A pacification plan for the trouble makers

November 22, 1996|By Richard Reeves

LOS ANGELES -- So the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, John Deutch, was shocked to discover that black Americans believe the U.S. government in general, and his agency in particular, are involved in the drug business.

Where has he been? One can only hope that he knows more about the rest of the world than he does about his own country.

Where to begin? The anger now is about crack cocaine in Los Angeles and charges by Rep. Maxine Waters, among others, that the CIA worked with drug lords and distributors to raise money and channel it to the contras fighting Marxists in Nicaragua. Before that it was Vietnam and the rest of Southeast Asia, and charges that the CIA was transporting the money crop of the poppy-growing hill tribes we were paying to fight communists out there.

Driving them west

And something was going on, too, when the African Americans were still slaves and the European Americans were moving west, driving native Americans before them.

On the day after Christmas in 1831, a young Frenchman named Alexis de Tocqueville stood on a Mississippi riverboat, the steamship Louisville, docked at Memphis. He was waiting and watching as one man, a government agent, herded more than 100 Choctaw Indians from Georgia onto the boat for a trip across the river to a reservation in the Arkansas Territory.

The Choctaw men were armed with bows and rifles, but were, according to Tocqueville's notebook, ''tranquil, somber and taciturn.'' The Frenchman asked a fellow passenger, a white man who had lived with the Cherokee for years and was called ''Squaw Man,'' what weapons made them so docile. The Squaw Man answered, ''Brandy.''

Later Tocqueville wrote this: ''How many times did honest citizens say to us: Each day the number of Indians grows less and less! It is not that we often make war on them, however; the brandy which we sell them cheap kills more of them every year than could our deadly weapons.''

The 27-year-old Frenchman would go on to write his classic ''Democracy in America.'' The Squaw Man, whose white name was Sam Houston, would go on to found his own country, Texas.

Seventeen years ago, I retraced Tocqueville's American travels,

and a young black woman, one of 13 children of a widow on welfare in St. Louis, said this to me:

''Look around you . . . What increases here [in South Central Los Angeles] -- with government permission. Liquor stores. And dope. A lot of blacks would say dope is purposeful here. Maybe they're right. What are you supposed to think when you read that the Central Intelligence Agency has been secretly testing drugs on people around the country?''

LSD in the subway

The woman, a California assemblywoman, referring to revelations that the CIA had done such things as spraying LSD into New York subway cars, was Maxine Waters. This is not new, whatever Mr. Deutch thinks, or knows. Everywhere I went, solid citizens who happened to be black thought it was possible that their government was deliberately making drugs available as pacifiers in black neighborhoods -- and that anti-drug laws were enforced only when addiction threatened white children.

Ms. Waters was not alone then, either. Honest and solid black citizens everywhere said the same kind of thing.

In Detroit, a photographer named Jason Lovett answered my questions about what happened after racial riots in his city by saying: ''Scag came . . . pinkish-red capsules. Twenty-five cents a cap. Weed and everything else dried up. It was, I think, low-grade Mexican heroin. It gave you this mellow high. You didn't want no trouble with nobody.''

''I'm not sure that America ever wanted to control drugs in the black community,'' said Roy Levy Williams, then executive director of the Urban League in Detroit.

In New York, Lloyd Williams, vice chairman of the Harlem Chamber of Commerce, ticked off the names of high school classmates, saying: ''A junkie . . . dead, shot in a bar . . . jail . . . dead, overdosed.''

Paranoid? Maybe. This was Diane Watson, now a state senator in California: ''In my paranoid moments -- and they are many -- I think there must be a master plan, a conspiracy to keep the poor spaced-out, oppressed, suppressed. I just see drugs flowing too freely in this city and our schools.''

Welcome to America, Mr. Deutch.

Richard Reeves is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 11/22/96

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