Tag Archives: drugs

Drugs, Drugs, Drugs

I wrote this piece on the Top 10 Drug Corners in Philadelphia—a sequel—over the summer. The project was typical of what I think we’ll be seeing in journalism’s future—a long, investigative project made possible by a grant, in this case from the J-Lab at American University.

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It was also a collaboration among publications, picked up by Philadelphia Weekly and edited by Jonathan Valania at Phawker (Phawker = Gawker in Philadelphia. Get it?.)

Here’s an excerpt, the first bit of the lede, with a link at the bottom for the rest.


In 2007, I wrote a cover story for this publication called “Top 10 Drug Corners,” which ranked the city’s most depressing and dangerous drug corners like Philadelphia magazine ranks pizza or bars or bikini wax salons. After all, when you strip away all the blood and guts and stray gunfire, drug dealing is, at heart, competitive retailing of a rare and precious commodity: Feeling good. There is, of course, a huge market for such a commodity, especially in places that are inhospitable to legitimate business and industry. Which is why the drug trade always seems to flourish in places where angels fear to tread. Philadelphia, one of the poorest major cities in America, has many such places.

In many of the city’s neighborhoods, the opportunities for gainful employment are so scarce and hopelessness so abundant that a vacuum has been created—and nature, of course, abhors a vacuum. With no noise of legitimate enterprise to fill the air—no rumble of a truck toting freight, no murmur of conversation from shoppers mingling on the sidewalk—the most prevalent sounds arise from the underground economy.

“Wet, wet, wet.”

“You smokin’ that crack?”
“What you need?”

Eight different come-ons, from a vast collection of different Philadelphians—white, black and Latino; young, middle-aged and graying. And all these offers speak to the same basic truths: Philadelphia is awash in the narcotics trade. And like all illicit economies, the drug trade begets a brutal gangsterism whose stock in trade is violence—on an industrial scale. The statistics are as astonishing as they are appalling. “We’ve had 16,000 shootings here in the last 10 years,” says Assistant U.S. Attorney Rob Reed. “Sixteen—THOUSAND!”

That averages out to four Philadelphians being shot every day, or one citizen every six hours. Since 2008, more Americans have been murdered in Philadelphia than killed in Iraq. In other words, we have the equivalent of an undeclared shooting war raging semi-visibly in the city’s most desolate and depleted neighborhoods. And Philadelphia is hardly the exception to the rule. Rather, depressingly enough, it is the rule.

As a result, the poorest of the poor in Philadelphia are cut off from the most basic aspects of personhood that the rest of us take for granted. They live in constant fear of seemingly random violence, which, sustained year after year, has created an increasingly common mindset—which some would call cynical and others would call being realistic—that the powers that be either cannot help them, do not care to help them, or, even worse, somehow profit from their suffering.

Read the rest, here:

A Tip O’ the Cap

Jeff Deeney, from Philadelphia City Paper

Here in Philly, we have who I would expect is one of the best street reporters in the country. His name is Jeff Deeney, and yes, in the interests of full disclosure, he is a good friend of mine. I was a fan, though, before we were friends—and no less an authority than Tina Brown at the Daily Beast likes him, too.

Here is a piece he published last week through the Beast, on the resurgence of PCP, this time as a liquid additive to cigarettes. As usual it’s a remarkable amalgam of street lingo, poetry and straight reporting:

“Nelly, a former wet user, explains in his gruff voice that he started smoking wet when he was ‘a young bull’—an up and comer in the West Philadelphia drug scene,” writes Deeney. “He first got into the drug while hustling crack almost 10 years ago when he was in his early twenties, and kept smoking until he was nearly 30. He says that for years prior to smoking his first dipper, he consumed a heavy daily diet of potent blunt-wrapped weed, the same stuff that most Philly dealers smoke from sundown to sunup while working the corner. Bored with his usual weed high, Nelly saw wet as a change of pace.

“‘I got tired of weed and for a minute wet was cool, it was something new, it was a good way to escape.’ Getting high on PCP, however, was nothing like smoking pot. ‘Smoking wet is another level,’ Nelly says about the drug’s powerful dissociative effect that far surpasses the intoxicating power of even the most high-grade designer marijuana. His eyes widen in disbelief when he recalls the wild hallucinations. Wet users describe having extensive conversations with inanimate objects that come to life, or even stepping outside of their own bodies and spending the night hanging out with themselves.”

So enjoy yourself some Deeney, including a piece on The Kensington Avenue Strangler and the murder of suburban drug trafficker Rian Thal. And another, on why we got it all wrong about flash mobs. I could go on forever, posting links to Deeney’s stuff. But this should get you started.