar bribes his organization paid to Mexican officials to look the other way.
And we learned something of El Chapo’s reach: testimony of his drugs staining not only the far reaches of America, but far into Columbia, Panama, Canada, Thailand, China – and the effort to capture him involving the FBI, DEA, Homeland Security, the U.S. Coast Guard, local police from half a dozen cities and federal prosecutors from half a dozen more, including Washington, D.C.
And yet, having learned all of this, it still leaves out some of the most relevant testimony from El Chapo’s trial, which relates directly to President Trump and his Great Wall obsession.
El Chapo’s Mexican drugs, we learned, were trafficked into the U.S. via fishing boats, via trains, via helicopters and planes, via tankers and ships, in shoe boxes and chili cans and bananas. Once, authorities seized 16 tons of cocaine – tons! – from a merchant’s vessel.
We learned, also, that El Chapo was first known by a different nickname. He was called El Rapido, for the speed with which he funneled drugs through tunnels under the border.
Did you notice that?
Tunnels and trains, and planes and boats, and helicopters and fishing boats, and none of these avenues closes no matter what kind of a wall Donald Trump erects, nor how high he makes it.
This president is offering America a personal delusion built upon a political necessity which attempts to obscure one of the great lies of Trump’s election – that he would build the wall, and Mexico would pay for it.
The last part has almost been forgotten during the distractions of the recent month-long government shutdown and Trump’s newest definition of a national “emergency,” which he invoked last week to raise funding for his monstrosity.
A little history here: Long ago, 1952, when America was first beginning to realize it had a drug problem, the Baltimore Police Department opened its first drug enforcement unit, headed by one Sgt. Joseph Carroll.
It was composed of three officers. Wonderful, three cops assigned to stop drug traffic in a city that had nearly one million people before drugs and other problems drove one-third of the population away.
And yet, a miracle! Eight months after the unit was formed, a triumphant Sgt. Carroll announced the city’s narcotics traffic was “pretty well under control,” because 39 people had been arrested for drugs. So everybody could now rest easy.
Sgt. Carroll might just as well have built a great wall and said, “This ought to stop the drugs.”
The effect would be about the same.
Michael Olesker, columnist for the News American, Baltimore Sun, and Baltimore Examiner has spent a quarter of a century writing about the city he loves.He is the author of several books, including Michael Olesker’s Baltimore: If You Live Here, You’re Home, Journeys to the Heart of Baltimore, and The Colts’ Baltimore: A City and Its Love Affair in the 1950s, all published by Johns Hopkins Press.