D.C. Mayor Finds Language Barrier in Drug Paraphernalia Search

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray conducted a door-to-door drug paraphernalia search Thursday afternoon in the Petworth neighborhood, but ran into a significant language barrier with a shopkeeper.

Gray, along with police officers and advocates for drug-free youth, traveled in a pack along Georgia Avenue NW sending a message to shop owners that selling things like cigarette papers and marijuana grinders won't be tolerated. Gray confiscated illegal items from two stores.

"That's illegal. You can't do that man, it's drug paraphernalia," Gray told one shopkeeper.

However, at the first shop Gray visited, he encountered a language barrier with an Ethiopian shopkeeper.

"How do you sell anything if you don't understand?" the mayor asked. "If someone asks you for something, do you know what they're asking for?"

The mayor became visibly frustrated with the clerk, who wasn't understanding his questions.

"You know what K-2 is? You don't know what spice is? You know what synthetic marijuana is? You don't know what marijuana is either?"

Gray told News4's Mark Segraves he didn't believe the clerk when he answered, "No" to all his questions.

"You never heard of marijuana?" Gray questioned the clerk, who shook his head.

At that point, Gray turned to the pack of people he was conducting the door-to-doors with, and asked if they had heard of marijuana. The group overwhelmingly answered they had heard of marijuana.

"You must be the only person in creation," Gray said. The clerk then said he still did not understand the questions -- even asking him to translate.

"I don't really know how you work in here if you can't communicate with the people who are coming here," Gray said.

The mayor did bring a Spanish translator with him, and told Segraves it's irrelevant whether or not he was being insensitive to the Ethiopian clerk.

"We were trying to communicate with him," Gray said. "He communicates with the public every day, or attempts to communicate with the public every day. People will come in just like me and ask for certain things. We were asking about something that affects so many children and I would expect him to be in a position to be able to address that, and he wasn't."

Gray noted the door-to-door was successful by the items he confiscated.

"Having found some of these folks selling drug paraphernalia is quite unsettling, but at the same time, we sent a message that this will not be acceptable. We confiscated some of the paraphernalia and we're gonna send some of our inspectors to deal with the owners on this."

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