Updated: Aug 29
While Miller focuses on gun control, I argue the same holds for the War on Drugs and relations between police and residents. In the Crack Era grassroots activists that understood the problem best were eventually squeezed out of the process, particularly at the national level. As national media, congressional politicians, and moral entrepreneurs wrestled control of the crack panic, the narrative and policy solutions initially offered by local Bronxites changed. Proposed solutions were flattened and stripped of nuance. Preventative policies proved less enticing, offering less immediate political utility than calls to punish. Through the haze of federalism, only calls for more police and harsher sentencing were heard.
To be sure, grassroots activists opposed to crack and crime did call for more and more militarized police, as well as harsher sentencing. They did scapegoat drug users and drug sellers with their public rhetoric. Their intent, however, seems to have been lost in the meat grinder of moral panic, media hyperbole, and federalism. Activists intended to assert local control of their communities. They intended to redeem their communities; in their own eyes and in the eyes of the nation. They intended to suggest that users and sellers alone were not representative of their community as a whole. They intended to cooperate with law enforcement and other government agencies to mitigate problems they confronted on a daily basis. They intended to win more rehabilitation centers and economic opportunities for community residents.
Unfortunately the voices of activists were squeezed out of national specials on crack as well as the parade of subcommittee hearings on crack and crime held by Charles Rangel’s Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control. Instead we are left with a portrait of an entire community complicit in or apathetic to the crack trade. Local communities were dictated to rather than cooperated with. In this respect, we were not and are not sensitive to how local communities experience crime and violence. We are also ignoring an important resource towards restoring sanity, clarity, purpose and trust to policing measures in urban communities.