When I was a freshman in college at USC, must have been ’86 or ’87, I lived in South
Central Los Angeles. South Central is widely known as a ghetto, a seriously unhappy
place to live. It housed a weird mix of privileged students from wealthy families and
permanent residents who ranked well below the poverty line. We lived in the Cripps
territory, and they were at war with the Bloods. Our car was stolen. Gunshots were as
commonplace as sirens. Bars on all the windows, random screaming at night.
I quickly learned that the people who lived there were barely surviving, and most had
succumbed to a sense of anguish that exploded in violence. People who lived there saw
no way out of the cycle of poverty. Everyone knew someone who had been shot, a victim
of gang turf wars or revenge, and often they were innocent young children who
happened to be playing in the street. In their eyes, I saw a cold, desperate anger that
said they really had nothing to live for. And for the most part, they blamed white people.
One week we had an oppressive heat, the kind where kids try to see if eggs really do fry
on pavement. In my neighborhood, nobody had air conditioning. We all suffered
together, the students and permanent residents. Thermal waves and quiet desperation
shimmered together off the pavement. Too hot to sleep, too much effort to move
around, I just sat in front of an oscillating fan hoping the TV would say relief would
It was one of those days that an event unfolded, one that had a profound effect on me,
and one that I will remember for the rest of my life. Nancy Reagan was actively pushing
her “just say NO” campaign. For readers too young or too high to remember, her plan
was to convince the youth of our country to “Just say NO to drugs.” Now, we often
laughed about that because we were in college and experimenting with -–ahem-- our new
freedom. Remember President Clinton’s famous line, “I tried marijuana, but I didn’t
inhale.” Well, I could never be vetted for the presidency. I did inhale. Deeply.
What Nancy Reagan and the others behind this “Just Say No” campaign failed to
grasp was that for people like the residents of South Central Los Angeles, drugs were
the only relief they could get from the pain of life, the agony of watching the murder of
innocent kids, not having the money to pay the electricity bill, and knowing there was no
way out. Still, that didn’t stop the First Lady from making a point in my neighborhood
on one miserably hot day.
There was a raid on a house where drugs were bought and sold by gangs, mostly
cocaine, of course- South Central in the 80s was all about coke. This in itself was not
unusual. Drug busts and raids happened all the time. But what caught my attention was
what happened afterwards.
Once everyone in the house was arrested and hauled away, life on the streets did not go
back to normal. Men in dark suits with dark sunglasses showed up suddenly like roaches
in our apartment building when the lights went off. They looked tense as hell,
communicating with walkie talkies and small microphones clipped to their clothes. Some
of them went to houses on either side of the coke house, ringing bells and banging on
doors. It was all very strange.
Then, a big, shiny trailer pulled up and parked outside the drug house, a trailer like stars
use when they’re on location filming movies. Only this trailer had “The Establishment”
written in fancy bold script on the sides. Long story short, Nancy Reagan herself
hopped out, toured the coke house under heavy security, then went back inside her air
conditioned trailer and lunched on cucumber sandwiches. I kid you not- it was in the
newspaper the next day. That’s how I know her lunch menu.
So one point of sharing this story is to ruminate on how totally out of touch the
government is. Instead of spending all the money busting young kids who see a drug
income as their only solution, create ways to support these folks, provide them with a
good education, mentoring, whatever it takes. Give them hope.
Plus, there’s a pesky rumor that the CIA was funneling the coke into South Central
Los Angeles in order to fund the Contras in Nicaragua. Whether this is true or not, I
have no idea. But I do know there was a stunning amount of cocaine flowing in the
poverty stricken streets.
On a final note, allow me to point out that this event occurred twenty years ago.
Twenty years ago, society was trying to convince kids to stay off illegal drugs. We still
are. The only difference is that we’re saying no and simultaneously handing them their
daily dose or Ritalin or any number of other mood altering drugs. I’m starting to think
legality has only to do with who is gaining the profit.
I’m also wondering when it became acceptable to drug our children. When did “Just Say
NO” become “Just Say YES”? What else are we as a society willing to accept to
keep the status quo of the daily grind limping along? And why are we sacrificing our
children to this beast? Mood altering drugs have no business in kids’ bodies. All we’re
doing is drugging them into submission and giving them the message that something is
seriously wrong with them.
Cucumber sandwich, anyone?
|Entry For August 5th, 2008