There’s a new Drug War Porn show on TV, I made it through one episode before calling it quits. Sitting at the end of the block, the end of any block in any black neighborhood in any major city, the officer looks out at the kids playing, the parents parlaying, the seniors pontificating, and says “Anyone could be a look-out, anyone could be a spotter, anyone, you just never know” as a young kid passes him on bike, his hand moves towards and rests on his 9mm, “anyone could be carrying a gun, you’ve gotta keep your eyes open at all times.” The undercover officer never sees the driver of the van he is stalking, but paints a rather clear picture: in this neighborhood, the enemy is anyone. It’s a neighborhood under siege.
One of the greatest feats of American television—if not the best—is the story of the city of Baltimore called The Wire. It tells the tales of the lives that comprise any major American city; from city hall to the daily paper, from the police to its firemen, its drug dealers, dock workers, day laborers, school teachers, trash collectors, high-priced lawyers, its kids, and its Black, Gay, shotgun-toting-trench-coat-clad-drug-dealer-robbing-great-moral-equalizer, who as most every character in the series based on a composite of several very real men. The series is engrossing enough on its own, but having come from neighboring D.C. (a city which has arguably rebound a thousand times more than B-More in the last couple decades (though the why’s comprise a twisted tale all itself), and having spent much of the remainder of my life in and on the streets of minority (read: excessive drug dealing as last resort) neighborhoods, a stint in an all Black rehab and a six months living at the Central Harlem Crisis Center, which is slightly nicer than one might think, the show and it’s insight, particularly its take on drugs and this faction of society had my undivided attention (and indeed requires it). It tells the tale of an ever-changing culture, of the remnants of the inner-city post white flight and sans jobs.
I was in both cities recently, got to talk to several people on the street, in the game, and a few who’ve since recovered at one of the meetings I attended about Baltimore, The Wire, and the role of drugs in the Black community. After I read what the textbook had to offer on the African-American population I was reminded of how put-off I was from the Preface: a thorough description of evolving terminology, from “special” to “diverse” and the absolute vapidity in the ten page argument. I’ve encountered a reality much different than the one described in slapped together studies and stats therein.
Season Four of the Wire follows the lives of four Black kids born into a city which has little to offer. Where the book describes a people still grappling with the pain of slavery and its reverberations, what I see is kids just like these, born into few options, something like get good on the court or start selling crack, otherwise its a life of menial jobs if that. The tragic comedy called the Drug War is what did the Black Community in much more than the drugs. That and an ever lessening need for them in the work force. The steel and iron mills in Pittsburg and Baltimore are long shuttered. As are factories making toilets in Newark, tires in Flint, wood stoves in Minneapolis, and whatever used to go on in Albany… gone gone gone. There are no cars being manufactured in Detroit. What was a thriving people, a black middle class across the Rust Belt, throughout the northern cities, is now empty lots where the only job available is lookout for the crack dealer on the corner.
The best argument comes from the work of Dr Carl Hart. As is my thoughts with the population at large, he explores the black communities issue with drugs with a very novel approach(1). Drug testing on rats in the past has consisted of a rat in a cage with two options, feed yourself and enjoy this caged existence or enjoy some morphine or maybe some crack. The Columbia Professor extended this Rat Park experiment to include other rats and rooms, corridors and paths and playpens, racetracks, and food options. A vibrant caged community as opposed to the empty cage. This simple experiment has been the basis for much of his work. The rats with more options, with a healthy community to engage with in and things to do were much less likely to choose oblivion. Most born into the inner-city with a poor school system, a neighborhood so heavily policed that most fathers are in jail, a job market consisting of basketball or drug dealing do not have near the options of the rat in the park. The Drug War and its inverse economy has done infinitely more damage to the Black Community than any drug. The loss of jobs has done more to lessen the options and increase the pain and therefore the need to medicate. Drug addiction has many roots, but to my mind nowhere is it clearer than in a population which simply has no other options; be they Natives on a jobless Rez or homeless in Chicago, when options and connections are severed addiction will fill the void. Where economic opportunities vanish others will replace them. There were a few heroin kingpins of African decent, maybe a couple in every major city, but it was the distribution of crack on the street, a drug which was not brought in by the Italian Mafia but the CIA who frowned on dealings with Blacks until The Teflon Dons son essentially finished them off, but by the CIA to be disseminated on the street level, never to a greater extent than Rick Ross of Los Angeles(2).
The textbook used in my Addiction in Diverse Populations talks about Blacks being more susceptible to both social and physical ailments due to addiction yet it fails to mention a diet of government cheese, white bread, Top Ramen and Tang, the only shit the corner store sells. Although it does mention systemic police abuse and mistrust in that “police tend to congregate where drug dealing is at street level” may be true, Haight Street has a lot less cops than the Tenderloin, one is largely white street dealers the other Black. The book mentions a people galvanized by World War I? I read of the Civil War and the Civil Rights movement and a people grappling with the past and was almost embarrassed. The increased risk to Black smokers is because of the oft preferred menthol, and why that is is like studying the fried chicken connection. Slapped together stats (all of which I believe to compiled primarily to justify the need for the statisticians job) do not explain a people systematically pushed out of the economy because they’re simply no longer needed, voting rights or not.
The rest of the Chapter is mostly all inclusive in talking of recovery and relapse.
Of the four boys who make up much of Season 4, although all clearly have a unique talent, only one is lucky enough to escape any sexual abuse—a huge problem in the black community which I found no mention of in the Chapter(3)—which is probably due to the book being an compilation of select studies and stats, he is lucky enough to have his talent recognized and essentially adopted into a family where a new world opens up to him. As for the rest; the one who was sexually abused by his step-father cannot muster the trust in his boxing coach and real mentor and goes on to rob drug dealers, another whose parents were perpetual welfare crack cases ends up in the scrap metal trade and a heroin addict. The last one, an excellent businessman as witnessed by his bourgeoning candy sales operation at school ends up in a group home after he finds himself mixed up in a police pursuit and interview, is labeled a snitch, his foster mom killed, effectively a dead man walking the streets. At least one of the four is bound to have a child or two, and the cycle continues.
When connections are severed addictions bloom. When good opportunities leave new ones are formed. When one is no longer needed by the greater society the resources required to prepare them for said society collapse. When war is waged on a neighborhood the results will be bloodshed and pain, both requiring heavy medication.
This was written for one of my Addiction Studies classes entitled: Drug Use and Diverse Populations.