What are we to think? Gentrification & the Crack Epidemic vs. the Opioid Crisis

By Sean Scott
Federal Correctional Institution, Schuylkill

It comes as a great shock to discover the country of your birth and to which you owe your life and your identity has not in its whole system of reality evolved any place for you.
— James Baldwin

Gentrification is the so-called social advancement of an urban area by the refurbishing of buildings and is marked by the arrival of affluent residents who displace poorer inhabitants. At this very hour, urban areas all across the nation, including Baltimore and Washington D.C., are undergoing a gentrification. These predominantly African American communities, that for decades experienced pervasive discrimination in housing, employment, and education, (indubitable ingredients for crime) are being ameliorated for wealthier residents by way of gentrification.

This is not surprising if viewed from a historical perspective. Most, if not all calamities in the African American communities were redressed with dishonest policies. One need only to contrast the instant opioid crisis, presently devastating rural white suburban communities, with the 1980's crack epidemic.

The government's rejoinder to rural white suburban woe's has been humane, one of compassion and benevolence. Law enforcement have been trained and equipped with medicinal devices to avert overdoses and save lives. Rural white suburban elementary school kids were visited in their classrooms and educated in the science of treating an overdose should there parents succumb to one. State Attorney General's across the country and the federal government have declared war against the pharmaceutical companies that manufacture the opioids. Local governments have sponsored opioid community meetings. A humanitarian response from politicians in Washington, allocating a billion dollars in aid and a declaration of the crisis as a health matter. Warm, emotional, sentimental media coverage of the aftermath of opioid abuse, with accounts of the families destroyed, the perished or abandoned children, the tragically deceased parents.

This is in stark contrast with the 1980's crack epidemic, that ravished urban African American communities, the government's retort was one of law and order. A war was declared. As described vividly by Michelle Alexander in her bestselling book, "The New Jim Crow," swat teams were deployed to African American neighborhoods, drug raids of apartment buildings and houses where innocent women and children were sometimes fatally wounded by law enforcement, buy-and-bust operations, stop-and-frisk polices. A war had been declared, not figuratively but literally with the Department of Defense being called in by an act of congress. Local police departments militarized with armored tanks and M-16's. Mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, and children were arrested and sentenced to prison; sometimes for life. (Think President Trump's recent pardon of a 63 year old grandmother sentenced during the crack era to life). The FBI's anti-drug funding soared, increasing from $8 million to $95 million in four years. DEA anti-drug spending, $86 million to $1,026 million.

A media campaign, completely complicit in the war, saturated the public with negative images of black "crack whores," "crack dealers," and "crack babies." Anti-drug funding allocated to the Department of Education were defunded, cut from $14 million to $3 million. The National Institute of Drug Abuse, funding cut from $274 million to $57 million. The Death penalty for specific drug crimes. Three strike laws. Five year mandatory minimum sentences for simple possession by a drug abuser. Civil penalties for drug offenders, including the eviction of any tenant of public housing who "allowed" (defined broadly) "any form" of drug-related criminal activity to occur on or near the premises. The elimination of federal benefits, including student loans. The 1994 $30 billion crime bill, with more than half utilized to build prisons and expand local police forces. A war had veritably been declared against a people who technically had been free only since 1965.

What are we to think? 

Displaced gentrified African Americans have found themselves asking of the gentrifiers: What kind of people would price their fellow country men and women out of their home, their communities? Who is their God? Do they have consci? Where is their soul, their humanity? Do they know we tried to coexist (integrate) these same former white communities decades ago in search of better housing only to see their ancestors flee to the suburbs via government subsidies? And why did the neighborhoods deteriorate only after our people moved in?

What are we to think?

The inhumanity of gentrification is why Colin Kaepernick kneeled during the anthem
Why Malcolm Jenkins raised his fist, 
Why the LinkUp Organization exists, 
Why Martin Luther had a dream, 
Why Malcolm X said by any means, 
Why Fannie Lou Hamer was sick and tired, 
Why those girls in Birmingham died in a fire, 
Why Emmitt Till was murdered, 
Culprits cleared, not guilty verdicts, 
Why Sandra Bland is gone, 
Why Florida's stand your ground law is wrong, 
Why Freddie Gray is deceased, 
Why the murder rate in Chicago increase, 
Why does the Alt-Right get a platform to speak??????
What are we to think? 

The kind of individuals we are and the kind of things we do are determined by the kind of society in which we live.
— Karl Marx
Yasmina Mrabet