We generally are aware of the staggering numbers of young people involved in criminal actions. On a regular basis I am asked the question why and what can be done about it? I generally shake my head and then respond by saying, “We did not get into this tragic situation overnight and we won’t get out of it overnight.”
There are several contributing factors that have been a part of our communities for much too long. First, there was the cancer of drugs that was permitted for too long to run virtually unchecked. As I did, a number of you also witnessed the introduction of drugs such as heroin into our neighborhoods; cocaine was generally too expensive. I remember that a packet sold for 25 cents and everybody knew the dealers by name.
One night we were playing football on Kennard Field and the person playing quarterback just stopped giving the snap count and nodded off, but we became aware that several of our teammates were using drugs.
Yes the escalation of drugs began the demise of our communities, as we once knew them. The drug dealer by too many became a symbol of success, big spender, pretty girls and flashy cars. Everybody knew who they were. They supported neighborhood sports teams; one even bought a minibus for his softball team.
I will never forget the old television series, “The Untouchables” do you remember? There was an episode where the mob had just been introduced to the very lucrative drug market and the question was asked is it not like poison, and the mob boss responded by saying, “So what, dump it in the neighborhoods where the monkeys live.”
In the book of my life that I am writing there are some incidents that I am compelled to write that reflect on my career as a narcotics detective and the similarities of attitudes between police and mobsters. My partner and I received information about a person residing in Mt. Lebanon and we secured the proper warrant and went to search the person’s residence. The next morning we were sent for and questioned about our sources of information and reminded that his father was influential.
There was an occasion that we went to Clairton to search a person, a high profile dealer and found no drugs. The local chief was with us and said to the person did you just move here from Homewood and the response was yes. The chief was livid and he stated, “We will be back in 48 hours if we don’t find any dope we will bring some. I want you to get out of this town and take your dope back to Homewood, that’s where it belongs.” The police chief sounded like the mob boss.
One day we received a directive from the district attorney that stated we could no longer execute a drug warrant in the affluent communities without his OK, but we did not need his permission to raid in predominately Black neighborhoods. I happened to run into a reporter from the Courier and was asked about the directive and I simply replied that in my estimation it was racist and unconstitutional and the next week I received a letter of termination.
In the early years of drugs the dealer had a saying: “the money is long and the time is short if you got convicted.” However, there came a period of time that a so-called war on drugs took place. Now if you get caught with a small amount of marijuana, cocaine, syringes, reefer pipes, etc., you went to jail. This became phase 2 of the decline of Black families. The convictions began to escalate as the result of drug incarcerations. Upon your release it is now more difficult to obtain employment and frequently you wound up back in jail. Now, you are a two-time loser. It is twice as hard to get a job, if not impossible.
The unions were and still are difficult so if we are able to get a job it usually is not sufficient to provide for a family, so we are relegated to unemployment or underemployment. The inability of a man being able to provide for his family became a driving factor in the demise of the family. Too many mothers are now relegated to multiple roles, momma, daddy, laundress, cook, physiologists, disciplinarian and breadwinner. It is an almost impossible situation: single-parent home that lacks strong positive male image. Imagine if you can a neighborhood of single parents, unbelievable unemployment, drugs, lack of education, persons who have lost hope. It helps to accelerate a downward spiral of our youth and their destructive behavior, which manifests itself in two ways. First, there is a definite lack of self-esteem, which requires something synthetic such as drugs or alcohol to make you feel good about yourself. The second is self-hate, if you look in the mirror and hate what you see it may motivate you to kill that which looks like you.
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(Louis “Hop” Kendrick is a weekly contributor to the Forum page.)