I’ve been thinking a whole fuckton about heroin recently, mostly because a very close member of my family—someone who is essentially my little sister—is going through it and my heart is fucking broken. But it’s nothing new to me; I’ve had dope addicts in my family and among my friends since I was nine years old and my older cousin had a “seizure” (what I would later figure out was an overdose, which she thankfully survived [and kicked]). I’ve had friends die from the drug since I was 17 years old, ongoing, including this year. I still can’t believe I’ve been seeing this drug devastate people for essentially TWEEEENTY. YEARS. So I feel like I have at least a decent cursory understanding of the struggle that is getting off heroin, a drug that is increasingly prevalent in both cities and small towns (I just did some research into this very fact, first because of my baby sis and broken heart, second because it turned into part of a larger report [not a personal one], TBA). I understand that it is a drug that will devastate you and make you do crazy shit you would never do under non-addicted circumstances and turn you into a shell. The addiction always, always eclipses whatever problems you were trying to cover up in the first place.
So, respect to David Ford for putting it out there like that in his Noisey piece. I found the personal addiction anecdotes, like selling off everything to score, incredibly brave and emotional. My heart wrenched when he wrote about building up his tolerance and wanting to end it. Especially at that part: the detached resignation in his tone was pretty fucking familiar.
But I have to say, I also found the piece to be incredibly problematic. My main question is about his dealers, contacts he made (or peripherally discovered) while working on a documentary. (?) I was left wondering if he at any point told them he was a journalist, or that he was going to write about them, or asked for their permission post-facto. That’s the first major problem to me: that it’s unclear in the story, even whether or not it was made clear to community activist Arnetha Habeel (I’m assuming it was, since she can google herself and has been written about plenty—at any rate, the story would have been more credible if she had been quoted rather than paraphrased).
And if the dealers weren’t told they’d be written about, even despite the name-changes, could there be other identifying details, like the cross-streets where he copped or the reason Little Man wasn’t there to deliver? As Ford points out, this is a life-or-death situation, and all of that affects the way I read it, despite his acknowledgments (more than one) that he is operating from a completely different situation (not just white and in grad school: when *his* Southside Chicago situation became deadly, he didn’t have to decamp to Skokie; his dad drove cross-country to extract him).
I fundamentally agree with the points that Ford was trying to make in this piece—that we should “de-totemize” Chief Keef, still just a kid in a devastating environment; that the cops aren’t helping and god knows neither is the government in a city that’s been corrupt basically since its inception. I also fundamentally believe that music can be, and is, a lens to political and sociocultural issues, whether Keef or Beyoncé or MIA or Brad Paisley. But I think the way it was executed was irresponsible at best, unethical at worst, and while the writing can be great at times, I hope that people do not take this as the way to do court reporting, police reporting, or street reporting. Cultural tourism is never great reporting, and sweeping pronouncements about the negligence of the Chicago PD based on two incidents helps no one, even if they’re (and they probably are) 100% correct. (Even the link to the CPD torture reporting dates back to 2007. While I doubt much has changed since then, the piece could have been boosted with more recent statistics and reporting. Again, not doubting the presence of the hip-hop cops—there’s a good amount of reporting out there proving that they exist from coast to coast—but this kind of reporting needs to be airtight, if you want the credibility of your premise to be unflappable.)
We got a lot of educated white men feeling entitled to tell other peoples’ stories, especially stories afflicting poor people of color, from that dude who got himself arrested to “report on what the prison system is REALLY like” or that story where the white American guy who went to Cuba and ate on the median income/rations that the average Cuban has for a month. (I tried to find it and couldn’t, it’s from a few years back and was, I think, also in the Atlantic.) Or that dude who pretended to be gay for a year and got a book deal. (This topic was, incidentally, discussed on Twitter today by @bad_dominicana, whose TL inspired this paragraph.) It’s stunt journalism to them, it’s life to everyone else, and yet who gets to narrate the stories? Not saying these issues shouldn’t be reported on more, by everyone. But stunt pieces by privileged white folks often get way way way more leverage than the voices of, or pieces by, those who are actually affected.
Anyway, if I was assigning this piece, it would have been a Q&A between Ford (as an addict) and one of his pushers. Or just an as told to with Earvin or Little Man.
Here are two more pieces I found today after googling the Chicago heroin trade (both by white dudes but good reporting and good for context in tandem with Ford’s piece):
“Heroin, LLC,” by Mick Dumke in the Chicago Reader
“From Mexico to the Midwest, a heroin supply chain delivers,” by Chip Mitchell for WBEZ (super important topic esp to me—don’t ever forget your dope and coke is probably connected to cartels and 200,000 civilian deaths in Mexico)