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TV Reviews : A Pitched Battle in ‘The Dallas Drug War’ on PBS

There isn’t much in “The Dallas Drug War,” tonight’s edition of “Frontline” (9-10 p.m. on Channels 28 and 15, 10-11 p.m. on Channel 50), that will be new to anyone who lives in a large American city and watches television. But this investigation of all that troubles poverty-stricken, drug-stricken south Dallas (where most of the city’s minority population lives) is so thorough that it might put your view of the issues into fresh perspective.

Producer Hector Galan’s camera sweeps over the entire panorama of “the war zone,” and all sorts of voices are heard--from frightened, disgusted residents to the police and politicians to the drug dealers themselves.

There are the crime-show segments you’d expect: on-camera raids and arrests, a gun battle that rages outside a black family’s house. But then we follow one of the members of that family as she tries to express her desperation to a City Council that seems so jaded to the crisis that the effort only adds to the feeling of futility.

Even bleaker is what we learn about those given the chief burden of doing something about drug-related crime--the city’s Police Department. We ride with policemen who point out apartments they say are definitely crack houses, and we see people in them and milling around them. Then we see police raid an alleged crack house . . . and it turns out to be completely abandoned. The camera crew catches people selling drugs and even holding regular gun battles, but the police can’t. What’s going on here?

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It’s a vicious circle of a system that outlaws drugs and then cannot enforce the laws, and the principal victims are the residents of the black neighborhoods. The program returns to them in its slightly redundant final 15 minutes, focusing on the attempts of some to scare off crack dealers by forming marching citizens’ groups.

There’s a glimmer of hope in this, and in the recent hiring of a new, possibly more efficient and intelligent police chief. But all in all, the cure seems to be killing the patient as much as the disease, and “The Dallas Drug War” paints a picture of utter hopelessness, spiraling downwards.


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