Review: Chasing Heroin – Revisited

https://matthewballantyne.com/2017/07/17/review-frontlines-chasing-heroin/

It’s been two years since I wrote the review of Frontline’s journalistic documentary of Seattle’s drug court.  The piece by them was a glowing review of Seattle’s program, interviewing the key people that brought the court about, after claiming Seattle Police Department’s “aggressive” tactics of arrest provided no options for what were dubbed casual drug users.

While several of my articles and short stories of drawn the ire and praise of people from the world over, none has been more read than this one article; albeit a critical review of multimedia propaganda.

If you read the piece I wrote, you likely understood that I was calling our Frontline for a lack of integrity in it’s reporting; that they put together this piece to celebrate how great the Seattle drug court program was, and that it was a model for all other cities to follow in tackling the heroin epidemic sweeping the country.

Of course, Frontline would tell you that all they did was document the program as seen and explained through the lens.  But there are several key issues with their usual “just the facts” defense that they constantly employ to explain away their propaganda.

First, you’ll remember that in my (poorly edited) article I wrote about Cari Creasia, profiled in the piece.  She was the middle-aged single mother who turned to heroin as she was coming away from legal prescription pain pills relating to an injury she sustained.

She admitted in her interviews that she had dealt drugs for cartel members, and was drug dealing while in drug court.  Then she decided to change her life and did so by following her program to a proverbial “T,” graduated and left the program.  For all accounts and purposes of this writing, she has not returned to drug use or drug dealing, and living life in Kent, Washington.

The other person profiled who dealt drugs was Kristina Block of Seattle.  She was a drug user while in the program, and she was only using the minimum of services, specifically the needle exchange program.  And while Frontline tried to skim past her evolution in their piece, she gradually turned to dealing heroin on the streets of Seattle while in the drug court program.

By their own rules and standards, that should have been an automatic revocation of her status in drug court, with arrest, new charges filed, and initial appearances for both her original and new charges simultaneously.

But instead, Kristina dealt drugs in front of our very eyes, using cell phones to communicate transactions and meeting places, and used people in her circle of drug users to courier her product.  For all intents and purposes, her documented activities in the program are defined under the RICO Act in federal law, which stands for Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations.  In other words, Kristina was operating a criminal enterprise in front of your very eyes, the kind that would have necessitated federal agents obtaining a warrant, kicking in doors, and arresting people under Conspiracy-oriented charges.

Instead, Kristina walks freely in Seattle, where she still resides, presumably she’s found a way to kick her habit and find a real job, but by the conclusion of film she had done neither, which according to people like Lisa Daugaard, from the Seattle Public Defender’s Office, is part of the drug court program – getting recovering addicts re-integrated into societal norms.

Analysis of the key examples Frontline provided aside, there lies a bigger problem with Seattle’s drug court – it isn’t working.

Eric Johnson from KOMO 4 News recently made a journalistic documentary called Seattle is Dying, and what it said about Seattle in the short two years since Chasing Heroin is revealing to not only how bad the problem of drug usage has become, but how much of other parts of society it overlaps with, informs, and ultimately pervades with toxicity.

Johnson’s film shows exactly what Seattle looks like as a whole.  This is important because in Frontline’s piece, they focused on a few blocks of Seattle’s Westlake and Belltown neighborhoods, when it came to show the drug problem in Seattle.  For perspective, that’s like showing four blocks of the Lower Eastside of Manhattan and saying that is fully representative of the drug problem in New York City – it doesn’t come close.

Johnson exposes throughout the film numerous locations in Seattle.  It’s fair to say that any film or video with a specific goal, no matter how objective, wouldn’t be able to show every nook and cranny of a large metropolitan city, but it should aim to show more than just a few places are conveniently very safe places to be in Seattle during daylight hours.

But even more than that, showing off a wider view of the overall problem is important in this context of drug use and affects.  Johnson’s film also goes to prove that there are connections to drugs that can’t be shaken – mental illness, homelessness, and an overall inability to care for oneself.  Johnson even takes it further, by explaining that the people who are persistent violent criminal violators in the areas of Seattle that also show high rates of drug trafficking are both users of those drugs, and are their prosecutions are being refused by both Municipal and District Court judges.  Why?  In Frontline’s piece, they didn’t mention it specifically, but the rules in Seattle’s drug court do not permit patterns of violent crime by participants.

So, if these people don’t qualify for drug court; and they are violent; why then are they given even less responsibility than drug court participants?

Is it because if they were integrated into drug court those cherry success numbers they report wouldn’t be so great?  If it’s all about getting drug addicts help, why aren’t they getting more of these homeless people with mental health issues in the program?  Aren’t they even more vulnerable than Creasia and Block?

No, instead Seattle’s officials do nothing.  They have an agenda and they are exercising it, and for them a world without involuntary drug rehabilitation is their aim.  So they build this “award winning” program that then turns around and limits who can join, even though the need is vast.  Again, if the program was so great, they’d be offering it to anyone with a drug problem.  That in itself is the only evidence you need of the shine job that Frontline put in front of everyone’s faces, and certain people in Seattle leadership want to propagate.

Frontline conveniently made their piece during a time when Seattle’s drug court was receiving a national award at a member’s only event, where drug treatment and sentencing alternative advocates and practitioners come together to pat themselves on the back.  That fact makes clear that there was timing involved in this project, and that Frontline plays a direct role.  There was nothing objective about Chasing Heroin whatsoever.

The other major thing that Frontline missed was the utter violence that drug addicts in Seattle streets visit upon innocent bystanders.  Sure, there is violence among drug addicts, dealers, and people involved in their crimes.  It shouldn’t be tolerated, but we can expect it, because police can’t be on every street every second of the day to stop everything in an instant.  But one thing citizens shouldn’t expect is to be assaulted by criminals as they carry out their day that has nothing to do with those criminals.

And yet, as Johnson’s film shows, drug addicts who are homeless and mentally ill account for astounding amounts of violence against innocent victims.  Some are people who work in Seattle, others live there, and still others are visiting.  Imagine that, you’re on vacation in Seattle, get assaulted for no other reason than walking down the wrong street in your travels, and you find out the person who assaulted you is not going to be held accountable.  How would you feel?

What Johnson’s film proves is how out of touch propagandists like Frontline are, and how much Seattle leadership chooses to refuse the reality around them.  They are not helping anyone.  This is truly government run amok, and it should be stopped.

It has nothing to do with the Seattle Police Department, though I’m sure there’s an element within the leadership there that should be respectfully asked to leave.  There is also nothing wrong with King County Jail, but rather this falls squarely on the Seattle Public Defender’s Office for playing a much bigger role than they should have in developing this supposed drug court.  It falls on the Seattle Municipal Court Judges and Administrators, who allow this farce to continue.  It falls on the King County Court System, and their apparent role in it, and it falls on the Seattle City Council directly, for not representing their constituents at all, and instead accepting money from very rich people who have priorities that do not align with the actual voters of Seattle.

I strongly suspect that the conversation about this topic will continue for years to come.  I hope the conversation gets larger, I hope more people get away from the propaganda and objectively look at the failure they are being left with, and I certainly hope people wake up to media purveyors like Frontline, who see them as merely another brain to wash.

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Published by Matthew Ballantyne

I'm Matthew, and I write. I've worked hard in my career, and it's granted me a lot of access to the true character in people, which I now use to create stories for you.

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