MAXWELL:  “Dope made them wild animals’

5/18/1997 – Printed in the PERSPECTIVE section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper


“It ain’t nothing but hell,” the 76-year-old woman said, staring out a window.

“Hell” is the quality of life for this woman and thousands of other law-abiding black residents in this neighborhood east of Interstate 95 and south of W Sunrise Boulevard.

Here, hundreds of drug dealers, all of them young and black and most of them male, keep up a seven-day, 24-hour drumbeat of noisy activity as they openly ply their illicit trade _ sometimes in the yards of residents.

Following is part of a journalist’s diary of May 14-15, 1997, of life in a two-block area of this northwest community:

8:30 a.m.: Two dealers sit on the hood of a 1982 Cadillac watching cars pass. When a blue Toyota Camry approaches from Sunrise, they race toward the intersection.

The driver of the Camry, a young white man in a business suit, thrusts neatly folded dollar bills out the window with one hand and grabs a tiny plastic bag with the other. He speeds away. The teenagers, shirtless and already sweaty, divide the money. The whole transaction takes no more than 15 seconds.

A school bus loaded with children turns the corner and stops. The driver must wait for the dealers to move. He shakes his head and stares at the two old people sitting on their front porch as he passes. They smile, knowingly.

8:49 a.m.: When a U-Haul truck appears, three dealers in the yard with the Rottweiler run and leap onto the running board. The driver, a young white man, takes the crack cocaine, and his passenger, a white woman, hands money to a dealer. The truck disappears toward Sunrise.

10:30 a.m.: Several males go into the crack house on the westside of the street. They emerge a half hour later and disperse. The two on the Cadillac watch, slapping hands and muttering.

11:01 a.m.: A young white couple turn the corner in a black BMW. The dealers on the Cadillac stay put. A young black woman carrying an infant dashes from the crack house, and the BMW stops beside her. She hands the white woman, a pretty blond, a bag and takes money. The car kicks up rocks and dust.

11:50 a.m.: A skinny white woman comes from the crack house. A black male on a bicycle arrives. He is talking on a cellular telephone. The woman stops him and hands him some folded bills, which he counts. “This ain’t all, bitch,” he says. A black woman emerges from the house. “Leave her the f_- alone,” she says. The white woman backs away and goes into the house. The black woman curses and walks away.

Noon: The old couple go inside.

12:10 p.m.: An ambulance, its siren blasting, roars past. The old couple rush back outside. “Lord, these niggers gone crazy,” the woman says. “Dope killing people.”

12:58 p.m.: A male on a bike rides by five males beneath the mango tree in the middle of the block. “Hey come the money nigger,” someone says. “He got all them crackers’ money.” The one on the bike says, “Damned right I’m the money nigger.” Hands slap. Profanity fills the air.

1:30 p.m.: A red corvette speeds by. Moments later, it returns, stops and a young white man yells: “Where’s Tyrone?” A male, his baseball cap cocked to one side, steps out of the white van in the back yard. “Got the stuff?” he asks the driver of the Corvette. The driver says, “Call me later” and guns the engine.

2:30 p.m.: A school bus lets off about dozen elementary students. Wearing jaded expressions, they walk pass three deals going down.

4:15 p.m.: Four girls, all about 14, get off another bus. As they walk past three dealers, one dealer grabs the behind of the tallest girl. She giggles and pretends to protest. “I ain’t got time for no po’ nigger like you,” she says. “Let that lil’ ho go,” another dealer says.

5:09 p.m.: The old man on the porch goes inside. Three bicycles pass. One carries a giant boom box, its music making the lawn chairs on the porch vibrate. The old woman goes inside.

5:45 p.m.: About a dozen dealers suddenly run toward I-95. A green minivan loaded with white teenagers stops a few houses away. The dealers surround the vehicle, passing plastic bags and grabbing money. The van spins around and heads for Sunrise.

7:30 p.m.: A black Jimmy stops on Ninth Street. The white driver gets out and shouts at a dealer near the mango tree. The dealer punches the white man and runs. The white man holds his nose and shouts profanities and threats.

7:46 p.m.: The old woman comes outside. “Lord, Lord, Lord,” she says. Her husband calls to her: “Get in here. Them fools crazy.”

1:30 a.m.: The black Jimmy returns and stops in the intersection. Its stereo wakes the old couple. Tires squeal. Doors slam.

3:30 a.m.: A woman screams. A boom box plays gangsta rap. The old man stares out his bedroom window. Several crack dealers walk back and forth in the darkness. Three cars pass, their heavy speakers thumping.

The following afternoon, the old man talks: “They all wild animals. Dope made them wild animals in the jungle.”

The old man has lived in this neat house with the manicured lawn for 38 years. A retired cement finisher, he built the house himself. He recalls the days before crack cocaine drove everyone crazy _ “when things over here were peaceful and young folks cared about life.”