Chicago's West Side overrun by drug markets

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) - Street-side drug traffickers peddling everything from heroin to Xanax are causing some big headaches on Chicago’s West Side.

Businessmen say they're losing customers, and police say more arrests won't solve the problem.

We are talking about the corner of Madison and Pulaski.

Shortly before noon on a recent August day, business would appear to be good on Madison near Pulaski. That’s the business of drugs, of course.

On the block, FOX 32 saw pills changing hands for wads of cash, dollars tucked away where they won't be found, and drivers making buys as if they're at a fast food drive-thru.

FOX 32 watched for several days this summer as dealers did  their business in broad daylight,  sometimes ducking into nearby businesses when police drove by. Then, back to work. 

Mick Dumke's been writing about the West Side drug markets for several years.

“It's an open air drug market. You can  go up and order, what it is you're looking for,” said Mick Dumke of the Chicago Reader and Sun-Times.

The shopping list, according to police affidavits, includes sawbucks, which is $10 dollars, "rocks" of crack cocaine, sold $14 to the pack, or "nickel blows" of heroin for $5 dollars apiece. Street dealers typically earn $20 or $30 dollars for every $100 dollars they turn over to their bosses.

“The infrastructure of the neighborhood has broken down to the degree that an illegal organization can come in and thrive,” Dumke said.

Criminal justice professor Art Lurigio said that Chicago has had flourishing outdoor markets for years.

“Heroin in particular, is abundant, and the price of heroin is quite low. And the drug business is booming. It’s outdoors because it allows easy ingress and egress from the purchase. Walk up, walk away, drive up, drive away,” Lurigio said.

The open air drug dealing got so bad over the summer that a number of local businessmen, none of whom wish to be identified, signed a petition, asking the police department to step up their patrols.

“Where we have success, It takes an awful lot of work, and putting police out there isn't going to fix it,” said Supt. Garry McCarthy.

Chicago police say as of last week, they had made 382 arrests this year near Madison and Pulaski. Eighty-seven were for marijuana, 62 for controlled substances like heroin.

McCarthy says narcotics arrests are important because drugs users commit so many other crimes. But he also says arrests won't solve the problem.

“Narcotics is a criminalized social problem. Law enforcement isnt going to fix it, and i think it's time we recognize that and come up with a plan to address it in a different fashion,” McCarthy said.

Alderman Jason Ervin says business owners may complain, but some, at least, are part of the problem.

“Some of the businesses do give these individuals shelter. They allow them to go in and out. We currently have seven businesses under business affairs through deleterious impact,  for that very reason,” said 28th Ward Alderman Jason Erivin.

Whatever the causes, almost everyone that FOX 32 talked with agreed that cracking down on the open air market at Madison and Pulaski would send it to another location, a few blocks away.