October 21, 2007 at 1:00 am

Nolan Finley:

Child killings challenge the drug war

Take your pick of who to blame for the apparent drug-related execution of Alexus Eppinger, 9, and her five-year-old brother Terrance as they lay sleeping in a Detroit home last week. There are plenty of targets to choose from.

Maybe you blame their mother for not having the instincts God gives a goose to protect her children. That's cold, I know, since she was slain, too. I'm sure she loved her babies. But you have to do more than love children; you have to keep them from danger, and putting them to bed in a house known for drug activity is dangerous.

Or maybe you're angry with the city and its police department for their impotence in containing the wave of drug violence that continues to claim the lives of innocents. I'm with you. It doesn't matter how many new lofts Detroit builds or how many new clubs open downtown, if its children are fair game for shoot-em-up maniacs, Detroit isn't a fit place for decent people to live.

The drug dealers? Sure. Anyone so numbed by greed that he can pull the trigger on a gun pointed at a child doesn't qualify as human. He's a beast, and there's too damn many like him walking our streets.

But my pick is a drug war that's turned our cities into battle zones and provided irresistible incomes for the most sinister elements of our society.

You want to know why kids are being killed in Detroit? Because drug dealing is a $100 billion enterprise in the United States. All of that money moves through the criminal underground, where it is untaxed, unregulated and untraceable.

The only way to stop the drug trade from consuming our children and our communities is to take the profit out of selling dope.

For more than 30 years, we've tried to do that by kicking in doors, rounding up street corner dealers, cutting off international supply lines and filling our prisons. And it hasn't worked.

It will never work. Those determined to destroy themselves with drugs will find a way to do so, just as those who prefer to ruin their lives with alcohol or gambling, vices the government decided that, if we can't beat 'em, we might as well tax 'em.

So let's get the drugs off the street and into the pharmacies where they belong. Pick a variety of narcotics, from marijuana to heroin, and sell them in measured doses over-the-counter, like packaged liquor.

Move the drug money from the alleys to Wall Street. Let the pharmaceutical companies produce, sell and pay taxes on narcotics.

Perhaps we'll have more users when drugs are no longer illegal. But legalizing drugs will allow rehabilitation resources to be focused on those who truly have a problem, and create more funding for anti-drug education.

A drug-free America is an impossible dream. Our stubborn determination to press this lost cause is killing people.

If it were just the dope dealers who were dying, I'd say have at it. That's addition by subtraction.

But in Detroit we've seen the collateral damage of this misguided war.

When babies die in their beds, we have to start challenging the premises of the drug war, and asking whether the fight is worth the cost.

Nolan Finley is editorial page editor of The Detroit News. Reach him at nfinley@detnews.com">nfinley@detnews.com or (313) 222-2064. Watch him at 8:30 p.m. Fridays on "Am I Right?" on Detroit Public TV, Channel 56.

More Nolan Finley