Over the years, African Americans have been accused of being a culturally suspicious group to a fault. The actions throughout the decades by the U.S. government toward Blacks, i.e., slavery and syphilis, have often justified our suspicions. One of the most talked about conspiracy theories of the mid-’80s and early ’90s had to do with the crack epidemic. A common-held belief was that the CIA flooded the Black community with crack so that we could do each other in.
In the highly controversial 1991 film “Boyz N The Hood,” a saga about young Black boys growing up in the ghettos of Los Angeles, film writer/director John Singleton gave the viewing audience some food for thought, “They want us to kill each other off. What they couldn’t do to us in slavery, they are making us do to ourselves.” “They,” who?
In 1996, Gary Webb, a reporter for the San Jose Mercury News wrote a series of expose pieces, “Dark Alliance,” that centered around the CIA and their possible dealings with Central America ‘s drug culture, a San Francisco drug ring, and an L.A. drug kingpin. According to the stories, the CIA and its operatives used crack cocaine — sold via the Los Angeles African-American community — to raise millions to support the agency’s clandestine operations in Central America. Since the general public had suspicions about the intelligence agency anyway from its rather spotty past, the articles were pretty believable.
In the weeks to follow after Webb’s stories had received much-publicized attention, though, his merit took a plunge. Fellow colleagues at such press powerhouses as the New York Times and the Washington Post accused Webb of exaggerating many of his alleged facts to the point of creating a kind of hysteria or conspiracy theory, which exploded.
Writers from these reputable news organizations eventually debunked Webb’s theories, with the Senate Committee reportedly finding that there was no evidence to support Webb’s theories.
Webb had painted a destructive picture of the CIA, blatantly accusing them of practically lighting the crack-cocaine fuse. These drug purveyors were allegedly injecting the Black community with crack-cocaine and killing off the community.
Webb later agreed in an interview that there was no hard evidence that the CIA as an institution or any of its agent-employees carried out or profited from drug trafficking. But it was too late! The conspiracy theory was let out the bag!
Highly respected politicos like Rep. Maxine Waters wondered whether there were possible machinations behind the crack epidemic that involved the U.S. government and the Black community. She was one Black leader who validated Webb’s allegations that there was a plot to destroy inner-city Black America via drugs. At a rally, the South Central L.A. member of Congress told onlookers, “People in high places, knowing about it, winking, blinking, and in South Central Los Angeles, our children were dying.”
Even distinguished Black journalists jumped on the CIA/crack conspiracy bandwagon, such as award-winning columnist for the Boston Globe Derrick Z. Jackson, who wrote in his column:
The only conclusion is that Ronald Reagan said yes to crack and the destruction of Black lives at home to fund the killing of commies abroad.
The editor/publisher of the Amsterdam News, the late Wilbert Tatum, also gave credence to the theory that Webb perpetuated, calling the theory “entirely plausible,” and in Los Angeles, street vendors sold baseball caps with lettering that read “CIA Crack Inforcement Agency.”
Protests across the country were channeled through the Congressional Black Caucus in Washington D.C., who pushed both the CIA and the Justice Department to delve in to the charges of government complicity in the crack trade.
After Webb’s highly controversial stories had spun out of control, Frederick Hitz, a CIA inspector general, and an independent watchdog approved by Congress were brought in to conduct an investigation of the drug accusations against the government agency.
In October 1998, the CIA released a declassified version of Hitz’s two-volume report, and the CIA was cleared of its alleged complicity in the spread of crack-cocaine in to the inner-cities.
Conspiracy theorists still believe, however, that the government agency did in fact bring the crack epidemic to Black communities and their denials have not quelled this certainty.
What do I say? The U.S. government is pretty proficient at covering up what they don’t want us to know, so the jury is still out as far as I’m concerned.