This post began as a comment on one of dna's posts over at Too Sense. The issue under discussion was the shooting of 7-year-old Tajahnique Lee, who was trying to get home on her bike when she accidentally got caught in the crossfire between two gangs of drug dealers in Trenton, New Jersey, but which could have occurred in any major urban area and many not so major. The focus of the New York Times article about the incident was that, despite the fact that it happened last year and there were numerous witnesses, no one has come forward so that the specific individuals at fault can be held accountable. The Times and their sources attribute this blanket of silence to fear of the dealers. And certainly, I would not suggest that this doesn't play a monumental role. However, I would suggest that there are multiple layers related to this kind of issue that should not be forgotten, but are, needless to say, rarely mentioned, let alone addressed.
One of them involves the fact that street drugs are the basis of an industry the proceeds of which are estimated at upwards of $80 billion annually. Sociologists have found that most of the profits go to mainstream White male businessmen who have the ability to make massive investments in any arena – legitimate or otherwise – without suspicion because of their standing in the community and often with the knowledge of police, prosecutors, and even judges who are bought off as a business expense of sorts. Additionally, multiple sources have told us that four out of five cocaine abusers are also White.
Unfortunately, however, the many African-American men who are summarily blocked out of the employment arena find themselves relegated and, in fact, welcomed and encouraged to become foot soldiers in the army to line the pockets of their much lighter-skinned bosses by delivering the “product” to their much lighter-skinned customers, where the bulk of the risk is taken by the middle-man. The effects of the policy that prevents convicted felons (and most particularly Black male convicted felons) from being hired for other jobs further exacerbates their desperation and increases their willingness to “volunteer” for this role, however dangerous it may be.
To make matters worse, the law enforcement practice of rousting Black male children as young as eight-years-old for no reason and photographing them on the street with numbers across their chests to “build a file,” just in case they ever do cross the line can cause youth to accept their “master status” as “criminals” before they graduate from middle school, ensuring that the prisons will stay full and the Wall Street investment dividends flowing.
The end result, of course, is that many people in very poor neighborhoods have at least one member of the family in pushing “product.” These very poor neighborhoods are disproportionately marked for toxic dumps, sewer treatment plants, and a lack of decent schools or other services, and have been virtually abandoned by legitimate job-providing industries. It shouldn’t be a surprise that they wind up becoming the battlegrounds of the wars not on drugs but over drugs and law enforcement not only can’t, but doesn’t necessarily want to control it in any real sense. Police officers themselves have reported to me that some of them shakedown petty dealers for payoffs. And that’s barely the tip of the iceberg.
So why would the African-American community “cooperate” with law enforcement? It’s a set up. The law enforcement community knows it. The dealers know it. And little girls that catch an occasional bullet in the face are just collateral damage.