The Genocide That Genocide Created
“That Was the Big Thing, to Have White Boys Come From Out of Town…”
The Genocide That Genocide Created is a three-part series examining the journey from the crack cocaine explosion in urban Black communities during the ‘80s and ‘90s to the current heroin epidemic in rural and suburban White neighborhoods. The story is told from the perspectives of a former Baltimore drug dealer, current Washington, D.C. police officer, and recovered Maryland drug addict, all of whom lived the crack epidemic firsthand and share their experiences and thoughts about how we’ve ended up where we are today — right back where we started with police armies attempting to wage the same archaic war on drugs. This series aims to spark a dialogue that addresses the multifaceted change needed to stop this cycle of failure.
“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
— Saint Bernard of Clairvau, French monk and reformer
The War on Drugs, initially started by Richard Nixon in the ‘70s, was ramped up in the ‘80s during the Reagan Administration with the intention of eradicating a crack epidemic that had invaded urban Black America and ending drug crime and addiction in our country in general. SWAT teams were deployed, prisons were built, and laws were made harsher, but did it really push the drug battleground to White suburban and rural America and help create the largest heroin epidemic in our country’s history?
“Baltimore has always been about dope.”
Dope. Heroin. He-ron.
Dave should know. He moved to Baltimore from Newark when he was thirteen.
“That was ‘87, something like that.”
We talk in the empty upstairs bedroom of a townhome that he owns and is presently renovating off of Lafayette Street in West Baltimore. Now a Howard University-educated real estate developer, he wears a skull cap, hoody, and complains that he has on his work clothes when I ask to take his picture. Back in the day, work was another thing altogether.
“The first time I got involved with the shit (selling drugs) was summer break after freshman year.”
If heroin was a terrorist attack, Baltimore would be ground zero in the United States. Government agencies estimate that one in ten residents in the city are addicted to the drug. Heroin abuse runs rampant in America in general, however, with the rate of addiction having increased more than 63% between 2002 and 2012.
“Them dope fiends. They gotta have it.”
This is Dave’s story:
“In ‘91 there was a cocaine drought in Baltimore.”
Cocaine connections were hard to find. An ounce of coke should have been selling for eight hundred dollars he tells me.
“But we were selling them for fifteen hundred, two thousand depending on who you were talking to.”
Being from Newark, Dave knew plenty of people in New York City who were involved in the drug game. He could buy coke in The City for four hundred an ounce and sell it in Baltimore for more than a thousand.
The City: NYC.
“So I’m, like, this is an opportunity.”
Dave, his younger brother, and his boy started selling ounces to dealers in Baltimore who were corner selling, dealing drugs on the block. At most they would have an eighth of a key, which is about eight ounces. They were no kingpins, but they made bank.
Dave, however, wasn’t the only person who saw the opportunity. Back then New Yorkers were going Down South in droves.
Down South: Everywhere south of New Jersey is Down South to New Yorkers.
“Back then people down here (in Baltimore) were infatuated with people from New York. If you came down here and you were from New York, they would almost give their corner away to you.”
That didn’t last long, but back to that later.
“I had the master plan / I’m in the caravan / On my way to Maryland / With my man *Two-Tecs to take over these projects /They call him Two-Tecs / He totes two tecs / And when he starts to bust, he like to ask, “Who’s next?”
— “Everyday Struggle” The Notorious B.I.G.
*For the record, in the song Two-Tecs got murdered.
“So a little war went on between people from Baltimore and New York.”
In the meantime, the whole little cocaine drought in Baltimore went away. Cocaine started flowing into the city by the bus, train, plane, and boatloads.
And don’t forget rental cars.
“So it was really dope that was [worth] sellin’ [if you wanted to make the most money].”
Dope. Heroin. He-ron.
Crack swept through hoods and made headlines during the Reagan era as drug crews in New York and gangs in Los Angeles charted new ground across the country until turf wars were taking place in St. Louis, drive-bys were going down in Gary, Indiana, and federal agents were setting up drug busts in front of the White House. The murder, money, and unexpectedness of it all captured the country’s attention and ignited the War on Drugs.
Crack knocked heroin off the front pages of newspapers and top stories of local newscasts where it had once reigned supreme in the ‘70s thanks to drug dealers like Nicky Barnes in Harlem. But it never really went away. It disappeared into the subconscious of America like a cancer that we all thought was cured waiting to strike again. It went into remission in terms of our attention spans.
“From ‘88 to ‘95 Lafayette Street was poppin’.”
Today, however, we look outside and see a White woman walking her dog within a block of the same strip.
“Back then the money wasn’t in crack. If you were selling heroin, you was makin’ money.”
The thing about crack is that crack is easy to make. You can watch Menace II Society and learn how to cook cocaine into crack or simply listen to hip-hop radio.
“You had to know what you were doing if you were selling dope.”
Dope. Heroin. He-ron.
Cutting up heroin takes expertise, which made it elite.
“Everybody didn’t know how to deal with dope.”
Plus, it was so much more expensive per ounce. Back then it was going for $2,200 around Dave’s way.
“But you were going to cut it up and turn it into ten grand and some shit. You had to have money, though, to get your hands on anything worth having.”
“You’re cutting that shit, that shit’s flying in your nose, getting in your skin, you almost needed a fuckin’ spacesuit.”
“Even the cut, the quinine, is a toxic chemical. So you also have to know how to deal with that.”
But if you did know how to deal with that, the sky was the limit as far as making money.
“A young cat named Mike (name changed) was a big shot, but he was so laid back and cool. Now he’s a millionaire legit, spending drug money he made in the eighties. And he’s probably been clean for at least ten years. A decade ago the feds raided him and the only thing they found were business papers in his safe.”
Stories like this, however, are few and far between.
“It’s like the more money we come across / The more problems we see.”
— “Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems” The Notorious B.I.G.
“So a little war went on between people from Baltimore and New York.”
“It got to the point where young boys here were like: I got a gun. He got a gun. Fuck ’em.”
Dave tells me Southern hospitality ran out in Baltimore and the local hustlers started to see their formerly welcome New York guests more like unwanted competition than comrades. After all, Baltimore isn’t as Southern as some New Yorkers might like to believe. Plus, greed brings the worst out in people in general and there was major money to be made and more and more people trying to make it.
“For a while one person would sit there and be at the top. Now your right-hand man was trying to bump you off.”
In Dave’s world robberies, ambushes, kidnappings, murder, the invasion and overthrowing of territory became commonplace.
“‘93, that’s when shit started changing. People started kicking in the doors. If they thought you had something…”
“What’s mine is mines and what’s yours is mine.”
— “Gimme the Loot” The Notorious B.I.G.
“Shit got grimy.”
Then the feds initiated:
It started in Richmond, Virginia in 1997. In the drug game you always want to stay as far away from drugs as possible. Guns, however, are another thing. You always need to have your gun by your side, at least if you want to stay alive. So with Project Exile the feds started going after guns instead of drugs.
“Let me tell you something. It’s a small group of people doing murders. Runnin’ wild, but you’ve got some people that stacked some bodies, man.”
Case in point:
Anthony “AJ” Jones. “AJ” made millions of dollars and had dozens of people killed selling drugs in Baltimore. He even had cops helping him commit murders as he sat behind bars and ultimately ordered his own brother killed.
“He stacked some bodies.”
Project Exile moved illegal technical possession offenses from state to federal court, where they carried a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in federal prison.
So gun laws ended up being a major blow to drug violence? Ironically, the NRA was one of the primary advocates supporting them. Interesting considering their current resistance to new gun policy.
“My brother’s locked up right now on that same Exile shit. And they try to send you somewhere far away to a federal prison where it ain’t easy for your family to visit you.”
By the beginning of the 21st-century drug crime and violence had started to decrease. So the War on Drugs, Project Exile, and mandatory drug sentences worked, right?
“When I came up, you couldn’t just go out on a corner and start selling shit. You had to have something — somebody — behind you. Some type of reputation. You had to have some type of status.”
In the age of diversity, the drug game is one of the few places in this country where you can actually find it, Dave believes. If you were a hardcore kingpin gangster drug dealer during the ‘80s and ‘90s odds are you are either dead or in jail by now, which left slangin’ dope and coke open to any and everyone. If anything, drugs haven’t disappeared, the wrath of their fury has simply diluted and scattered.
“The money ain’t there like it used to be. It’s saturated. It ain’t enough money to go around. Everybody out there doing it now. Everybody wanna be a gansta’.”
Just like your grandfather, drug dealers of yesterday like Dave are nostalgic about the past.
“The hustlers today don’t have the work ethic we had.”
They don’t call drugs work for no reason.
“Kids today are just selling drugs to buy weed, pop pills, and cop Jordans. Kingpin dreams are a thing of the past.”
Where have you gone, Melvin Williams?
“Shit done changed.”
The general consensus is that the heroin epidemic in suburban America ignited because heroin ultimately became more affordable than prescription pain medication to addicts. But a pill culture has invaded young America — White, Black, and everything in between — from Brooklyn to Broadway and Baltimore to Boise.
Mollies, Perks, E, Oxys, Scooby Snacks.
Scooby Snacks: Valium.
Even syrup, and don’t forget weed.
Then there’s synthetic weed, which the streets say is taking its pound of flesh as you read this.
“They’re doing drugs and selling drugs at the same time. At the end of the night, that’s the big thing. When I was growing up, nah, you couldn’t be doing that shit.”
Technological advances have connected us all to the point that Black kids are riding skateboards and White kids are listening exclusively to rap music. As the world rides down the information superhighway, the best and worst of all of our cultures are only a trip away. We have all grown more connected. At least on a street level, the walls dividing us have come crumbling down.
Or maybe it’s just become a little clearer how similar we all are.
“It’s not like there’s a White culture or a Black culture. White boy rollin’ down the street now saying nigga’, nigga’, nigga’.”
So just like Crips and Bloods from Los Angeles set out to find fresh drug turf in Portland, Birmingham, and everywhere in between and New York crews hit the Turnpike looking to take over corners from Bridgeport, Connecticut to Charlotte, North Carolina, young drug dealers have blazed their own paths in suburban White enclaves from Maine to Montana.
Shit done changed.
“That was the big thing, to have White boys come from out of town from the county to buy drugs. He’s going to buy a boatload of shit because he doesn’t want to have to come back.”
“So you’re going to sell it to them for twice as much and half the quality. You taxed them, but these young boys — I guess they’re going to them.”
The drug hustle is a thing of the past for Dave, but time marches on and the memories remain, for all of us. There is a those were the good old days tone in his voice during much of our conversation, or maybe it’s just amazement that he survived . . . there’s also regret.
Our conversation ends. Dave has to check on another property. These days there’s more money to be made for him refurbishing homes on the streets where he once stood hustling.
“This area is prime real estate now.”
The more things change the more they stay the same.