Crack at the Edge of the World
It is clinically and physically possible to inhale a heart-stopping dose of crack cocaine. Yet in the majority of death-by-rock cases in Tampa and other urban centers during the drug’s heyday in the Eighties and the years since, the cocaine dilute has been no more than a contributing factor.
In fact most crack-related fatalities were caused not by toxic rock but by lead poisoning courtesy first of small-caliber handguns and then by increasingly high-powered automatic weapons, often wielded in crimes auxiliary to the actual use of the drug. As convenience store and gas station clerks were gunned down for twenty dollars by desperate rock fiends and hollow-points blasted through children’s bedroom windows, crack’s collateral victims came, almost obsessively, the attention of affluent, white Floridians.
Throughout the Seventies and the early Eighties, Tampa Bay had a fearless if uneasy relationship with cocaine, the party drug of the wealthy and popular. In 1980, suffering hallucinations and insomnia, comedian Richard Pryor set himself on fire while freebasing cocaine — the drug is rendered with ether making it smokable as well as highly flammable — and suddenly it seemed the free ride the suburban white powder had winkingly got in the media was over, becoming the gritty slush of the ghetto.
Juvenile Ibis, August 2007
Freebasing, in which cocaine hydrochloride was chemically converted was clearly too uncontrollable for even the most high-craving fiends. Crack — a mixture of coke, ammonia, baking soda, and other filler ingredients solidified into rough pellets for consumption via a glass pipe — was more stable. Containing only about ten percent pure cocaine, it was also much less expensive than the polar powder inhaled in discos, selling for as little as ten dollars a hit.
The physical effects of smoking crack are instant, extremely pleasurable, — and very brief. Like modern-day scourge meth, crack produces a spurt of intense euphoria, reduced hunger, and trenchant wakefulness .As the rush evaporates after as little as fifteen minutes, these sensations are replaced by an intense depression and the irrational but seemingly irresistible desire for more crack.
The so-called crack epidemic victimized mostly the poor, and inordinately the black, so much so that claims by Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton that crack was introduced to African American population centers by the CIA were taken quite seriously. Throughout most of the Nineties, gangs dueled for crack-selling corners in housing projects in Tampa and St. Petersburg with frequently fatal results, while police waged a “War on Drugs” in those communities and the justice system executed a no-tolerance-for-possession policy which resulted in insanely long sentences for those caught with just a few rocks.