cover image Crack: Rock Cocaine, Street Capitalism, and the Decade of Greed

Crack: Rock Cocaine, Street Capitalism, and the Decade of Greed

David Farber. Cambridge Univ, $24.95 (220p) ISBN 978-1-108-42527-8

In this insightful study, Farber, a history professor at the University of Kansas, considers crack as a social and economic phenomenon in the 1980s and ’90s U.S. As Farber shows, for many young black men during the period, who were largely excluded from the labor market, selling drugs was “an economic lifeline.” Drawing on interviews, Farber explores how crack was distributed (in Chicago by gangs, in New York City by “start-up operations”); the violence it triggered as crack kingpins defended their territories; and the “conspicuous consumption” associated with both crack culture and hip-hop (some artists were dealers and some dealers were aspiring hip-hop artist). Farber also illuminates the policies made in response to crack, recounting how politicians of all political stripes, supported by a large majority of the American people, passed punitive, racially biased drug laws that treated crack dealers more harshly than cocaine dealers. Black community leaders were initially at the forefront of calls for strong measures against crack until they saw that the result was the imprisonment of record numbers of young black men, but the political popularity of the war on drugs stymied their efforts to challenge the punitive policies. This thoughtful, well-researched history highlights the futility of viewing drugs as strictly a matter for law enforcement while ignoring their socioeconomic context. (Oct.)