Shots Across the Bow

A Reality Based Blog


Henry: Dealer or Addict?

Yesterday, I outlined my reasons for continuing to actively pursue changes in the way we see drug users and addicts. In short, right now, according to our law enforcement community, drug addicts are basically disposable. This attitude is a reflection of our society as a whole, which many times turns a blind eye to criminal activity as long as the victim was somehow asking for it. In a comment on that post, Katie Granju raises a very interesting question, one that I planned to address fairly soon anyway.
As for my son being a dealer, I swallow hard every time I read that because the only evidence that exists of my son's dealing is evidence that ***I**** voluntarily offered to authoritities to help get other dealers off the street. To be fair to Henry, he was never arrested or charged or convicted of any crime, yet his reputation has been sullied in a way that is very, very painful to me. The much older adults now arrested and charged with drug dealing are referred to as "accused" and "alleged" - and that's appropriate. They will also receive every consideration and protection our legal system and media ethics provide to be sure that their reputations are not forever tarnished with the words "drug dealer" unless they are ultimately convicted. Yet my son, who has no protection, no peer review of the evidence "against" him, and who was never charged with any crime is now forever branded "drug dealer" because I wanted to be as straigtforward as I could be in sharing info with authorities so they could use that info to go after still-active criminals who might be preying on other teens.

Don't misunderstand - I do believe Henry was dealing drugs in the final period of his life - but many victims of crime were likely involved in something that they should not have been at the time of their death, yet it's not common practice for the public to consider that negative behavior to be their defining characteristic.

My son was a teenager hooked on drugs sold by adults who made and still make lots of money on the addicts they create and kill.

The question is easy to state, but difficult to answer. Are there differences between drug dealers?

Now that the masks have been pulled off of Houser and Harper, some of the more hateful commenters at the News Sentinel are now trying to draw an equivalency between them and Henry. They say we are hypocrites if we term Henry a victim and them as predators if all three were drug addicts. Their 'logic' is that if Henry was a victim because he was a drug addict, and they are also drug addicts, then they too must be victims.

There are several flaws in this logic, starting with the simple fact that Henry was a victim regardless of his status as a drug addict. First and most plainly, he was the victim of a robbery and assault. That the assault and robbery took place is not in question; the men involved admitted that it took place, although they lied to cover up their part in the assault. Second, according to the story told by Henry's friends, he was given an overdose of methadone by people who pretended to be his friends, and when he collapsed in their home, they tried to avoid calling for medical assistance. Henry was the victim of several crimes over the course of 36 hours.

The next flaw is that as far as we know, Harper and Houser dealt drugs, but weren't using them. Remember, according to the News Sentinel's report on the wrongful death lawsuit, the methadone clinic named in the suit claimed that not only were Houser and Harper not patients, but that they were not registered at all in the State of Tennessee as patients at any methadone clinic. While they may have been former addicts, to date, no source, either the case files released by the KCSD or written up in the KNS have ever said they were users.

And finally, just what is it they are supposedly victims of? What crime has been perpetrated against them? Were they beaten and robbed? Were they given drugs that killed them?


So much for the 'logic' of your typical KNS commenter.

As much as it obviously pains Katie to discuss, Henry was selling drugs. That's how he supported his habit. The text messages on his phone support the idea that on the day he was robbed, he was eager to make a sale in order to bail his girlfriend out of jail. But as far as the record shows, Henry was not involved in dealing as a means of support. There's no mention of him building a network. There's no indication that he tried to expand his market to increase his sales. Every indication we have suggests that Henry's only interest in selling drugs was to get the money to score for himself.

Compare that with the prototypical drug dealer. Always on the move to increase his sales, looking to hook new clients, supporting themselves on the proceeds of their sales, and using violence to protect their business, these people are professionals; it's how they make a living. Clearly, this description does not fit Henry. As Katie pointed out, Henry was never arrested, charged, or convicted for selling drugs.

But it isn't that simple.

Nobody knows the pain and despair of addiction like another addict. So when one addict sells to another, it is with the knowledge that they are deepening the hold of the other's addiction, enabling them to remain trapped in a hellish existence of always searching for the next score. Of course, the alternative is to consign them to either going through withdrawal, or finding another, possibly more dangerous source for their fix. Every deal Henry made put another person at risk. While he wasn't seeking to hook new users, I don't know that he would have refused to sell to them. Henry certainly bears a moral responsibility for his decision to sell drugs to support his habit, but again, that's only one side of the equation. As an addict, his ability to make reasoned decisions was drastically impaired. We don't hold people with diminished mental capacities responsible for decisions they make, and a drug addict is certainly operating in a diminished mental capacity.

The difference of course is that addicts made the decision that led directly to that diminished capacity. But Henry made that decision as a juvenile and we don't hold those decisions against people for the rest of their lives, do we?

Like I said, there are no easy answers. Henry was both an addict and a dealer, and while his addiction played a role in the choices he made, choices that left him vulnerable, he was also the victim of crimes as stated in Tennessee law, and the perpetrators of those crimes should have been brought to justice, Henry's failings notwithstanding.

Trying to apportion an addict's responsibility is a Gordian knot with no easy solution, and I can't provide one in a single blog post. All I can do is point out that the simple answers are wrong, and maybe lay out the foundation for a better response.

So we'll tackle that tomorrow.

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