In Yakima, Wash., klieg lights aimed at crack houses discourage nighttime drug deals. Havens for drugs are torched in El Dorado, Ark. Helmeted Philadelphians sabotage pushers with dusk-to-dawn street vigils.
America's cities are battlefields in a way far different from Bunker Hill or Bull Run. This enemy is drugs, and the weapons include community hotlines in Columbus, Ohio, newspaper coupons in Clinton, Iowa, and 1960s-style activism in Shreveport, La."It's a grassroots war," said Randy Arndt, spokesman for the national League of Cities. "Drugs is far and away the No. 1 issue for our cities, ahead of poverty, homelessness, affordable housing and trash disposal."
Images of war are beamed nightly by television into the nation's living rooms. Police commandos wear flak jackets to shield them from assault guns. The number of body bags rivals Beirut casualty lists. Killings erupt from gang wars in Los Angeles to the murder capital of Washington, D.C.
President Bush, the commander-in-chief, formally declared war in September, saying drugs would be fought "block by block, child by child."
Soldiers in the fight applauded Bush's rallying cry but criticized the limit of federal dollars, which puts the burden on cities to pay for the combat.
"You can declare war all you want. We ain't got the ammunition," said Sheriff Doug Bair of Yakima County, Wash.
"The front line is asked to supply the rear. It's like the Normandy invasion financing itself by holding a rummage sale," said Phoenix Mayor Terry Goddard, president of the League of Cities. "Is that any way to win a war?"
The League of Cities is pushing Dec. 3-9 as national "Fight Back Against Drugs Week" to give the war on drugs some momentum.
An underground army has formed of citizens who have had enough. But criminologist Lawrence Sherman of the University of Maryland cautions that fighting should be left to professionals.
"Rather than encouraging open combat, officials could ask citizens to keep their heads down. Not even Smokey the Bear wants us to rush into forest fires with a garden hose," Sherman said.
The number of bystanders shot and murdered in drug-related shootings has tripled in the past three years in New York, Los Angeles, Washington and Boston, Sherman said. From 1986 to 1988, New York City had 128 bystander deaths, Los Angeles 105.
Police would like to see better national strategies, such as a national tipline to snitch on drug dealers and stiff fines to make the drug trade less profitable.
"What we are doing is fighting a war. We have not gotten into a mindset of winning the war," said Sevrin Sorensen of the National Association of Chiefs of Police.
In the meantime, the combat goes on.
Yakima, a city of 50,000 in Washington's apple country, has become a cocaine distribution point for the Northwest, police say. Drugs are smuggled in from Mexico by agents who blend in with migrant farm workers.
To make the drug trade conspicuous, police train four 500-watt lights on suspected drug dens. Their purpose is similar to air raid lights discouraging attacking warplanes, and police said they have reduced traffic 95 percent to the buildings since September.
"We want to create a strong sense of paranoia among dealers and users," said Police Chief Pleas Green said. "We're forcing people out of their comfort zone."
But an American Civil Liberties Union official in Seattle is unimpressed. "It sounds like a Hollywood approach to the war on drugs," Jerry Sheehan said.
The southern Arkansas city of El Dorado, population 26,000, condemned three suspected crack houses and set them on fire this spring.
"It was really interesting to see people in the neighborhood standing on the porches, cheering and applauding when the houses were burning," said Mayor Larry Combs.
In Inglewood, Calif., police have infiltrated suspected crack houses to run sting operations. When users come to buy drugs, they're busted.
In the past 15 months, Philadelphia has sealed 600 abandoned houses with cinder blocks and stucco to keep out dealers and their trade.
A network of community anti-drug groups has spread across Philadelphia in the past two years. Wearing white plastic helmets, residents hold all-night vigils to push dealers off street corners.
"We all have to get out there and roll our sleeves up. It's the worst crisis to hit America since Pearl Harbor," said Herman Wrice, a Drexel University professor and community leader.
The country's heartland, too, has mobilized.
In Columbus, Ohio, police opened a hotline for residents to report crack activity in their neighborhoods. It averages about 65 calls a week from private citizens.
"Nothing will frighten the pushers so much as to know that apathy is officially dead in central Ohio, and we're on the march," Mayor Dana Rinehart said.
Community activists also joined the battle with a block watch program.
"The only way we're going to eliminate the drug problem is to pitch in and do some of the dirty work. The police can't be everywhere all the time," said Mark Goodman, a member of the Olde Towne East Neighborhood Association.
Baseball is an ally in Kansas City, Mo. Ewing Kaufman, the billionaire owner of the Kansas City Royals, pledged free college tuition to 500 students at one of the city's most neglected high schools if they stay off drugs.
Under the $10 million experiment, the entire 9th and 10th grades at Westport High School will go to college if they pass random drug tests.
"You give them hope, you give them opportunity, you show them that somebody cares about them, and they'll stand up to other people. They'll turn out good," Kaufman said.
The passions of war can even overwhelm anti-tax sentiments. This month, voters in the Kansas City area approved a quarter-cent increase in the sales tax to raise $98 million over the next seven years to fight the war.
"People are fighting back," said Joe Serviss, treasurer of Citizens Against Drugs. "They are sick and tired of being locked in their homes and intimidated by drug dealers."
The black community of Cedar Grove in Shreveport, La., which was terrified by an all-night riot 14 months ago, has become the personal battleground of activist and former comedian Dick Gregory.
Gregory arrived in June in the northwestern Louisiana city of 200,000. He converted A.B. Palmer Park, once overrun by dope dealers, into a joyful, child-filled bunker. He has recruited Coretta Scott King, her son, Martin Luther King III, and dancer Ben Vereen for his fight.
"I'm here to protect my America and my children. I'm here for the same reason people go to war," Gregory said. "We want our neighborhoods back. We want people who'd be willing to die, but not willing to kill."
In the Iowa community of Clinton, police worked with the Clinton Herald to come up with a newspaper coupon so readers could anonymously list the names of anyone they suspect of using or selling drugs.
"I'm quite sure we're going to be able to achieve some arrests through this," said Police Chief Gene Bienke.
But Councilman John Rowland criticized the campaign as "a Big Brother syndrome." Said Rowland: "Apparently, it's drugs today. What is it next week, political subversives?"
Battlelines stretch from Phoenix, Ariz., to Phoenixville, Pa.
Authorities in Phoenix target casual users. Those busted can avoid jail by seeking treatment in rehabilitation centers at their own expense, which saves on prosecution costs.
Phoenixville, a Philadelphia suburb of 17,000 residents, hired its first undercover cop this year. Vince Pacifico, a 25-year-old former prison guard, helped arrest 31 suspects.
New York City set up Tactical Narcotics Teams last year after a rookie police officer was killed guarding a witness in a drug case. TNT saturates a drug-plagued area for 30 to 90 days, arresting buyers and sellers to disrupt the drug trade.
In its first year, TNT made 7,000 arrests. But critics of the $116 million, two-year program say dealers return when TNT moves on, not unlike search and destroy missions in Vietnam when territory was taken but the enemy crept back in.
Police are encouraged by their successes, but they concede the enemy is entrenched.
"This must be the longest war in history. It's going to be like the Thousand Year War," said Francis Hall, retired head of New York City's narcotics division.