The Points Interview: Scott Jacques

Editor’s Note: In this installment of the Points author interview series, Georgia State University criminologist Scott Jacques discusses his new book, Code of the Suburb: Inside the World of Young Middle-Class Drug Dealers (co-authored with Richard Wright). Contact Dr. Jacques at sjacques1@gsu.edu. 

9780226164113

1. Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

A young, white drug dealer walks into the bar and orders a drink; thinks he’s real cool. Someone runs out with his drugs and money. Dealer yells in wimpy voice, “Hey, those are mine!” Does nothing else about it. Pays for drink with parents’ credit card. Goes on to live conventional middle-class life.


2. What do you think a bunch of alcohol and drug historians might find particularly interesting about your book?

The book explores the lives of drug dealers who, unlike their disadvantaged counterparts, rarely wind up in police reports, court records, and correctional rosters. This testifies to the importance of unofficial archives for understanding drugs, especially as they relate to crime and control.


3. Now that the hard part is over, what is the thing YOU find most interesting about your book?

 

The cover. The baggie with little houses inside makes me laugh every time I look at it. The designer, Brian Chartier, is a genius.


4. Every research project leaves some stones unturned. What stone are you most curious to see turned over soon?

For the teenagers in “Peachville”, where most of the book takes place, it was easier to buy illegal drugs than tobacco or alcohol. This is because legitimate businesses only sold to of-age persons, whereas the dealers sold to anyone they knew and trusted. What I wonder, then, is whether legalizing marijuana will make it harder for youth to get high, and, in turn, make hard drug use and sales more common among them.


BONUS QUESTION: In an audio version of this book, who should provide the narration?

 

Aaron Paul in the voice of Jesse Pinkman.

Highlighting Race, Ignoring Motive: Science, Subjectivity, and Walter Bromberg at Bellevue

Bellevue
Bromberg’s Laboratory

The year 1934 was a turning point for cannabis in the U.S. This was the year that Harry Anslinger and the Federal Bureau of Narcotics turned its attention toward the marijuana menace, thus inaugurating the reefer madness era. That same year, Dr. Walter Bromberg, senior psychiatrist at Bellevue Hospital in New York, published the first in a series of articles about his examinations of cannabis users in New York. The article, entitled “Marihuana Intoxication” appeared in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Historians have pointed to Bromberg’s work as a direct challenge to the FBN’s narrative of the marijuana menace during this period. His general conclusions seem to affirm this characterization, especially in terms of the extent and impact of use. For example, in the ’34 article, Bromberg describes a survey of felony convicts in Manhattan in which only seven smoked the drug regularly, and none of their crimes were committed as a result of, during or after, marijuana intoxication. By 1939, Bromberg was able to link the misinformation directly to the propagandistic efforts of various public institutions, even forcing Anslinger to respond personally.Read More »

Points Roundtable, “Becoming a Marihuana User”: Cookie Woolner

Editor’s Note: This week, we welcome Cookie Woolner to the roundtable on Howard Becker’s Becoming a Marihuana UserWoolner recently completed her Ph.D. in history and women’s studies at the University of Michigan and is currently serving as a postdoctoral fellow in African American Studies at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio. You can follow her work on her personal website and twitter

Cookie-WoolnerMarijuana, Race, and Music Cultures from Jazz to Hip Hop

Howie Becker’s pioneering study, Becoming a Marihuana User, emerged from the mid-century Chicago jazz scene. The relationship it chronicled between drug use and music subculture is a long one, which has been more dangerous for some than for others. In our current moment, many of the young black men whose lives have been taken too soon by the police are often demonized as weed-smoking, hip hop-loving thugs – that is to say, they brought their deaths upon themselves. The association of marijuana use with African American music and culture may be a stereotype, but it has real effects.

Ironically, when one digs into the history of marijuana and its connection to the jazz world in the early 20th century, it appears white men were primarily responsible for introducing black musicians and Harlemites to weed (or in the parlance of their day, gage, tea, muggles or reefer, among many other names). Italian-American Leon Roppolo, the clarinetist for the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, was said to have introduced marijuana to the Chicago jazz scene, in particular to Jewish saxophonist Mezz Mezzrow, who later became weed dealer to Louis Armstrong and much of Harlem. “Mezz” became another nickname for pot, according to the saxophonist, who also considered himself an “honorary Negro.”

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The Forgotten Drug War: Christobal Silvas Sierra (Los Angeles, 1929)

“The Real War Will Never Get in the Books”—Walt Whitman, 1875

 

As 1929’s Fourth of July celebrations wound down in Los Angeles, a teenager named Christobal Silvas Sierra—Christo, to his friends—law dying. No one saw him die in the darkness. But for an unusual sequence of events, we would not know how he had died. Frankly, we would not even remember that he had lived and died at all. But we do know how he died. And we have the power to remember him and many others like him. We should. And then we should attend to making some sense of it all in the larger history of America’s century-long drug war.Read More »

Drugs, Demons, and Fiends: “I Can’t Breathe” (Guest Post)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Today’s post is by Suzanna Reiss, an Associate Professor of History at the University of Hawai’i and author of the recently published book, We Sell Drugs: The Alchemy of US Empire (University of California Press, 2014). Reiss offers a timely meditation on the legacy of the Harrison Narcotics Act, which turned one hundred yesterday. 

As we confront the hundredth anniversary of the passage of the first US federal drug control law, it is difficult not to be haunted by current events. What is happening today in contemporary policing reflects the legacies produced by drug control and its origins in the deep racial animosities and inequities that contributed to the passage of the Harrison Narcotics Act in 1914. This centennial commemoration should provoke national soul-searching about the drug war’s contribution to racialized policing and its ties to economic inequality in American society. It certainly is not cause for celebration.

Listen to two accounts – separated by a hundred years, sharing too much.

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“Blacks Declare War on Dope”

When I began researching grassroots responses to crack-cocaine I found myself—albeit naively—both surprised and confused by heavy-handed, aggressive calls for more policing and harsher sentencing from working and middle class black urbanites.  Was this unique to the period?  Did this represent a specific and different response to the marketing invention of crack?  Moreover, I found myself asking: What motivated calls to stigmatize and scapegoat members of their own local communities?  Why would local leaders deliberately attract negative attention to their already beleaguered districts, thereby further perpetuating negative stereotypes regarding the debasement of inner-city culture?  Where were the progressive voices calling for moderate, rational, public health responses?

In earlier posts, I have begun to explain this reaction through the lens of black-lash.  Much like working class white ethnics before them, working and middle-class blacks responded to what they deemed destructive and dangerous changes to their neighborhood and organized Imagein efforts for reform to “take back their streets”.  Steeped in the language of victimhood and citizenship, these local activists made battles over crime and drugs battles of good versus evil.  The war against pushers, panhandlers, pimps and hoodlums would be about protecting the decent, innocent citizens held captive in their own neighborhoods.  Finally, black-lash—much like white backlash—came to be motivated in part by a perceived threat to group progress.  Working and middle class blacks viewed youth and street culture manifested by the drug trade as a clear threat to gains made under the Civil Rights Movement.

Recently, the use of the term black-lash has given me some pause for two reasons.  First, black-lash is less clearly and directly motivated by race.  The increasing significance of class in the post civil rights era makes such a term less useful.  More significantly, black-lash is not unique to the Crack Era.  The new work of Michael Javen Fortner clearly suggests that such sentiment existed in the 1970s as Harlemites fought vociferously against the increasing presence of heroin and crime in their neighborhoods.  This suggests that black-lash existed less as a reactionary impulse, and more as an enduring, but understudied class fissure within the black community.  With that said, let’s take a closer look at the roots of black-lash in the late 1960s and early 1970s to better assess the utility of the term “black-lash” as an explanatory tool. Read More »

The Points Interview — H. Paul Thompson, Jr.

Editor’s Note:  H. Paul Thompson’s book, A Most Stirring and Significant Episode: Religion and the Rise and Fall of Prohibition in Black Atlanta, 1865-1887 (Northern Illinois University Press, 2012),  is due out this month.  Thompson positions his study as part of a recent reawakening of scholarly interest in the importance of religion as a freestanding source of 19th c. temperance and prohibition ideas and initiatives.  “This neo-religious school,” Thompson suggests, “includes, among others, James Rohrer, Robert Abzug, Douglas Carlson, and Michael P. Young.  They argue that temperance reformers’ biblical and religious discourse, worldview, and organizations must be understood on their own terms, and not as a cover for sublimated class, status, or political anxieties, or as ruses for cynical attempts at cultural dominance.”  Points warmly welcomes Paul to our forum! 

1. Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

I’m not exactly sure what bartenders understand because I am one of the few (maybe the only?) historians of temperance who actually does not drink!  That said, my work places a lot of emphasis on the religious and ideological basis for the nineteenth-century temperance movement.  Ironically, much of that foundation had changed in key ways by the time national prohibition commenced.  Here’s my best effort.   In a nutshell, my bartender should be thankful for all of the central, eastern, and southern European immigrants who flooded this nation at the turn of the twentieth-century — and their descendants — because they permanently transformed the reigning paradigms of U.S. culture.  He owes every patron whose name ends with a “ski” a great big “Thank You!” for helping to overturn America’s nineteenth-century evangelical Protestant-dominated worldview and for facilitating a decline in the influence of evangelical organizations and their leaders. America’s move away from historic republican ideology and discourse furthered this departure from past ideas too.  (But I wouldn’t bring this up unless I knew the bartender were working his way through a graduate history program.)  The split between conservative and liberal Protestantism in the early twentieth century, caused by the rise of modernism, also went a long way toward undermining the institutional, theological, and ideological forces that had undergirded the anti-alcohol movement for a century.  Of course I suppose he could also thank Al Capone, FDR, and the groups that fought to overturn the 18th Amendment as well.Read More »

The Crack Baby Incident

guess which one is the crack baby…

A funny thing happened when I started telling people about the crack baby myth: they didn’t believe me. “Myth?” they said, “but the crack baby is real!” My facebook page was consumed in a 25-comment debate before I could convince some of my intelligent, educated friends that, indeed, the crack baby is a fiction. An off-hand comment to a doctor likewise met with amazed surprise – no such thing as a crack baby? Over coffee, friends struggled to let go of the idea of the crack baby because, as one person confessed, it feels so viscerally true. How could something as awful as crack not cause permanent damage to babies? Maybe we don’t yet know how, their resistance implied, but it must be true.

…not this one!

Saying there is no such thing as a crack baby might be a slight exaggeration, but it pales in comparison to the things people were saying in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Despite the fact that infants born to crack-using mothers were not old enough to attend school, moral entrepreneurs (to borrow Becker’s term) were already warning about a “bio-underclass” flooding our communities and schools, unable to suckle or learn or feel human emotions. Even though early studies suffered from methodological shortcomings (small sample sizes, unreliable identification techniques, selection bias, inconsistent measures, high-attrition rates, racial and class bias) and confounding variables (alcohol, tobacco, and other drug exposure, overlap between cocaine exposure and poverty, poor home environment, lack of parental care, poor maternal health, poor nutrition, social disadvantage, maternal depression), politicians used the specter of the crack baby as part of a larger swing towards conservative, victim-blaming, anti-woman, racist, and classist social and legal policies, with terrible consequences for mothers and children.

“Our job is never easy because drug criminals are ingenious. They work everyday to plot a new and better way to steal our children’s lives” – R. Reagan
… but pregnant women often couldn’t access treatment, Mr. President, so who are you calling the criminal now?

Forgive me, then, if I sound glib when I say that there is no such thing as a crack baby. It just seems that if we have to continue to prove this very basic point, then we can’t go on to think about lessons we might learn from the whole crack baby scare.

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