by fayemi shakur, photo by Akintola Hanif
One month before the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover sent out a memo outlining his then secret Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO). After decades of speculation, the goals of the program were made public under the Freedom of Information Act revealing Hoover’s plan “to prevent the rise of a black messiah, who could unify and electrify the black militant movement, to publically discredit and embarrass black leaders, and to prevent the long-range growth of militant black organisations, especially among youth”. The public documents confirm the FBI successfully infiltrated black nationalists groups and caused major disruptions within the civil rights and black power movements which indirectly and directly led to the assassinations of Dr King, Malcolm X, Fred Hampton Jr and numerous others.
The FBI’s tactics also included the introduction of drugs like heroin and LSD, and the manipulation of communications to cause dissention, chaos and confusion. Hoover’s memo explained the purpose of the endeavor – “to expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralise the activities of black nationalist hate-type organizations”.
What does any of this have to do with crack?
If you think about it, crack was another effective way to ‘neutralise’ would-be leaders in America’s urban cities. Didn’t crack also prevent long-range growth of black youth and fulfill the goals of COINTELPRO?
In the early eighties LA based drug trafficker ‘Freeway’ Rick Ross (not the rapper, the real Rick Ross) hooked up with CIA agent Danilo Blandon and his partner Norwin Meneses Cantarero, two Nicaraguan exiles, who supplied him with cocaine. The government was well aware of the activities and didn’t try to stop it. Blandon supplied access to the drugs and used profits to fund the Contras, a nasty guerilla army he was connected to in Nicaragua also connected to the Iran-Contra scandal. It was a mess.
By 1982, Ross was allegedly selling over $3 million worth of cocaine a day and buying 455 kilos a week. He sold it to street organisations like the Bloods and Crips who turned it into cheaper, potent crack cocaine. Eventually he had thousands of employees who helped distribute it all over America’s urban cities. A documentary film, Bastards of the Party directed by Cle Shaheed Sloan, portrays how efforts of the Bloods and Crips to unify their communities were undermined early during their formation particularly once drugs and turf wars broke out. Ultimately, both street organisations were criminalised and overcome by criminal behavior.
In 1996, the San Jose Mercury News published a three-part article, ‘Dark Alliance’, by journalist Gary Webb which laid out the Ross, Blandon, Contra connection in full detail. Congresswoman Maxine Waters called for hearings on the matter but the CIA connection was never proven and nothing ever came of any of it. America’s ‘War on Drugs’ campaign first coined by the Nixon Administration was a sad joke. Ross was incarcerated for seven years and Blandon went on to work for the US Drug Enforcement Agency.
While Ross was in prison he created a socially conscious website, Freewayenterprise.com, with a simple agenda: education, not incarceration.
“You can't get rid of the dope dealer and solve the problems. They'll find themselves another dealer. This is not a problem you can incarcerate your way out of,” explains Ross.
And how can anyone explain declining crime rates and exploding prison budgets?
Mandatory minimum drug sentencing in the US gave offenders three times more prison time for crack cocaine arrests than powdered cocaine arrests. This led to racial disparities in sentencing filling America’s profit based prisons with thousands of black and brown non-violent drug offenders.
In her book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Colorblindness, author Michelle Alexander explains how the criminal “caste system”, as she calls it, affects not just the 2.3 million people behind bars, but also the 4.8 million others on probation or parole (predominately for nonviolent offenses), and says nothing of the millions more whose criminal records stigmatize them for life.
Apparently, those who control America’s criminal justice system see it another way and though the crack epidemic has faded, America’s addiction to drugs and lies has not. It’s hard to think of the full arc of possibilities that could have existed without this type of institutionalised and internalised racism, without COINTELPRO, without crack.
fayemi shakur is a freelance writer and a Managing Editor of HYCIDE, a photojournalism and art publication based in Newark, N.J., USA. www.hycide.com