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Drug Plague a Racist Conspiracy? : Crack: Some blacks suspect that the white Establishment encourages or at least tolerates the epidemic of drugs and violence in black communities.

January 02, 1990|HOWARD KURTZ | THE WASHINGTON POST

NEW YORK — Most people would dismiss the notion as little more than paranoia but, in neighborhoods from Harlem to Anacostia to Watts, a significant number of blacks believe that the white Establishment has intentionally allowed narcotics to devastate their communities, even encouraged drug abuse as a form of genocide.

"It's almost an accepted fact," said Andrew Cooper, publisher of the City Sun, a Brooklyn-based black weekly. "It is a deep-seated suspicion. I believe it. I can't open my desk drawer and say, 'Here it is (the evidence).' But there's just too much money in narcotics. People really believe they are being victimized by The Man. If the government wanted to stop it, it could stop it."

Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, put it more graphically in a recent speech in Washington. He told an overflow crowd at the D.C. Armory that "the epidemic of drugs and violence in the black community stems from a calculated attempt by whites to foster black self-destruction."

Many whites and blacks consider such statements examples of paranoia, and there is no concrete evidence to support the notion that white political leaders have actively perpetuated, or consciously tolerated, the drug scourge in the black community. But the conspiracy theory rings true to some blacks who are convinced that there must be an ominous explanation for the tragedy that has struck their community with particular force.

Pedro Noguera, a professor at UC Berkeley, said: "Whether or not there is a real conspiracy is less important than whether people believe there to be a conspiracy . . . and in the black community, they do. For years, when crack was first coming into the community, everybody knew where the crack houses were, including the police. So the police were either in on it or, if not in on it, they allowed it to exist."

Drug abuse and drug violence effectively subjugate blacks who might otherwise vent their frustrations on whites, while also allowing powerful whites to make enormous profits from narcotics, according to this theory. Moreover, it is said that white leaders became concerned only when drugs began to claim white, middle-class victims. Many argue that the government could stem the flow of drugs if it had the political will to do so.

Such sentiments are gaining currency at a time when many blacks are disillusioned with a society in which anti-poverty and civil rights efforts have clearly flagged, some scholars say.

Beginning with the Nixon Administration, they say, many blacks became convinced that a once-protective federal government was no longer concerned with their problems, and some grew more receptive to the self-help, black-separatist rhetoric of people such as Farrakhan.

The Establishment news media, largely wedded to empirical facts, have taken only slight notice of these resurgent "conspiracy" charges.

In a recent discussion of racial issues on ABC's "Nightline," Brooklyn filmmaker Spike Lee said, "I think it is no mistake that a majority of the drugs in this country is being deposited in black and Hispanic and lower-income neighborhoods across the country."

Like many of those interviewed for this article, Lee mentioned a movie scene as evidence that organized crime had targeted blacks for drug addiction.

"I remember that one scene from 'The Godfather' where the dons are trying to decide where the drugs are going to go, and they said, 'Let's give it to the (blacks); they're animals anyway, they're going to lose their souls.' "

Many black opinion leaders shy from such rhetoric.

"I don't believe in the 'white devil' theory," said Benjamin L. Hooks, executive director of the NAACP. "It's simply the anguished cry of people who really don't understand how it got started in the first place and why it's out of control."

At the same time, Hooks described the white attitude toward drug abuse among blacks as "absolute indifference bordering on criminal," likening it to the tolerance of official segregation in the District of Columbia during the 1940s.

"White people have never been anxious to fight a problem that they perceive to be . . . an all-black problem," he said. "It was only when it got to suburbia that it became a joint problem, a white problem, a national problem.

"If young white kids were shooting each other one a day like in the ghettos of Washington, there would be no question about taxes being raised, more policemen being hired. The people who control the money, if their sons and daughters were involved, it'd be different."

Although most users of illegal drugs in the United States are white, hard drugs that attract violence, such as crack cocaine, are largely a problem in black communities.

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