Crack--the system has used the spread of this rock cocaine as an excuse for ten years of "war on drugs." The system has jacked up jail sentences, built prisons, militarized the southern border, barricaded streets, raided projects, and sent military advisers to Peru. Their cops brutalize, humiliate, arrest, and imprison thousands of youth on city streets every day.
Crack has been used as the excuse to criminalize a whole generation of inner-city youth. And now there is damning evidence of how the system itself created the so-called "crack epidemic."
The teenagers being jailed today in L.A. were not even born yet when the capitalist system started eliminating many of the city's stable working class jobs. Since 1971, more than 320 firms moved out to suburban industrial parks where Black people are rarely hired. Between 1978 and 1982, 10 of the 12 largest non-aerospace plants in Southern California closed--ending 75,000 working class jobs. Even the "weed-pulling170 government jobs that many youths had during the early 1970s disappeared--as government funding dried up.
Unemployment in South Central L.A. neighborhoods is nearly 50 percent higher than in the early 1970s. Community purchasing power has fallen by a third. Small Black businesses have folded. Half of Black and Latino youth in these communities may never find a paying job under this system. In California, the percentage of children in poverty doubled from 11 to 23 percent over twenty years.
Is it any wonder that, when cheap cocaine appeared in the L.A. ghetto, thousands of young men were drawn into selling it?
In the early 1980s, Los Angeles was suddenly flooded with cheap cocaine. We now know that the CIA brought in Colombian cocaine on its planes, and used Contra agents to distribute it. Journalist Gary Webb reveals that CIA drug runners deliberately targeted the Black communities of South Central L.A. and nearby Compton. The CIA drug ring peddled cocaine to existing street networks--first among the Crips, then the Bloods. They planned to finance their dirty war in Central America by exploiting the poverty on L.A. streets.
The cocaine trade drew people in because it paid rent, bought food, clothes and cars. It also brought much bitterness to the people. Young people often ended up dead or disabled--as capitalist competition intensified conflicts among the people. Thousands of new addicts were driven to desperate acts to feed their pipes.
In the late 80s, then-President George Bush announced he would end drug use. This former CIA head was one of the world's top "drug kingpins." How sinister and ridiculous for him to declare a "war on drugs"!
Bush said "supply side" methods had failed and his war would focus on the "demand side." In fact, Bush and the CIA had protected the plane flights that were the "supply side" for much of the cocaine trade--using the profits for their war against Nicaragua.
By the late 80s, L.A. police had announced they were at war with the "demand side"--and their operations show vividly that this really meant a war on the people, especially in oppressed communities. In 1987, the L.A. police carried out a series of brutal raids in areas labeled "drug neighborhoods.170 Police had orders to "stop and interrogate anyone who they suspect is a gang member, basing their assumption on their dress or their use of gang hand signals.170 In two months of such raids, the police had arrested nearly 1,500 youth. Thousands more were forced to "kiss the sidewalk170 and were entered into police computer records.
In April 1987, the LAPD sent a thousand cops into South Central L.A. on "a Vietnam-era search and destroy mission170 called Operation HAMMER. They arrested "more Black youth than at any time since the Watts Rebellion of 1965,170 overwhelmingly for trivial offenses. Cops deliberately inflamed hostilities between gangs. By 1990 the LAPD and LA Sheriffs had arrested about 50,000 suspects in raids.
Meanwhile, the LA media has fanned hysteria over crack dealing--and shamelessly portrayed the city's Black and Latino youth as "ruthless killers170 and "urban terrorists.170 The media wildly inflated estimates of "hard core gang membership170 from 10,000 to 50,000 and even 100,000 people. In a city with only 100,000 Black youth, this has been propaganda for the criminalization of a generation.
The gestapo tactics created righteous anger throughout the city. By 1992, when the Rodney King case exploded before the eyes of the world, many people in L.A. were ready for rebellion.
Meanwhile, federal and state governments passed extreme new police and prison measures--in the name of the "war on drugs." The number of people in prisons have doubled in the last decade. Today there are over 1.5 million prisoners in the U.S. Local jails contain another half a million. About a million people a year are arrested on various drug violations. Twice as many people are arrested for possession as for selling.
The new federal and state laws often require extreme mandatory sentences for drug offenses. Jails are packed with people accused of a few grams of cocaine or pot. The average federal prison sentence for drug offenses rose from 62 months in 1986 to 86 months in 1991. By 1992 there were more people in federal prisons for drug charges than there had been for all crimes in 1980. Prisons fill so fast, that Clinton has added more money to the $1.6 billion that Bush spent for prison construction.
Who has gotten hit hardest? Youth of oppressed nationalities--especially young Black men. Three-fourths of people entering prison are Black or Latino. While prisoners in the U.S. are overwhelmingly male, the number of women in prison is growing rapidly, and the percentage of women in prison for drugs is even higher than it is for men.
There is a double standard in the new drug laws that causes Black people to be punished more often. Federal mandatory sentencing guidelines treat crack and powder cocaine very differently. People convicted of possessing five grams of crack (worth perhaps $125) receive a mandatory minimum sentence of five years without parole, even for first-time offenders. By contrast, a mandatory minimum of five years for powdered cocaine only kicks in at 500 grams (worth thousands of dollars) --100 times the amount of crack. People caught with a few rocks of crack often end up spending years in prison, while people caught with similar amounts of powder routinely get a few months.
This means that white supremacy and inequality are woven into the very fabric of these drug laws--since, in most areas, crack has developed as a "ghetto drug,170 while powdered cocaine remains more of a "suburban drug.170 Last May, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld these outrageous and unjust sentencing standards.
The results of such laws and the pervasive racism of U.S. police are quite extreme:
California has a policy of "three strikes, you're out.170 Anyone convicted of a third felony is automatically sentenced to life in prison without parole. President Clinton wants to apply this to federal laws.
The "three strikes170 policy is also producing extremely unequal results--in part because Black people are so much more likely to get felony convictions for small amounts of drugs. Eighty-five percent of people found guilty of third felony offenses are convicted of "nonviolent crimes170--mostly drug possession. In California, Black people are convicted under the third-strike law 13 times more often than whites. Forty-three percent of third-strike inmates in California are African Americans, even though they account for just 20 percent of the state's felony arrestees.170 Studies show white men commit at least 60 percent of all the rapes, robberies and assaults in California.
This is not the prosecution of criminals--it is the criminalization of a whole generation of inner-city youth. The cruel operations of the capitalist system have combined with the deliberate policies of government agents and lawmakers. Inner-city youth have been cut off from jobs and education--by the closing of whole industries and by the whole structure of white supremacy in the U.S. Then drugs were injected into the ghetto economy. And then the government used the drug economy it helped create to justify brutal police clampdowns that are still going on.
Today, over one in three young Black men in the U.S. are either in prison, awaiting trial, on parole or probation. In many cities, that percentage is 40 or even 50 percent. There are more young Black men in prison than in college. When a young Black or Latino man steps out of his house he runs the risk of police humiliation, arrest--or worse.
Who is to blame when a society replaces schools with prisons? The ghetto kids, denied education and jobs, who find themselves drawn into the illegal economy? Or the rulers of this country who approved and protected the traffic in cocaine? The Black teenagers left stranded by the slamming doors of factories? Or the system and its endless, restless search for profit?
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