Written by Rev. Cecil Williams and originally printed in the New York Times on Thursday, February 15, 1990.
San Francisco – Today, as President Bush attends a six hour drug “summit” in Colombia, I wonder why he so often says that drugs are our nation’s number one problem, yet he does so little about them. Twenty-five years of working every day in the crucible of urban America have brought me to an extremely disturbing conclusion: The crack epidemic in the United States amounts to genocide.
Genocide is not only the extermination of a people through systematic mass murder – and by that I do not mean to diminish those who suffered wholesale annihilation. What I’m talking about is genocide, 1990’s style: when the spirit of a people is destroyed, when the culture of a people is eradicated, when basic human relationships are ripped apart, when large numbers of people are killed because of drug-related crimes and overdoses. I am talking about the spiritual and physical death of a race.
African-Americans have faced many attempts to destroy them. The primary intent of 200 years of slavery was to break the spirit and culture of our people. For more than half this century, economic oppression, legalized segregation and lynch mobs were set against us.
During the 60’s and early 70’s, the American intelligence community engaged in a systematic effort to discredit and destroy individuals sand programs in the black community. The 70’s and 80’s saw the erosion of the social and economic gains of the black community, and general acceptance of the attitude that blacks were, at best, expendable.
But what is important to remember is that African-Americans survived. A people’s spirit flourished, with courage and creativity. A special human relationship insured survival: the extended family. Even if you had no more or father, you had “mother” and “father” in the community.
Now, in the 1990’s, I see substantial similarities between the cocaine epidemic and slavery. Both are firmly grounded in economics – at the expense of a race of people. There was, and is, money to be made. It would be foolish to lose sight of this truth.
Cocaine is foreign to the African American culture. We did not create it; we did not produce it; we did not ask for it. Crack is an import, and while members of other races use crack, its full destructive fury was unleashed in the black community.
Beyond economics, however, all the evil intents of slavery are at work with crack. In many communities, there is an abiding sense of powerlessness, the breakdown of the spirit. Crack users tell you that they have lost all relationship with their nuclear and extended families. The drug culture has supplanted the culture of the extended family and the community.
Black crack dealers have told me that their primary targets are black women. If you get to them, you get to children and you get to them, you get to the children and you get to men. Addicted women and mothers, crack babies doomed to a severely limited existence, a large percentage of a race exposed to courts, probation and jail time: if nothing is done soon, this will be the future of the black community;
People often ask me, “If there is genocide, who is behind it?”
The very raising of the question minimizes the seriousness of the issue. The answer is not nearly as important as the steps we take as a society to reverse the genocide. The epidemic is not a detective story; the life and future of a people is at stake. Further, the question seems to assume that somewhere there is a lone individual responsible. That assumption allows of us, black and white alike, to escape from our responsibility.
We do not need a war on drugs as much as we need a war against addiction, fought with intervention and incarceration. Our battleground is here and we American must fight the battle.
There are many active agents of genocide: those who are allowed to continue importing drugs; those in our Government who have winked and nodded at drug trafficking in the name of “national security.” The agents of genocide are the dealers who stand on the corner and the police officers who let them. They are those who railroad crack addicts into jail, with no thought of recovery.
Just as significant are the passive agents of genocide – those who are indifferent, afraid or don’t want to get involved. Those who don’t do what they can to solve to problem of crack are supporting genocide.
I believe with all my soul that the African-American culture and community have the tools and power to save themselves. Faith and resistance are the cornerstones of the African-American community and the most devastating thing crack cocaine has done is to make us forget this.
But we also know that we cannot afford to forget. That is why we see black Americans wearing the African colors of red, black and green. It is why we hear black sociologists, psychologists, counselors and just plain folks on the street speaking so passionately about rediscovering our culture, our sense of ourselves as individuals and as a community – as an extended family, if you please.
Of course we need and expect support from all quarters, and it must be genuine. But armed with faith in the power of family and community, and resistance against forces that would destroy us, the initial responsibility is ours. Through faith and resistance we shall overcome. Again.