“White Folks Been Doing Heroin”
The Genocide That Genocide Created — Part 2
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.
“Tomorrow you and your sons will be with me.”
— 1st Samuel, Chapter 28, Verse 19
The last couple of years have been filled with news reports about the heroin epidemic invading suburban and rural White America and ways to prevent and ultimately end its spread. But is the truth of the matter that the epidemic is already entrenched and that White America should be looking backward to find ways to stop the spread of an ever growing disaster?
“Shit done changed, but not really,” says the Black police officer standing in front of me.
He is a massive man who is almost broader than he is tall. Being 6'1", he is short enough that I have to glance downward to look him in his forty-year-old eyes, but the thickness of his neck and his nonchalant I’ve seen it alldemeanor garner major respect. He looks like the type of guy who would say I don’t want to have to kick your ass before you stupidly forced him to kick your ass. If he ever winds up in a foot chase, he’s in a lot of trouble, but if someone happens to find themselves on the wrong side of the law within arm’s reach of him, it would be in their best interest to put their hands on their head, smile politely, and wait for him to cuff them.
“I don’t want to have to put my hands on anybody, but, if I have to, I will.”
Officer Towers (name changed) grew up in Washington, D.C., where he now polices.
“I think that gives me an advantage.”
He served as a military police officer for seven years and planned on making the army a career, but things didn’t work out that way. When he returned home, he joined the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department. He works the beat at a Southeast Anacostia convenience store where neighborhood beefs were once settled in the parking lot with fists and even guns.
“This area right here — back in the day — used to be rough.”
During the crack cocaine explosion of the ‘80s and ‘90s Anacostia was one of the worst areas in what was then the murder capitol of the United States of America, Washington, D.C.
“I grew up in that shit.”
Officer Towers knows better than anyone that during those times you wouldn’t want to be found dead in Southeast D.C., unless you wanted to be found dead. Murder was common and many times not hearing gunshots caused more concern than when you did, because it meant that the next gunshot might accidentally be close enough to hit you.
Open air drug markets once littered Anacostia as well as the rest of the city. Crack addicts wandered around like zombies and packs of small children surrounded you as you approached the entrance to McDonald’s begging for money and food.
“You don’t see that anymore, at least not as much as you used to.”
“In a lot of areas it almost looks like Paris or some shit.”
So what the hell happened?
“Niggas got smart.”
“Freebase? What’s free about it?”
— Richard Pryor
By the beginning of the twenty-first century, many researchers, law officials, professors, and political pundits predicted that there would be low functioning crack babies prowling our streets. Plus, nightly newscasts and politicians preached that hyper-aggressive superpredators were and would be waiting in alleys for our children as they walked home from school. None of that happened however. In fact, the opposite did.
“We saw it all firsthand. So there was no way that I was gonna be a crackhead.”
If you were Black and alive during the ‘80s and ‘90s it was virtually impossible to avoid, either directly or indirectly, the wrath of crack on the Black community. Beautiful girls next door were suddenly selling their bodies on neighborhood corners for money to buy rock.
Pillars of the community suddenly became beggars. Mothers abandoned their children and left them to fend for themselves. Many of those children, because of this, turned to using and selling drugs themselves until they were locked away or worse.
“But don’t get it twisted.”
Officer Towers tells me that bodies still drop in Washington, D.C. on a regular basis, but the feeling of lawlessness, of impending danger, of knowing that any and everything could happen at the drop of a hat that once smothered the streets feels like a distant, almost forgotten memory.
“There’s more of a focus on community policing. We aren’t just jumping out and kicking in anymore. Too many White folks around. You can’t get away with that.”
“Cops put a hurtin’ on your ass, man, you know. They really degrade you. White folks don’t believe that shit, don’t believe cops degrade; — ‘Ah, come on, those beatings, those people were resisting arrest.’”
— Richard Pryor
I watch as Officer Towers talks to a young Black boy who has been caught shoplifting about the stupidity of his crime and then bans him from visiting the store for a week. It sounds more like a conversation between a disappointed uncle and an ashamed nephew than a cop and a suspect.
“We believe in becoming a part of the community and creating as many positive interactions with people as possible. I’m from here so that’s important to me. Because I remember when the cops used to treat you like shit.”
In some parts of the country many would argue that they still do.
“Yeah, but most cops really respect the job. Plus, a brighter (spotlight) is being shined on the ones doing wrong so it’s harder for them to get away with that.”
Meanwhile, a heroin epidemic has swept through suburban and rural White America.
“Real talk, White folks have been doing heroin.”
Dope. Heroin. He-ron.
It is conventional wisdom that 9/11 struck a major blow to drug trafficking. With stepped-up security and the loosening of surveillance restrictions, many believe that the PATRIOT Act crippled drug dealers even more than the terrorists it was targeting. The opposite, however, may be true, especially when it comes to heroin.
“Things slowed down for a second, but then everything went back to normal.”
Afghanistan produces ninety percent of the world’s supply of opium, the main ingredient in the production of heroin. When the Taliban took over the country in 1996 it produced a little more than two thousand tons of the crop a year. By 2001 that number had been reduced to less than two hundred tons. The world’s primary source in the production of heroin had been almost completely shut off.
After America and its allies invaded the country, opium production jumped up to a little less than thirty-five hundred tons in 2002 and as much as eight thousand tons by 2007. During that same period, the number of heroin addicts in Russia doubled to 2.5 million from 2002 to 2010.
America did not fare well, either. Heroin-related deaths have quadrupled since 2000 according to the CDC. Plus, while mass incarceration has remained a major concern in the Black community, from 2000 to 2009, according to the Sentencing Project, the rate of incarceration in state and federal prisons has declined by 9.8% for Black men and 30.7% for Black women while rising by 8.5% for White men and 47.1% for White women — statistics attributed to the increase of drug arrests in the White community.
“The thing about White people is this: they keep they shit private. They don’t have they shit out in the open.”
Nearly 90 percent of the people who tried heroin for the first time in the past decade were White and many of them were middle-class and even wealthy. But as heroin abuse has swept through White suburban and rural neighborhoods, many of the ugly details have only recently been revealed. The crack cocaine epidemic was a major public embarrassment and devastating blow to the Black community, but I wonder whether the transparency of the epidemic, both wanted and unwanted, may have contributed to the end of the problem.
“I don’t know, but I do know that nobody came to save us. We saved ourselves.”
What about the War on Drugs and mandatory prison sentences?
“Hell, nah. The last thing that I want to do is lock somebody up. Oh, I’m a cop so I will if I have to, but usually it doesn’t help anything. It doesn’t help you (the person being arrested). It just helps the rest of us for a little while. That is, until you get out. Then you have the same problem all over again. Only now it’s worse.”
And did the hidden nature of the White suburban heroin problem allow it to grow into a full-blown epidemic?
“The thing about America is this: nobody gives a fuck until White people start dying. Back in the day when niggas started doing drive-bys in front of schoolyards, there were changes. And now that White people are dying from these drugs, it’s a big problem.”
“Y’all remember? Y’all used to drive through our neighborhoods and shit and go, ‘Oh, look at that. Isn’t that terrible?’ Then you’d get home, right, and your fourteen year old would be fucked up, and you’d go, ‘Oh, my God, it’s an epidemic.’”
— Richard Pryor
And people are dying. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, more than 10,000 people died from heroin overdoses in 2014 and another 18,000 as a result of prescription opioid pain relievers. A larger number of those people than in the past were White.
Is America racist? Yes. Unfortunately, however, this country is oftentimes even more indifferent than it is biased. Heroin overdose deaths have quadrupled since 2000. How about when they doubled? Nobody said anything. Nobody said anything or demanded any action until the White bodies had piled up in Bethesda, Maryland and White Post, Virginia to the point that they could be seen from the White House lawn and the White children of judges, business owners, and even millionaires were overdosing in their Craftsman home bedrooms.
Does being White in this country empower you with a privilege that others don’t possess? Hell, yeah. But if you live long enough anywhere between Hawaii and Maine you’ll find that America is willing to turn a blind eye on anyone if it means saving a dime or making sure we can enjoy a football game on a Sunday afternoon.
Damn you, CTE.
Dear White People:
No one is coming to save you. If there’s anything that we can learn from Officer Towers’ story, it’s that you have to save yourselves. Overturning barbaric drug laws and instilling the public with a kinder, gentler sentiment toward addiction still won’t protect you from having to do the fearless moral inventory that it will take to pull yourselves out of the predicament that you now find yourselves in.
If you don’t believe me, ask a former Black crackhead.
Hindsight is always 20/20, or theories about the past are, while the present and what is to come remain a mystery. In the hood, much like Hollywood, if I may quote William Goldman, when it comes to drugs — crack, heroin, or whatever:
“Nobody knows nothing.”
Chaos, murder, hope, change, life, and death swirls around its inhabitants like a wind that can’t be controlled, but only experienced.
“I just take it a day at a time, because in this job the one thing that I’ve learned is that you never know who’s doing what.”
Until people start dying.