A Washington Post article was published in 1989 titled “Crack Babies: The Worst Threat Is Mom Herself”. Was the devastating epidemic of crack a mere tragedy or a secret the government doesn’t want you to know about? The crack epidemic occurred in the height of our government’s war on drugs. There was more to the crack epidemic than just an influx of a certain drug into our borders. The crack epidemic along with the scare of crack babies was one of the most pronounced events in the 1980’s and 1990’s, but the evidence shows that it was more hysteria and the government deceiving the people which makes these events significant.
The 1960’s brought the world tie-dye, hippies, marijuana, and fears of large scale drug use. Most people would think the 60’s were a prime decade of drug use but historical data and surveys(pic 1) show very different. In a poll done in the United States in 1969 showed that only 4% of adults have tried marijuana and that 60% thought marijuana was physically addictive. Alana Anderson graduated from college in 1969, now a child custody officer she said, “My generation was told that marijuana causes acne, blindness, and sterility. It was a scare tactic rather than an education tactic”(Decades of Drug Use). Due to false messages rather than actual facts made by parental and anti-drug figures, kids in general stopped believing in anti-drug messages. The scare tactics used in the 60’s gave way to opposing messages in the 70’s and early 80’s. Drugs became alluring and percentages of drug use and experimentation shot up. LSD for example became very popular in the entertainment industry which helped give way to youth drug culture. Dangerous drugs like heroin and cocaine hit the streets in masses. The War on Drugs was launched by the government with the aim to stop the use, distribution, and trade of illegal drugs by enforcing strict penalties for offenders. This movement started in in the 1970’s and continues to evolve today. The crack epidemic was an outpouring of crack cocaine into major cities all across America. It started in the early 1980’s to the early 1990’s. It resulted in an increase in crime especially in parts of the inner cities on the lower end of the socioeconomic scale. In the 1980’s cocaine was used as a club drug popularized by celebrities from New York to the Hollywood Hills of California. With its importation coming in from the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas there was an immense amount causing a drastic price drop. The powdered cocaine was altered and converted into a solid smokeable form by combining it with baking soda. It resulted in a more addictive and potent form which absorbs into the bloodstream much faster. This method was cheap to make and cheap to sell. With this new product hitting the streets it caused the increase of deaths, addictions, and drug related crimes.
The crack epidemic swept all across major cities in the United States. Cocaine being for the rich and upper class, crack made its way into the(pic 2) poor inner cities destabilizing and destroying the communities.Laws were passed such as the Anti Drug Abuse Act of 1986 which requires offenders to serve a predefined term for certain crimes. Also a law was passed creating 100 to 1 sentence disparity for trafficking or possession of crack compared to cocaine. For example possession of 5 grams of crack cocaine will sentence you at a mandatory five years while possession of 500 grams of cocaine carries the same sentence. This targeted poor people in low income parts of the city. In cities like Los Angeles and Atlanta the distribution and use of crack cocaine was made popular in part of the economic and social mayhem that went on. “‘As a result of the low-skill levels and minimal initial resource outlay required to sell crack, systemic violence flourished as a growing army of young, enthusiastic inner-city crack sellers attempt to defend their economic investment’”(Murphy). The homicide rate for black teens from 14 to 17 nearly doubled with the same rate of homicide between the ages of 18 to 24 doubling as well. The inner city streets were a war zone. Drug dealers killed competing dealers for more clientele. Innocent people were robbed, stabbed, shot and beaten to death so addicts could indulge in their addiction. Another huge hysteria brought on by the crack epidemic were crack babies. This term was coined during the 80’s and 90’s due to the children exposed to crack in the whom. The babies born were usually premature and underweight with the possibility of a stroke, brain damage or heart attack that could take place. The media called the emergence of crack babies a so called “medical phenomenon”, but in reality these media sources fabricated the facts. They led people to believe the crack epidemic gave way to “a generation of physically damaged cocaine babies whose biological inferiority is stamped at birth”(Krauthammer). There has been no specific conditions or disorders linked to babies and their mothers who used crack cocaine while pregnant. PCE or ( Prenatal cocaine exposure) appears to have little effect on infant growth. Though, PCE is linked with premature birth, birth defects and ADHD. The effects of cocaine on the fetus are looked at as being similar to those of alcohol and tobacco. In media reports it common to mention that fetuses exposed to crack would never develop normally and would be mentally and physically disabled for their whole lives. Many babies were abandoned in the hospitals or given to foster care.
The US government was involved in the crack epidemic through their relationship with the Contras. The Contras were a right wing guerrilla force in Nicaragua that opposed the left wing Sandinistas government. During the war between the Contras and the Nicaraguan government the Contras violated a large number of human rights through terrorist tactics. The Reagan administration which was a supporter of the Contras backed them attempting to downplay the violations. For a time period the Contras received military support and financial aid through the US in part to support movements opposing Soviet supported communist governments. Consequently after congress ended the relationship with this rebel group the Reagan administration secretly continued contact. The United States began supporting Contra activities by the end of 1981 having the CIA taking the lead of the operation. With the CIA supplying funds and equipment the Contras carried out guerilla warfare strategies which included attacking soft targets such as health clinics and schools. “A commando knife was given, and our people, everybody wanted a knife like that, to kill people, to cut their throats”( Nicaraguan Contra Atrocities). Without Congress funding the Contras the Reagan administration had to use private sources. These sources included third world countries as well as funding from drug trafficking in the United States. There were various publications and reports about the issue of drug money and its importance in aiding the Nicaraguan conflict. The Contras were funded by drug trafficking and the United States was well aware. There was controversy going on for several years surrounding Reagan’s support for the Contras. Gary Webb a reporter for the San Jose Mercury News published a series titled Dark Alliance, affirming that the Contras played a part in the rise of crack cocaine in California. His series of articles ultimately led to three federal investigations to go underway resulting in no evidence being found linking the CIA to drug funding to the Contras.
The crack epidemic created panic and mass hysteria amongst our country. It increased violence in America and severely targeted poor communities. In addition the government’s intervention and secret aiding with groups like the Contras gave way for a rise of crack cocaine in America. Actions have to be taken to never again provide the same conditions for an event like this to occur. We must first vote to repeal some of the laws that increased the sentencing for crack related crimes as well as any other drug disparity. We also need to be more critical and less trustworthy of our government in times of crisis like this, because like in this case they might be part of the problem at hand.
Article by Connor King & Video by Hank Sanford
“Crack Epidemic.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 1 May 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crack_epidemic#cite_note-CapitalIdeas-10.
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Robison, Jennifer. “Decades of Drug Use: Data From the ’60s and ’70s.” Gallup.com, 2 July 2002, news.gallup.com/poll/6331/decades-drug-use-data-from-60s-70s.aspx.
“The Crack Epidemic – The History of Crack Cocaine – Drug-Free World.” Foundation for a Drug-Free World, www.drugfreeworld.org/drugfacts/crackcocaine/a-short-history.html.
“The Myth of the ‘Crack Baby’.” FAIR, 5 July 2017, fair.org/extra/the-myth-of-the-crack-baby/.
The United States War on Drugs, web.stanford.edu/class/e297c/poverty_prejudice/paradox/htele.html.