the corner-david simon and edward burns

i am currently watching the black power mixtape 1967-1975, which is worth it just for the footage of stokley carmichael interviewing his mom, and our nation’s mama’s boy strombo’s haiti special. i have to shout out spike lee‘s works on katrina, and as i set up this book that eventually brought us to the wire, i have to pause for minute for the parallels. toronto and its library are the reason that i’m here (current stats: checked out-50, available for pickup-3, outstanding holds-10) and i crumble under the pressure a bit today and have made the decision not to beat a dead horse. unlike the (few) books that i’ve had to fire in the first 30 pages (i read 50 pages in half an hour, i’m pretty sure how i feel after the first 30), i only read up to p368-i guess i ended up lying to that dood at the tranzac on NYE that asked me, “are you going to read it all?” sorry, homie.

“Thirty years after its inception, the drug war in cities such as Baltimore has become an absurdist nightmare, a statistical charade with no other purpose than to placate a public that wants drug trafficking attacked and vanquished-but not, of course, at the price it would actually cost to accomplish such an incredible feat. In Maryland such cognitive dissonance translates to a state prison system that can manage a total of just over 20,000 prison beds for prisoners convicted of every act against the criminal code in Baltimore and twenty-three other counties. Yet in Baltimore alone there are between 15,000 and 20,000 arrests each year for drug violations, and in all of Maryland’s jurisdictions, more than 35,000 are charged every year with drug sales or possession.
Build more prisons, you say? How many more? Five? Ten? Keep in mind that Maryland is no slacker when it comes to locking people up; the state ranks tenth nationally in its rate of incarceration. You could bankrupt the state government by doubling the existing prison space and still there wouldn’t be enough space to house the estimated 50,000 heroin and cocaine users in Baltimore, not to mention the rest of Maryland. And that leaves no room for those priority cases who just happen to be convicted of murder or rape or armed robbery. Moreover, the construction of a prison is only the preamble; what inevitably follows is the financial drain of staffing the place, of feeding and clothing the prisoners, of maintaining security standards, of running a medical program that the U.S. Supreme Court says must correspond to outside community standards for health care. Soon enough, you’re spending more to lock a man down that it would cost to enroll him at Harvard.” (161)

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7 thoughts on “the corner-david simon and edward burns

  1. if you need a fix:

    “Each true caper brings its own rush, a childlike thrill that stays close to the heart of every addict, no matter how many years he’s played the game. It’s the same feeling any hot-blooded twelve-year-old gets when he walks from a five-and-dime without paying for a candy bar, or when he tosses a crabapple at a passing police cruiser, gets chased by the cop, and manages to escape. It’s down there in every one of us-the unbridled joy that accompanies any unpunished sin, the self-satisfaction that often follows when you manage to get something for nothing.” (13)

    “The corner is rooted in human desire-crude and certain and immediate. And the hard truth is that all the law enforcement in the world can’t mess with desire. Down at Fayette and Monroe and every corner like it in Baltimore, the dealers and fiends have won because they are legion. They’ve won because the state of Maryland and the federal government have imprisoned thousands and arrested tens of thousands and put maybe a hundred thousand on the parole and probation rolls-and still it isn’t close to enough. By raw demographics, the men and women of the corners can claim victory.” (57)

    “When children became the labor force, the work itself became childlike, and the organizational structure that came with heroin’s first wave was a historical footnote. In the 1990s, the drug corner is modeled on nothing more complicated than a fast-food emporium, an environment in which dealing drugs requires about as much talent and finesse as serving burgers. No discretion, no precautions; the modern corner has no need for the applied knowledge of previous generations.
    Where once a competent street dealer would never be caught touching th dope, the more brainless of his descendants now routinely carries the shit in one pocket, money in the other. Wiser souls might work a ground stash-a small inventory of coke or dope hidden in the weeds or rubbish a few feet away-but ten minutes after selling out, they’ll be out under a streetlight, counting their grip, manicuring the $10 and $5 bills into a clean roll and fairly begging for the attentions of a knocker or stickup artist. Close scrutiny of customers has become anachronism, too. The new school serves anyone-known fiends and strangers, ragged or well-heeled, white or black, young or old, in battered pickups or fresh-off-the-lot BMWs-with an indifference as careless as it is democratic.” (65)

    “If faith and spirituality and mysticism are the hallmarks of any great church, then addiction is close to qualifying as a religion for the American underclass. If it was anything less, if at Fayette and Monroe there was a single shard of unifying thought that could compete with the blast itself, then the first rule would be null and void. But no, the blast is all, and its omnipotence not only affirms the first rule, but requires the second:
    II. Never say never.
    On the corner, the survivors do what they’ve got to do and they live with it. When mere vice is sufficient to get the blast, it ends there. But eventually, it’s sin that is required, and when sin falls short, absolute evil becomes the standard. Those who play the game and deny the progression, who insist that there are some moral limits that they will not violate, are forever surprising themselves. Never say never, cry the sages, because a true believer pays absolute homage to addiction, he turns to face it like a Muslim turns toward Mecca. The transformation is gradual but certain, and wrapped in a new vernacular of moral denial.” (71)

    “But in part, Curt lasted because he never lost touch with one of the great joys of the thing, the cat-and-mouse adventure with the police, the running and dodging. Yet because he stayed out of jail, he never got a serious break in the action-a vacation from the needle that might have given his body a chance to dry the cells and slow the swelling in every limb. That’s the irony of a drug arrest at the street-corner level: Locking up a hardcore fiend won’t close the shop or stop the product. It won’t keep anyone from the game, or pave the way toward rehabilitation unless a fiend genuinely wants to quit fiending. The real tangible benefit from day-to-day police work in the drug war is medicinal: A run-and-gun player gets hit with a charge and, like it or not, he gets a brief convalescence. He gets some food, some sleep, maybe even some antibiotics. He gives those tired old veins a respite. Then, when the whistle blows, he’s charging out of the penalty box for more of the same.” (83)

    “From washing machines to widgets, every product needs marketing and promotion, and street drugs are no exception. In every open-air market in the city, samples are offered up early in the day to spread the word that so-and-so’s shit is truly a bomb. And because a weak tester would be self-defeating, the free samples rarely disappoint. Word that a crew is putting out testers can come minutes or hours-and sometimes even a day or more-in advance of the actual event, and the possibility of a free bag or vial can produce a lemming run through a back alley or vacant lot.” (115)

    “The sad beauty of Bob Brown is that he shows no sense whatsoever. Against all evidence, he is still crusading, still defending a neighborhood at a time when the threat is from the neighborhood itself. For Mr. Brown, the question is the same on any day that he walks from the Western District roll-call room to a radio car: How do you make police work matter when more than half of Fayette Street, perhaps eighty percent of those between the ages of fifteen and thirty, is in some way involved in the use or sale of heroin and cocaine? To be sure, there are still citizens in Franklin Square: older men who still call 911 or 685-DRUG to provide information about the trafficking; women who let Bob Brown into their houses so he can peek from behind the drapes and watch slingers serving up in the alley. Still for every one of those embattled souls, two or three others are going to the corner.” (153)

  2. babies raising babies:

    “At bottom, there is no great fear in either child’s heart of an unwanted pregnancy, for the basic reason that a baby is in no way unwanted. Fran had given her son condoms on several occasions and had routinely left extras on the bedroom dresser. But DeAndre doesn’t like sex in a raincoat, nor does he particularly believe in any of the consequences. Half the neighborhood had the Bug, yet DeAndre can’t help but associate the disease with the needle since virtually all of the people falling out and dying were long-time shooters As for baby-making-that would be almost welcomed as the final proof of manhood. A fatalistic streak in DeAndre and the rest of his crew holds that they’ll soon enough be dead or in prison. Against that notion, the production of a child, a male child in particular, would guarantee some tangible evidence of a brief existence.
    So DeAndre left the condoms on the dresser, and Tyreeka, too, does nothing to avoid parenthood. The idea of having her own baby, of caring for a being that would love and depend on her without equivocation, is appealing enough. That she is still thirteen, that she has nothing but a child’s love to provide any new life-these things are put aside by the self-meaning that procreating surely promises. Tyreeka, too, is looking for some kind of validation.” (225)

    “In Baltimore, a city with one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the nation, the epidemic is, at its root, about human expectation, or more precisely, the absence of expectation. On Fayette Street, the babies are born simply because they can be born, because life in this place cannot and will not be lived in the future tense. Given that fact, there is no reason to wait. The babies speak to these child-mothers and child-fathers, justify them, touch their hearts in a way that nothing else in their lives ever will. The government, the schools, the social workers, the public-service announcements wedged in between every-black- family-in-the-burbs sitcome-all wail out the same righteous warning: Wait, don’t make the mistake, don’t squander every opportunity in life by having a child too young. But the children of Fayette Street look around them and wonder where an opportunity might actually be found. The platitude is exactly that, and no one is fooled.” (230)

    “Shorn of all deeper meanings, what remains for this generation are the essentials: sex and babies. And because sex and babies, rather than fidelity and commitment, are the known terminus of any relationship, maturity has become utterly irrelevant. If validation requires only sexual capacity, then the mothers-to-be waiting on the plastic chairs at the obstetrics clinics at University Hospital and John Hopkins can be sixteen. Or fourteen. Or twelve.
    Accident is not at all the word for it.
    Most of these babies are very much wanted by the mothers and fathers alike. What better legacy for a sixteen-year-old slinger who expects to be dead or in prison by age twenty? What greater personal justification for a teenaged girl thirsting for the unequivocal love of another being? To outsiders, the babies are mistakes to be calculated in terms of social cost, as ward-of-the-state harbingers of yet another generation destined to spin through the cycle of poverty. But to the children suckled on the nihilism of the corner, such an outcome isn’t the sum of all fears. Poverty and failure is what they know; it’s what they accept for themselves every day and, by extension, what they accept for their children as well. For the child-fathers, the future is guns and vials and broken pavement; for the child-mothers, it is life as a twenty-two-year-old welfare mother, barefoot on the rowhouse steps, with the toddlers stumbling around her. And what, other six years, is the substantive difference between a sixteen-year-old and a twenty-two-year-old welfare mother?” (233)

  3. gluten-free breakfast:

    “As such, you’re beginning to realize not only that Aesop won’t play in Baltimore, but that for the children of Fayette Street, the idea of education-the formal education of a classroom, at least-has no meaning. To those who argue that the urban school systems of this nation are underfunded, or understaffed, or poorly managed-and in Baltimore, at least, these are fair accusations, ever one-there is this equal and opposing truth: The schools cannot save us.” (277)

    “The teachers learn as well. They recognize the ones who care-the kids who are still walking the fine line-but understand that they have to survive. Call on the same child repeatedly for the right answers and, eventually, he’ll shut down. Point out the high test score, and the unlucky achiever will be made vulnerable to the group. It’s peer pressure, same as it is anywhere, but in urban Baltimore, it’s compounded by the weight of numbers. In the classrooms at Harlem Park, or Lombard or any other inner-city middle school, it’s not one or two roughnecks who refuse to buy into the educational experience. Here, in the toughest schools, that alienation can consume half a class or more.” (279)

  4. ps. shout to the harold washington library complex, and specifically, the music box theatre flier that led me to sign up for their newsletter. that newsletter is the reason that i know about the existence of the black power mixtape movie-i couldn’t be there to experience it in their theatre, but i was able to use that knowledge to get it from my own library. today, i learned about the latest chris rock movie (dir. julie delphy) from that very same newsletter. gratitude.

  5. first-notice how there’s no moderation for this comment? second (and often)-thank you for reading and engaging. third-has newblackman become a filter for our relationship?! if so, that’s not so terrible…

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