The Forgotten Victims of the Crack Addict

crackby James A. Bacon

Carl V. Hughes IV, a 28-year-old Chesterfield County man, had a serious addiction to crack cocaine. Living with his sister and elderly parents, he frequently stole from them to support his habit. According to testimony from a recent trial, he’d stolen a video game system and games from his sister, a laptop computer and car from his mother, and a video game system and cell phone from his former girlfriend and mother of his child.

On Sept. 22, high on crack and resentful of ridicule for his out-of-control drug use, he felt like he had “no other alternative” than to “erase” his family. He proceeded to stab his father and mother to death in their sleep, and then his sister as she watched television. After the killings, he met a woman in a hotel on Jefferson Davis Highway, purchased more crack and smoked it with her. Later, he pawned his mother’s wedding ring and two other rings to buy more drugs.

The next day, police found him at the railing of the Lee Bridge, where he was threatening to commit suicide. He was distraught at what he’d done, telling police “he could not believed he killed his sister” because she “was the only one who loved” him. The Times-Dispatch has the details of the story here.

It’s a tragic story all the way around. It’s also a powerful reminder of (a) the power of crack cocaine to destroy peoples’ lives, not just the lives of users but the people around them, and (b) why there are laws on the books that dish out harsher penalties for crack than powdered cocaine, a disparity than many have decried as racist because crack users are disproportionately African-American.

The story also occurs against a growing sense of white guilt at the “mass incarceration” of African-American men and concern about the impact that incarceration has on the black family — it’s difficult for a man to be a good husband and father while he’s stewing in jail — when one-third of African-American males wind up in jail or prison at some point in their lives, often for seemingly victimless crimes like drug possession.

I have no doubt that there are injustices in the criminal justice system, and I’m open to the idea that there are better ways to handle the epidemic of substance abuse (which is just as prevalent among whites as it is among blacks, incidentally) than throwing every offender in jail. I also share the belief that drug addicts have a problem that cannot be solved by incarceration; they need help dealing with their substance abuse. However, amidst the rush to portray drug users as victims of institutional racism, I have seen little acknowledgement as the debate has unfolded that drug addicts often prey on the people around them — stealing their money, pawning their possessions, assaulting them, dumping familial responsibilities others, and, in extreme cases like Hughes’, killing them.

Family members of substance abusers are the silent victims. Hughes’s family came to the notice of the public only because a triple homicide is such an extreme case. But before the murders, no one knew about or cared about Hughes’ endless predation upon family members in a series of petty crimes that most likely were never reported. How many thousands of other families in Virginia are suffering silently from a substance abuser close to them? How many of them feel oppressed by their presence, and how many, at some level, feel liberated when their oppressor is put in jail?

It’s good to have a conversation about the mass incarceration of young African-American men. We should be investing more resources in programs that help substance abusers kick their habit and ease their transition from jail and prison back into society. But we also need to be cognizant of their silent victims, who also happen to be African-American and whose interests may not be served by handing out get-out-of-jail free cards to the people who rob and abuse them. Those people have rights, too. Their rights just aren’t politically fashionable right now.

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7 responses to “The Forgotten Victims of the Crack Addict”

  1. lifelongnova88 Avatar

    Meanwhile, at the national level:

    “Several GOP presidential contenders have advocated treating the nation’s growing heroin epidemic as a health crisis, not a criminal one. But most stop short of advocating the same approach to other drug laws, notably those involving marijuana and crack cocaine, which disproportionately affect African Americans.”

    1. Interesting. Apparently, the heroin issue is big in New Hampshire, and GOP candidates like Christie are hearing a lot about it. I’m not sure that anyone would classify marijuana as a health “crisis” at this time. As for crack, does anyone advocate taking a fresh approach toward that drug?

  2. lifelongnova88 Avatar

    My guess is that middle-to-upper-middle-class white voters can envision their underacheving nieces and nephews (parents very successful but the children underperform beginning with college admissions and then wind up in moderate but unremarkable career paths), but don’t have the means for luxury treatment/therapy like the well-to-do enjoy. The sense of social shame that comes with being in the middle-to-upper-middle-class compels the discussion to deflect the blame away from their underachieving families members and turn it into a “mental health crisis”.

    At least, that’s way I have seen it in my age (18-35) and social (upper-middle class NOVA) bracket. You’ve got the kids whose parents make combined 150K+ but the kid maxed out at a mediocre state school, and while the 60K he or she is making is decent, it means that they’ll have to commute from Stafford/PW County instead of the western Fairfax two-story that their parents could afford.

    1. Downward mobility is definitely a reality in our society today. As it should be. Nobody should be guaranteed a social or economic status. They have to earn it. If middle-to-upper-middle-class white parents don’t teach their children the values and give them the drive it takes to succeed, that’s their fault. No one has a birthright to an affluent lifestyle.

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    I think there has been a grossly uninformed view of the demographic scale and scope of drug use that’s relied on ignorant stereotypes for some time now – and it has contributed to policies that have harmed many people.

    Now that reality is actually starting to seep in – there is sentiment to treat such drug use among the “nice folk” as a disease” that needs “treatment” not withstanding the fact that we’ve already tossed an entire generation of “bad”folks of poor moral character into prison, leaving behind one -parent families who don’t read to their kids -who then fail in school and grow up to become drug users and sellers … like their parents were.

    We still love this stereotype… even as we now have much hand wringing, wailing and gnashing of teeth that “something” has to be done…because it would surely be a travesty to put folks of “good” moral character , innocently gone astray, into prison with common street drug dealers. Besides there is no room, the prisons are chock full of drug dealers already!

    and how in the world could this happen to good parents who DID read to their kids in the first place? good gawd o’mighty! the world is turned upside down!

    turns out that some of the most effective antidotes to hypocrisy is getting the right ox – gored…in front of the right people , but that does take time and someone collecting facts and statistics and reporting them……

    how we’ve dealt with drug use in this country is a lot like how we’ve dealt with slavery – and in fact – it smells a lot like it sometimes.

  4. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Crack = Black

    Heroin = White

    Is that about the size of it?

  5. LarrytheG Avatar

    the way we’ve done drug abuse policy is a monumental disaster to people on the economic margins.

    Now that we’ve “discovered” the problem is also with those of much better economic circumstances – we’ve apparently decided we need to treat it as a disease – that’s fine – but let’s let’s take this opportunity to change the horrible disparate treatment of people depending on their economic status.

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