Twenty-five years after crack cocaine surfaced in urban America, dozens of people gathered in Roxbury yesterday to talk about its lingering impact on Boston’s black community.
“In the beginning of the 1980s, we were feeling good about ourselves,” said George “Chip’’ Greenidge, founder of the National Black College Alliance and organizer of the symposium. “We had ‘The Cosby Show,’ affirmative action. And then something just came out of the sky and hit us.”
The “game-changer,” as Greenidge put it, came in a new, cheaper form of cocaine.
Fulani Haynes was a pediatric nurse who used to treat crack-addicted babies at the former Boston City Hospital. Screaming, shaking and sleepless, the infants were born showing withdrawal symptoms no amount of cuddling seemed to soothe, Haynes said. So nurses would give them small, decreasing amounts of pure opium in a hypodermic needle, wrap them tightly in blankets and lay them in their cribs in complete darkness to calm them for a few hours.
“The nurses became the mothers,” she said, “because the parents were busy getting high.”
Grandmothers spent their “golden years” caring for their grown children and their children’s children, and violence increased as word spread that dealing crack was a fast way to make money, said Boston Deputy Police Superintendent William Gross.
In the late 1980s, Congress brought back mandatory minimum drug sentences, treating crack offenses much more harshly than powder cocaine crimes, said Barbara Dougan of Families Against Mandatory Minimums.
“These laws were not passed out of concern for young, black men, but out of fear of young, black men,” Dougan said.
The result, she said, was an explosion in the prison population that has left one out of nine black men between the ages of 20 and 34 in behind bars.
“Clearly, they’ll be coming back to our communities,” said Boston Police Superintendent Paul Joyce, “and we want to make sure they end up in a better situation than they began.”
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