Crack Music: Poverty, Addiction, and Dehumanization

“When our heroes or heroines got hooked on heroin

Crack, raised the murder rate in D.C. and Maryland

We, invested in that, it’s like we got Merrill Lynched

And we been hangin’ from the same tree, ever since”

-Crack Music by Kanye West (ft. The Game)


Crack cocaine appeared on the scene in 1984-1985 in major metropolises across the United States. Much speculation exists surrounding this arrival, ranging from simple economics to transnational conspiracy. To quickly speak to these allegations, quite simply, crack cocaine is a more efficient means by which to administer the drug in addition to increasing profit by cutting the raw product with baking soda and water–readily available materials employed in a simple process. Thus, a relatively small amount of raw product, say one kilo, could be turned into three kilos of crack-cocaine that could then be sold at the same price, increasing profits by at least 300%. From a simple economic point of view, this is the next logical step when the influx of powder cocaine flooding the markets from Central America and the Caribbean caused the price of the unadulterated product to decrease rapidly. Furthermore, administration of the drug through smoking intensified the high by simply optimizing the effects of the drug through the most efficient means of consumption. Physiologically and chemically the effects are the same, it is just that one form fully optimizes the purity of the product, thus creating a more intense high. Essentially, it is the difference between drinking a beer or a glass of whisky.

But the economic incentive rose out of the rapid influx of raw product around the mid-1980s. So the question is what prompted this influx? At this time in Nicaragua, the Contra Rebels were waging a war with the democratically elected government that precipitated from the Sandinista National Liberation Front’s overthrow of the Somoza dynasty (1927-1979). Initially, the Contra Rebels were backed by the Reagan Administration for reasons that should be obvious given the actions of the administration in general. However, in 1983, Congress prohibited federally funding the Contras due to massive human rights violations including by not limited to murder, torture, rape, mutilation, kidnapping, political assassinations. Furthermore, Human Rights Watch found that in response to the World Court’s orders to pay massive reparations, the Reagan Administration instead escalated the conflict by ordering attacks on “soft targets”–namely health clinics, agricultural cooperatives, and the like (Power and Terror, N. Chomsky).  Since funding was officially cut, these were not technically the actions of the Reagan Administration, but rather the Contras. However, funding was rather diverted through arms sales to Iran via Israel in exchange for hostages, of which the profits were forwarded to the Contras; these reports (Iran-Contra Affair, look it up) have been confirmed though the extent of the exchanges have been largely covered up by the Reagan Administration. So then, what does any of this have to do with crack cocaine? Well, as one former CIA agent, David MacMichael said,

Once you set up a covert operation to supply arms and money, it’s very difficult to separate it from the kind of people who are involved in other forms of trade, and especially drugs. There is a limited number of planes, pilots and landing strips. By developing a system for supply of the Contras, the US built a road for drug supply into the US.

-From The Independent August 26, 1989.

Similarly, in light of this, we should begin to question the rise in so-called illicit substance that for the most part are impossible to produce within our borders, specifically heroin. Analogous pathways, may, and likely do exist. They certainly have in the past, as demonstrated in American Gangster featuring Denzel Washington who smuggled heroin into the United States with the help of the military stationed in Vietnam. To push the analogy even further, the enemy–communism–was the same as in Nicaragua.

Thus, we have the economic incentive prompted by the influx of raw product that resulted in the development and proliferation of crack cocaine. Unlike the more farfetched conspiracy theories in which covert CIA operatives systematically infiltrated the inner-city drug trade and introduced crack cocaine personally, I believe that this scenario is far more likely. Then again, given the international terrorism in which this arose, the former theory would not surprise me either. Anyways, moving forward, why am I talking about this on the site? Most importantly, the demonization of inner-city drug suppliers as well as users serves as the ideological basis by which the state wages a war on drugs rather than a war on poverty. Thus, contextualizing this epidemic is paramount in undermining this ideology so as to promote the proliferation of truth and embody change.

Recently, a longitudinal study came out that confirmed poverty to be a greater risk factor compared to gestational cocaine exposure (GCE). After following a cohort of cases and controls for twenty-three years, the study found that GCE had little or no effect on outcomes and that poverty and similar structural violence played a far greater role. For many, this may be a surprising discovery. Then again, for many who intimately know poverty and addiction, it is simply an overly complicated means to express something they already know. Furthermore, how many have perished to addiction and death in those twenty-three years while we toiled to prove that it was poverty. Those who are now lost knew that it was poverty, we just refused to listen. Their experiences are not legitimized forms of knowledge production. The case-control is the only means by which the academy deciphers the truth; those who die during the process are justifiable losses in the search for statistical significance. The academy has become so far removed from the real world that this is the gold standard and the human casualties are thus justified in this noble search for truth. What’s worse is that this is not actually the gold standard, a title held by the randomized control trial, which is simply impossible to apply when studying social phenomena such as poverty and addiction due to implicit violations of ethics. However, those who die while we undertake this long, laborious process is not a violation of ethics.

What has happened that this inhumane method of discovery has become the means by which we allegedly discover the truth for the liberation of people? First of all, the conceptual creation of the “crack baby” comes along with the implicit assumption that from birth the child is already lost. Nothing can be done, it is simply too late before it even started. Now, with this study, we have confirmed that this a convenient lie that simply promotes the war on drugs and the mass incarceration of addicts and pushers rather than advocating treatment and alternative, more dignified strategies.

Secondly, the conceptualization of the “addict” as someone who is incessantly using and has lost all conception of self and one’s responsibilities and humanity is demonization plain and simple. Addiction is an illness that occurs through complicated pathways entrenched in systemic injustice. It is not a choice. Furthermore, drug use has been portrayed as an all-consuming behavior, when in reality, crack users often go weeks, even months without using. Rather, they binge for a few days. Certainly detrimental to one’s health, but not in the same way as if one smoked crack all day, every day. The few anomalous cases in which individuals do succumb to complete addiction and disregard for one’s self and dependents are the ones that we see so often; the ones that become the nihilistic crack baby poster-child. However, this is not the generalized rule, as the longitudinal study demonstrated but rather rare cases. Again, this serves to demonize the population and justify a war on drugs rather than war on poverty.

In addition, research has also shown that crack cocaine might not be inherently more addictive than powder cocaine, but rather those who are more prone to addiction in the first place are likely to choose the more effective means of administration to optimize their purchase and heir high. Analogously, for alcoholics why drink a case of beers when you can simply drink a bottle of liquor? Finally, does this study imply that we needed a reason to fight poverty aside from poverty itself? Clearly. We choose not to while still well aware of its existence. It is as if the detriment must be proven without a shadow of a doubt before anything will be done. As if those lives are worth nothing and deserve no dignity. I believe that this is sadly true and explains why we tirelessly attempt to prove the detriment of poverty on other factors such as health, education, productivity, etc. while we disregard the simple fact that the conditions of poverty are such a great injustice that no one should be subject to this existence almost completely void of dignity. With the regular murder and rape of minorities in the prison system, the shutting down of inner-city health clinics, and the disenfranchisement of community organizations working to undermine these forms of oppression the forms of terrorism that was associated with the rise of the crack of the epidemic abroad is ever present within our borders. What have we done? What have we allowed to happen?

While studies like these serve to confirm and legitimize the knowledge long-known on the street, the cost are monumental–from administration to the study as well as all the souls lost in the meanwhile. Furthermore, we cannot decontextualize these epidemics from intra as well as international actions undertaken by states allegedly in the interest of we, the people, or imperialism in the guise of democracy. We must no longer be spectators bound to the laws of statistical significance while we ignore what is right in front of us.  We must become conscious actors for justice because by simply existing, we are implicitly and subconsciously actors of injustice. Finally, we must recognize that there is certainly “strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.”

Roy Cherian

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Categories: Academia, Change, Community, Disparities, Geographic, Politics, Race, Research, SES

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