Dispatches from the Drug War: Public Opinion and the Policing of Drug Use in Jacksonville

Recent Points inductee Kyle Bridge devoted some of his M.A. research to drug use trends and crime rates in Jacksonville, Florida. Here he presents a modified and abridged version of his work.

Downtown Jacksonville (Image: Wikipedia)

Since at least the early twentieth century, as regular Points readers will know, many Americans have associated illicit drug use with criminality or otherwise deviant behavior. This holds especially true in the last fifty years of U.S. history, and some politicians have made significant hay with the issue. Combating drug abuse was a prominent plank in Richard Nixon’s 1968 platform. “Narcotics are a modern curse of American youth,” he claimed in a campaign speech, and in his first term the President committed to an “all-out assault” on what he labeled “public enemy number-one.” National worries were based on a legitimate correlation: in 1969 users made up a significant portion if not the majority of criminal perpetrators in metro areas including Los Angeles, the District of Columbia, New York, and Boston.

Nixon’s the One (but not the only one)

As a student of history and lifelong Jacksonville resident (actually Callahan, a small town just north of the city), I was curious about the local dynamic of this association, and how it changed over time. The Jacksonville public regarded drug use with an unsurprising wariness, similar to Americans nationwide. Still, policing drug use warranted little attention in local politics until around 1995, almost a half-decade after crime rates peaked during the crack epidemic. In fact new attention to drug use surfaced three years into what would become an almost entirely consistent twenty-year crime decline. By the turn of the millennium, the drug arrest rate had jumped to 1,115.18 per 100,000, almost doubling rates from the height of the crack epidemic (never higher than 689.62).

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Recent News Roundup: Drugs on TV Edition

At this year’s Emmy Awards, the final season of Breaking Bad earned a deserved slew of statuettes. America has been infatuated with the chronicle of Walter White, a cancer-stricken chemistry teacher who cooks meth to pay the bills, since it debuted in 2008. Below, our newest contributing editor Kyle Bridge considers the role of drugs in some television series.

Log onto Netflix for binge-watching. (Image: breakingbad.wikia.com)

In an interview with Katie Couric earlier this year, Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston praised President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform as “fantastic.” “Yes, there are problems,” he continued, “but… I don’t think basic health care should be a privilege of the rich.” Reasonable enough.

Many commentators manning the desk at Fox News’s The Five were unpleasantly surprised. “How weird is it that a guy who plays a dark, brooding anti-hero is really a puppet to the man. I mean, he just propagandized for President Obama,” co-host Greg Gutfield remarked.

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The Islands of New York City: How a Real Estate Boom is Turning Former Homes of Crime and Contagion Into Boho-Chic Living—Except for One Tiny Island Off the Bronx (Guest Post)

Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post is a is a modified excerpt from Jessica Diller Kovler’s upcoming book, The Boys of the Bronx, to be published in 2015. Kovler is part of the History of Science program at Harvard University and currently teaches at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, the City University of New York. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Forbes, and Discover magazines. 

In my city—which, as you may have heard, doesn’t sleep—some nonetheless lethargic neighborhoods have had an awakening of sorts. Many New Yorkers are forgoing the bustling city centers for the far-flung shores of Manhattan as well as some of the city’s 41 adjacent islands, neighborhoods previously considered “The Devil’s Stepping Stones.” (Legend has it that indigenous New Yorkers chased the Devil across the waters of New York, and every time the Devil stepped down on the water, an island was born.) These areas were so removed from the grid that they were used to house the city’s derelict, destitute, profligate, and banished—drug addicts, criminals and those deemed too mentally or physically ill, or even too dangerous to live in “mainland” New York City.

Take Roosevelt Island, where Nellie Bly penned her work on the infamous Woman’s Lunatic Asylum; that island is now home to luxury rentals, with Cornell University planning an extension campus for 2017. Randall’s Island and Wards Island, home to cemeteries, asylums, and contagion hospitals, are now home to Little League games and the Electric Zoo festival.

Amidst this transformation, one island has been forgotten, though thousands of New Yorkers have (reluctantly) called it home. The last inhabitants of North Brother Island comprise a lost chapter in the story of urban institutionalization, a faded memory of a city grappling with a perceived epidemic of both juvenile delinquency and adolescent narcotics addiction. Now abandoned, its buildings fading behind overgrowth, the island nonetheless reveals why New York institutionalized drug-addicted teenagers, even as a nationwide movement towards deinstitutionalization was beginning to gain momentum.

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Drugs and Rec: A Dispatch from the Evergreen State (Guest Post)

Editor’s Note: We’re delighted to welcome Ingrid Walker, an Associate Professor of American Studies at the University of Washington-Tacoma, and a past guest contributor to Points. In today’s post, Walker makes several cultural observations about marijuana as it joins beer, coffee, and wine to become the newest psychoactive substance legally produced and consumed for fun in Washington.

Cultural observations about marijuana as it joins beer, coffee, and wine to become the newest psychoactive substance legally produced and consumed for fun in Washington. (Image: Huffington Post)

(Image: Huffington Post)

The much-anticipated first months of marijuana legalization in Washington have been consumed with building a regulatory system and marketplace from the ground up. Users ready to enjoy their substance of choice endured a 19-month waiting period between the passage of I-502 in November 2012 and the moment the first retail shops opened for business in July 2014. The Liquor Control Board quietly established the infrastructure for the regulation and licensed both growers and retail businesses. In the meantime, we have been left to anticipate how the new “recreational” market would affect life in Washington.

Weedmaps

(via Weedmaps.com)

So far, the development of a recreational marijuana industry has come with a set of issues that typify the legacy of drug prohibition in the United States. The cultural reverberations of marijuana legalization reflect the attempt to normalize the use of a substance in a state and country that has no public language for that recreational practice. The law’s implementation has evoked questions about how a newly legal substance’s use-practice sits alongside the use of other psychoactive substances that we take for granted (alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco). In particular, there are many stereotypical expectations that suggest unfamiliarity with marijuana and its users.

That knowledge deficit is somewhat understandable; the paradigm shifts about marijuana use have required Americans in some states to radically reconceive the drug—first from a completely illegal substance to a medically approved substance, now to a fully legal one. In a country that has long-standing propaganda and stereotypes about marijuana use and users, perceptions are slow to change. I titled this post “Drugs and Rec” to echo Parks and Rec, the television comedy that touches on the often absurd aspects of public policy, local campaigns and government, as well as the concept of providing services for public “recreation.” While marijuana has always been “recreational,” the term distinguishes it from “medical marijuana”—the first toehold in the path to full legalization. Ultimately, should marijuana become legalized across the country, that descriptor will fall away as marijuana use becomes as normalized as alcohol use is.

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Guest Post: Fitz Hugh Ludlow’s Moral Vision of Hashish

EDITOR’S NOTE: Today’s post is written by journalist and biographer Justin Martin, author of the new book Rebel Souls: Walt Whitman and America’s First Bohemians (Da Capo Press, 2014).  His post today is a reflection on psychedelic pioneer Fitz Hugh Ludlow. 

Fitz Hugh Ludlow was a psychedelic pioneer and author of the 1857 classic The Hasheesh Eater. I’ve just completed a book about his circle of Bohemian artists, which hung out at Pfaff’s saloon in Manhattan. As I researched, one of the things that struck me was how Ludlow made a distinction between drugs that promised enlightenment, and those that offered only empty sensation.

Portrait of Ludlow (Special collections, Schaffer Library, Union College)

Portrait of Ludlow (Special collections, Schaffer Library, Union College)

Nowadays, this is a common view. Drugs tend to be sorted into two distinct categories, at least among the lay public. Those such as LSD, mushrooms, and peyote are viewed as means to heightened perceptions, albeit at the risk of one’s mental stability. Those such as cocaine, crystal meth, and heroin are viewed as agents of sensation, for use by people seeking sexual thrills or mere numbness. It’s akin to the classic mind/body split explored for eons by philosophers.

But Ludlow published The Hasheesh Eater at a time when drugs occupied a very small role in popular culture. This was more than a century before the Grateful Dead peddled their vision of psychedelic bliss, say, or the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman furnished the umpteenth Hollywood cautionary tale about the dangers of heroin use. Circa the 1850s, Americans made recreational use of everything from alcohol to opium to chloroform. Crucially, however, moral distinctions about the properties of different drugs didn’t yet exist.

Ludlow – always supremely modern in outlook – made those distinctions just the same, promising that hashish offered “insight” rather than “indulgence.” And that seems to have been a key to his book’s success. It was one of the year’s best sellers, quickly going through four printings. It even sparked a short-lived vogue for hashish in the United States.

The Hashish Eater (1903 edition,  personal collection of author)

The Hashish Eater (1903 edition, personal collection of author)

A reporter for the New York World ingested the drug and then wrote about his experiences, concluding, “For me, henceforth, Time is but a word.” As a student at Brown University, John Hay – later Lincoln’s personal secretary and secretary of state under Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William McKinley – was also inspired to try the drug. “The Hasheesh Eater had recent appeared (1857),” a classmate reminisced, “and Johnny must needs experiment with hasheesh a little, and see if it was such a marvelous stimulant to the imagination as Fitzhugh Ludlow affirmed.” Hay himself would look back on Brown as a place “where I used to eat Hasheesh and dream dreams.”

After getting to know Ludlow, several members of the circle at Pfaff’s saloon felt compelled to celebrate hashish, at least in their literary efforts. Thomas Aldrich wrote a poem called “Hascheesh.”  Walt Whitman – the mainstay of this Bohemian group – also made allusions to the drug in some of his work from this time. Given Whitman’s moderate drinking habits (no one at Pfaff’s ever saw him so much as tipsy), he is unlikely to have indulged. More likely, the poet – always ultra-receptive to societal trends – simply wished to attend to a current fad.

Ludlow was ahead of his time, touting hashish for qualities that were morally acceptable, even desirable. If only the ill-fated Ludlow had held fast to his own instincts.

Drinking and Sexual Assault: The Third Rail of Health Education

(Editor: Today’s post is from Points contributing editor Michelle McClellan.)

It’s back-to-school time, and that means talking to college students about the dangers of binge drinking and the risks of sexual assault. And while parents, health care providers and social science researchers might think those topics go together, health education experts and university administrators call the combination a “third rail” of discourse, to be avoided at all costs. According to a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, many universities rely on Department of Justice funding for sexual-assault prevention. But that grant program considers alcohol and substance use “out of scope.” This split might seem like a straightforward bureaucratic division, perhaps to avoid duplication or redundancy. But historians know that such patterns do not come out of nowhere—this disjuncture has a history, and it is a complicated one for feminists.

39072-Alcohol, the no1 date drug-thumb-200x291-39071

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Craft Beer and Bovines: A Brief History of Distillery Dairies

The craft beer revolution is surely upon us. In 2013, some 2,822 breweries operated in the United States, marking the highest nationwide total since the 1880s. Nearly all of them – 2,768 to be precise – were considered craft breweries. Such numbers are the result of exceptional growth. The craft beer industry has grown nearly 11%  per year over the past decade, with an 18% jump last year alone. Cities of all sizes have embraced the trend. For example, the greater metropolitan area of Dayton, Ohio is now home to at least ten different craft breweries. These include the Fifth Street Brewpub, the nation’s second-ever cooperatively owned brewpub; Pints and Pinups, perhaps the only microbrewing strip-club in the country; and The Carillon Brewing Company, the first brewery to open in an American museum or historical park. Many craft breweries around the country have also dedicated themselves to their local communities and to environmentally sustainable brewing practices. One of the most common of these today – feeding spent grains to livestock – was also once deemed among the most virulent scourges in the country.

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Mom’s Getting Smashed: Alcoholism, Recovery and Motherhood as a Coming-of-Age Tale

Editor’s Note: This article is by contributing editor Michelle McClellan.

Smashed (2012) is the story of a young woman named Kate in present-day Los Angeles who confronts her excessive drinking through the Alcoholics Anonymous fellowship. She gains sobriety, although her marriage disintegrates and she is fired from her job in the process. The overall narrative trajectory is familiar: it traces Kate’s life as she moves from her out-of-control drinking to the supportive intervention of a colleague, to the challenges of early sobriety, to a relapse when she loses her job, and then her one-year sober anniversary.  While previous addiction films have featured alcoholic women as protagonists at least as far back as The Smash-Up (1947), the central character in this genre is still more likely to be a man. What makes Smashed unique is that Kate’s identity as a young married woman allows pregnancy to be deployed as a plot device, revealing deeply-held ideas about drinking and maternity in the United States.

Smashed

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A brief commentary on comments or, “we will figure this shit out”

DontFeedTheTrolls2

“we will figure this shit out” is from a commenter in the youtube debate I discuss in this article. Feel free to comment on this post if you, too, would like to join the figuring out.

youtube comment: “Addiction is such a vague term”
reply: “Disease is also a vague term…we can spend hours picking apart words and meanings”

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that an author who wants to remain in possession of her sanity must avoid reading the comments section of anything she writes. If the internet is a neighborhood into which one might enter to tell a truth about something personal, if I may borrow again from Jane Austen, an author must accept that her words are taken as the rightful property of some one or other of the many trolls lurking in the deep recesses of the intertubes. Here at Points, we screen comments in order to keep nasty, provocative, or derailing comments out of the mix (this post being the exception), but elsewhere, they flourish like kudzu.

Perhaps it was morbid fascination that drew me to explore some of these cesspools pockmarking our information superhighway, so I donned my emotional hazmat suit and clicked my way in to the comments sections.

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Call for Papers: The Alcohol and Drugs History Society Conference 2015

Call for Papers

Borders, Boundaries & Contexts:  Defining Spaces in the History of Alcohol & Drugs

Papers and panel proposals are invited for an international conference on the history of alcohol and drugs to be held at Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, OH, USA on June 18-21, 2015.  Panel proposals (3 x 20-minute papers) or individual papers (20 minutes) are invited.  We will also consider proposals for fringe sessions using non-conventional formats e.g. screenings, debates, demonstrations etc.

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