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On Saturday night, November 25, a crack dealer pointed his gun directly at sixty-year-old Patrick Walsh on West Van Buren in downtown Phoenix.
Gunning his car's engine, Walsh peeled out of the parking lot. As he made his escape, Walsh also tried to get the license plate number and a description of the dealer's automobile. Others might have panicked in a similar situation, but after twelve years as an undercover drug informant, Walsh is currently a volunteer with the Guardian Angels. The Angels have made a point of disrupting crack sales on West Van Buren.
Driving into the nearby alley of Club 902, where a Phoenix patrol car idled, the excited retiree blurted out his story to the two cops.
"I told them this kid, this dealer, pulled a gun, that he was driving a '70 or '72 Chevy Nova and that I had the first three letters of the license plate.
"The cops refused to take my statement or complaint. One of the officers said, `What do you want me to do about it?'" What Patrick Walsh wanted was the same thing that all the neighbors of Club 902 want. These people want the dope dealers who hang out in the 902's parking lot and who fan out into the neighborhood put away. These people want Club 902 closed down.
Instead, the 902 is open for business.
It is not surprising that the 902 remains beyond the reach of law enforcement.
The profits from Phoenix's most notorious crack bar flow directly to the Valley's top prosecutor, Maricopa County Attorney Richard Romley.
"The dope's still being sold," said an outraged Walsh last week. "I sat down there for three hours yesterday and watched it."
On November 29, Walsh filed a complaint with the Internal Affairs division of the Phoenix Police Department over the two officers' refusal to act. Although Walsh is satisfied that Internal Affairs followed up on his report and chastised the two patrolmen, today, almost two months after the gun-pointing incident, the cops still have not bothered to trace the license plate of the crack dealer.
As the crack merchants rake in the profits, so does our county attorney.
For the past five years, Romley has held two notes on the bar that generate nearly $1,000 a month in cash for the county attorney. Although he declined to be interviewed, Romley has said that he will not divest himself of his interest in the 902.
Romley's startling insistence on maintaining a stake in a crack hangout is all the more incredible given his position in the Valley's task force on drugs.
Cited by President George Bush in his recently declared war on drugs, Phoenix was held up to the rest of America by the White House as an example of how to wage that war. The Valley's "Demand Reduction Program: Do Drugs. Do Time." is run by County Attorney Romley and Phoenix Police Chief Ruben Ortega. Despite his position of responsibility and expertise, a wide-eyed Romley maintains he had no idea drugs were a problem at his bar. The prosecutor was confronted by Guardian Angels with the role of the 902 in crack sales during a December 11 Town Hall, a community discussion forum. The Valley's top drug prosecutor feigned astonishment.
Romley's pose struck Louisa Stark as astounding.
A nationally recognized leader for the homeless who has testified before Congress on their behalf, Stark is currently the director of the Community Housing Partnership and a neighbor of Club 902. Last Friday she witnessed a deal for herself in the saloon's parking lot.
"It was in broad daylight," said Stark. "They were passing a sandwich bag of a white substance and I don't think it was laundry soap."
Mary Wacker lives around the corner from the 902 and is the executive director of the Oakland University Park Neighborhood Council. Last week she, too, witnessed the dealing at the 902.
"My husband and I were coming back from his dental appointment and we saw these guys with a zip-loc bag full of white stuff. One guy handed over a wad of cash and was given the drugs, which he just stuffed into his pocket. They never even bothered to look up to see if there were any cops around. That's how nonchalant it is. I wanted to jump out of the car and smack them in the head."
Not surprising, the problems associated with the 902 are not confined to the bar or its parking lot.
"The 902 has had an incredibly negative impact on the neighborhoods to the north," said Stark. "We see the same guys we see in the 902 parking lot in our neighborhood."
Stark said one of her employees, Willie Garcia, was robbed of his groceries and shortly thereafter saw his assailant peddling the food in the parking lot at the 902.
Wacker fears the pushers have been trying to sell crack to local schoolchildren.
"I'm the mother of six children, so you worry. My kitchen window looks directly upon the school bus stop. That's where the bus from Kenilworth stops. Last May these three black guys started showing up just as the kids were getting off the bus. They weren't picking anybody up. This is primarily a Hispanic neighborhood. That was right around the time the Los Angeles gangs were supposed to be moving into Phoenix. These guys were just hanging out and talking with the kids."