The issue of illegal drug use was again a hot topic this election season with candidates for a range of local, state and federal offices pledging to tackle the problem once and for all. The debate is often fueled by stereotypes far removed from the reality of the day-to-day life of addicts and drug users. A new book out called “The Corner: A Year in the Life an Inner-City Neighborhood” seeks to depict a piece of America that is often lost in the rhetoric of the war on drugs.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. The issue of illegal drug use was again a hot topic this election season, with candidates for a range of local, state and federal offices pledging to tackle the problem once and for all. But the debate is often fueled by stereotypes far removed from the reality of the day-to-day life of addicts and drug users. A new book out called The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood seeks to depict a piece of America that’s often lost in the rhetoric of the war on drugs. Yesterday, we began this conversation with David Simon, who’s co-author of the book, The Corner, and DeAndre McCullough, who’s one of the main characters, the main subjects of this book about life on the corner of Monroe and Fayette in West Baltimore. Yesterday on Democracy Now!, DeAndre spoke about his mother’s life, her—the fact that she was a drug addict, as was [his] father, that there were drugs at home, but also that she was a role model for him in a number of ways. And he also talked about his relationship with police and drugs. And today, we wanted to go to the people that he hung around with, and particularly the influence of girls in his life, of the young women he interacted with. I asked him to talk a little about those young women and what they meant to him.
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: Well, when I was in middle school, right? I had a problem with finding girls who was attracted to me, because I’m dark-skinned. I mean, that intimidated girls back then. It was all about the light-skinned pretty boys. I couldn’t pay a girl to mess with me back then. But times have changed. And the dark-skinned brothers know this. So, I had fun with—I mean, I couldn’t get a girl, so I ran through as many as I can. I mean, I’ve been burnt 15 times. Thank God I don’t have nothing else, but—
AMY GOODMAN: You have what?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: Been burnt. STD, gonorrhea. And I was out there. But my mother’s still trying to beat my ass, it’s not all about getting high and laying up with a different woman every night. But for me, that’s what it was all about. I mean, I spent enough money on strippers to start my own business a couple times. I mean, I spent seven grand in a week on strippers and hotels and getting high, just having fun. But I was with women [inaudible]. I mean, I would have broke Wilt Chamberlain’s record if I would have kept doing what I was doing. But now, I got my heart broke by someone—I decline to say her name. David know who it is.
DAVID SIMON: I’ll say her name. Tyreeka.
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: David know who she is. And, I mean, I was like R. Kelly. I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t think. I used to sleep with this girl’s picture on my pillow. Quiet storm would come on. I would cry. This girl, she took me deep. And after that, 'cause it was my fault, I couldn't see myself doing it to nobody else. So, even if I met a girl and just wanted it to be sex, I didn’t have the heart to hurt her the way that I was hurting. I wouldn’t mess with them, but I would kind of like let them down easy instead of just saying the hell with them like I used to. So now I’m a good boy. I try to be. It’s—women make it so hard, though, sometimes.
DAVID SIMON: Well, if you hadn’t had put Tyreeka through half of what you put her through, that wouldn’t—Tyreeka is the mother of his child.
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: But she know I’m sorry. That’s another show.
DAVID SIMON: That’s another show.
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: Yeah, that’s another show.
AMY GOODMAN: How old is your child?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: He’ll be four on Thanksgiving.
AMY GOODMAN: And where does he live?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: Off of Poplar Grove. That’s upper West Baltimore?
DAVID SIMON: Mm-hmm.
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: Something like that. Northwest.
AMY GOODMAN: And what kind of effect has he had on your life?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: Ah, man. I mean, my son, that’s my everything. I mean, it’s hard to describe. I mean, I love him. It’s more than love, but he’s my everything. If something was to happen to my son, we wouldn’t be doing this talk show; I would say to hell with life. That’s how much I love him.
DAVID SIMON: Tyreeka is also one of the success stories in the book. She was running the streets for a long time, but, stragely enough, the pregnancy and having the baby really settled her intimately. She became incredibly responsible, to the point where she graduated high school, despite all the daycare nightmares that having a child at 14 created. She’s a good mother to De’Ante. Now she’s in her first year of college in Baltimore.
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: Can I do Tyreeka? I want to do Tyreeka. She’s my baby’s mother. I mean, the girl, I can’t tell you why I spoke to her the first time I met her. But very smart girl. I mean, very smart. I mean, she’s majoring in computer science, goes to Coppin State, has so much book sense, I mean so much book sense. But it’s the common sense, and the common sense is not that common. It’s just sense that—a sense of being. I mean, if she had half as much sense as her test reports show, then she would have gave me another chance. I mean, I don’t understand that. She knew I was best for her, but she’s just not—I mean, I can’t do enough. I can’t do enough. That’s another show. Let’s move on.
AMY GOODMAN: De’Ante, is that the name of your son?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Are you raising De’Ante to stay away from the life you were in, or not?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: Well, how could you tell your kids that they can’t sell drugs if you’re selling them? I mean, it doesn’t work. You can’t tell them not to kill people if you’re killing people. I mean, I don’t let my son play with water guns. But there was a time that I had guns. And if he can’t play with water guns, I shouldn’t have guns either. So, I got rid of them, and I’m just trying to lead him by example. I mean, I’m not the best father in the world, financially, far as spending time or any other things that great fathers do, but I’m doing my best, and I love him, so hopefully that will be enough to keep him from growing up the way that I did. I mean, it will get better with time, but if I die trying, my son’s not going to turn out anything the way I was. Nothing at all like that.
AMY GOODMAN: If you found out he was using drugs or selling, what would you do?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: Well, beatings don’t help. I mean, whippings—I mean, whipping a child’s ass don’t help. I mean, you can beat him 'til he blue. If he wants to do something, he's going to do it. The most influential thing you can do for a child is show him by what you’re doing. And, I mean, you can’t move him out of the ghetto, because it’s everywhere now. I mean, you can sweep it under the rug, but eventually it’s going to build up and start leaking. I mean, you can’t do that. You just got to lead by example, and hopefully that’s a strong enough influence on your child to show him what’s right.
AMY GOODMAN: At the end of David’s book, he has a poem of yours, in the epilogue, and I was wondering if you would read it.
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: The title of this poem is “Ghetto Child.”
Silent screams and broken dreams
Addicts, junkies, pushers and fiends
Crowded spaces and sad faces
Never look back as the police chase us
Consumed slowly by chaos, a victim of the streets,
Hungry for knowledge, but afraid to eat.
A life of destruction, it seems no one cares,
A manchild alone with burdens to bear.
Trapped in a life of crime and hate,
It seems the ghetto will be my fate.
If I had just one wish it would surely be,
That God would send angels to set me free
Free from the madness, of a city running wild,
Freed from the life of a ghetto child.
That’s my poem.
AMY GOODMAN: When did you write it?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: Last year. Was it last year? Yeah, last year.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you feel like you’ve been set free?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: Well, for me, I think being set free is a state of mind. I mean, moving from the ghetto for some people would be setting them free, but I’m still trapped in this—I’m still trapped in my mind. I mean, whenever I can forget about West Baltimore and I think about ever going back there, I think then I’ll be truly set free. But right now, West Baltimore is my biggest addiction. And I know what happens to me whenever I go there, but sometimes I just can’t—I just can’t stay away from being in West Baltimore. I mean, I don’t hear gunshots now, I hear crickets now. There’s no drug dealers on my corner. I don’t see the police circling the block. I mean, it sounds crazy, but you miss it. I don’t know if it’s missing it, but, I don’t know, I’m used to it. And it’s just hard to stay away sometimes.
AMY GOODMAN: Where do you live?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: I live in Parkville. It’s like Baltimore County.
AMY GOODMAN: One last question about the police: What role do they play? I mean, you say they were harassing you all. First, were they white or black?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: Well, there is a misconception about the police department. They think that it’s the white cops that’s doing all of the corrupt all deeds and all the brutality, which in some cases it are in some places, but in Baltimore it’s the black cops. I don’t know if they have something to prove to their white co-workers or whatever, but it’s the black cops who is doing most of the killing, I mean, doing most of the shootings, doing most of the beatings. There’s a police in the Southern District—I ain’t gonna say no names—but he will come down on our corner in plain clothes and rob us. I mean, and he was selling more drugs than we was pushing.
AMY GOODMAN: How do you know?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: Because, for one, he had a mouth full of gold teeth. He had $150 tennis shoes. He had a Lexus, a Land Cruiser and a Galant at the same time. And, I mean, if he could come down there and rob someone without having a conscience, I’m quite sure he could sell drugs also. I knew some people—I don’t know if it was for sure, but they claimed that they was working for him.
AMY GOODMAN: So he was a corrupt cop. Was he a brutal cop?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: I don’t know too many cops who’s not corrupt to one level.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: I mean—
DAVID SIMON: There were some—there are some guys who didn’t take the money. Stash finder, Bob Brown—you never heard of anybody paying Bob Brown.
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: Like I say, there’s not too many cops who I don’t know that aren’t corrupt to some certain extent. I’m not saying all. I’m just saying I don’t know many. I mean, to each his own. That’s your book. This is mine.
DAVID SIMON: OK.
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: See, you lived on the other side. I’ve been—I mean, I’ve met some of them—I’ve met the officer that you’re talking about. I mean, and they have their ways, believe me.
DAVID SIMON: Really?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: They do.
DAVID SIMON: OK. The two most brutal police on the Fayette Street strip that year both happen to be black officers. In a way, the racial stigma of brutality is muted if the officer is black. In some ways, you know, the white cop has to think when he takes out the club and is going to go to war.
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: Exactly.
DAVID SIMON: In a way that a black cop doesn’t. And so, it’s been sort of a transformation in the last five years in Baltimore. But, I mean, here’s the way—it’s a corrupting thing, the drug war. Not only do you end up waging a war on the underclass. I mean, in a neighborhood like this, maybe 40 or 50 percent of the people in the neighborhood are drug-involved, on one level or another. And maybe another 30 percent have somebody in their family, so that they’re not going to be in complete allegiance with a drug sweep or with an anti-drug effort. And you’re placing young, 22-, 23-, 24-year-old police down there in an environment in which they’re alienated, the people are alienated from them. You drive by the corner in a radio car, they give you the eye, you give them the eye back. And eventually, I mean, you’re heading towards the same sort of Vietnamese logic, the logic of the Vietnam War, which was that you can’t tell—you know, eventually, cops end up beating somebody who’s just coming from the store with a meatball sub instead of a vial of dope.
But more fundamentally wrong than that is the fact that because it’s fish in a barrel, because the drugs are everywhere, because you can make an easy stat just by jacking the guy up against the liquor store wall and going into his pockets, what’s happened in the drug war is that you’ve destroyed the reason to do real police work. If you can make your stat and if you can get paid every day just by making an easy drug arrest, even though the arrest has no meaning and the guy is not going to go to jail because there’s no place to put him because you’re doing 19,000 of these a year, what you’re not doing is the hard work of policing, which is armed robberies, burglaries, aggravated assaults, homicides. Those are—at the same time that the arrest rate for drugs in Baltimore went through the ceiling, in the late '80s and early ’90s, the clearance rate for solving felonies, all felonies, fell through the floor. In a way, it seems like the drug war is police work, because the police are running around, because they're throwing people in the back of wagons, because they’re running up stats, because they’re getting paid in court. But actually, real police work, the real hard police work of making a city more livable and more safe, is in inverse proportion. And that’s something—that’s the great illusion of the drug war, that we pour all our resources in here and we’ll chase these people around, we’ll chase the DeAndres and the R.C.s and the Frans and the Garys around the street; meanwhile, Baltimore became—I think the same years—five years prior to this book, had a 47 percent increase in the crime rate, while drug arrests went up. So, figure out that conundrum.
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: I couldn’t have said that better myself.
DAVID SIMON: Give me a break.
AMY GOODMAN: The police, did they ever do anything that was fair on your corner?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: I mean, I’ve been arrested a lot of times when there was just cause for arrest. But I’ve also been arrested a few times where as though I shouldn’t have been. I’ve been made to plead guilty for things that I didn’t do. But—
AMY GOODMAN: Why did you plead guilty?
DEANDRE McCULLOUGH: Because they said if I will plead guilty, then I—if I will plead guilty to a—to a severe charge, then they would charge me with a lesser charge, which I found out if they want you to cop a plea, they don’t know anything. So I don’t cop pleas no more.
AMY GOODMAN: DeAndre McCullough and David Simon. DeAndre McCullough lives on the street corner in West Baltimore that is written about in David Simon’s book, The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood. It’s published by Broadway Books. And just this footnote: Federal drug officials have described the typical cocaine user as a white male high school graduate living in a small city or a suburb. It’s just that with the war on drugs, which focuses largely on poor, urban, mostly minority neighborhoods, street sellers of crack are easier to arrest than suburban cocaine users.