A newspaper investigation suggesting that a CIA-supported drug ring introduced crack cocaine to Los Angeles is leading to calls for congressional hearings and a growing sense of outrage from African-Americans across the country.
The director of the Central Intelligence Agency, John Deutch, ordered the agency’s inspector general to look into the allegations - but he also has said he does not believe they are true.
On Thursday, however, more than 1,500 blacks attended a hastily called meeting in Washington to say they do believe the allegations.
Encouraged in recent weeks by black radio talk-show hosts, community activists and local elected officials, they met to start planning street protests and legislative action.
Also on Thursday, the president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Kweisi Mfume, called for a congressional investigation.
So far, however, no hearings are scheduled.
Last month’s report by the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News said the drugs were introduced to Los Angeles street gangs in the 1980s by a CIA operative to raise money to finance U.S.-backed Nicaraguan Contra rebels.
The scheme, reminiscent of the illegal sale of guns unveiled during the Iran-Contra controversy, has been dubbed “cocaine-Contra.”
Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters, who represents the Los Angeles area in Congress, praised the crowd Thursday “for having the audacity to be outraged … that the government put drugs in our communities.” She convened the meeting, held during the annual gathering of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Joe Madison, a radio talk-show host - jailed the night before with comedian-activist Dick Gregory when they tried to deliver a copy of the news articles to Deutch - reminded the group of the devastation crack cocaine has wrought.
“Women selling their bodies for crack and crack babies,” he said to a sea of nodding and shaking heads. “And people pointing fingers at us as if it was us doing it to us.”
The newspaper report reinforces conspiracy theories deeply held by some blacks going back to rumors that the government had used heroin to weaken the Black Panther Party, a black nationalist group popular in the 1960s.
Such theories have gained momentum in recent years as prisons increasingly have filled with black street dealers and drug addicts.
Rep. Mel Watts, D-N.C., a member of the House Judiciary Committee, laid out the case: “If you have a government that is planting drugs in our communities and you have a prison population that is disproportionately represented by drug sellers or people trying to support their habit, then you have a massive conspiracy.”
The Rev. Jesse Jackson put it this way at a breakfast meeting of reporters: “Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean no one is after me.”
Some political leaders clearly are hoping to turn the controversy to their advantage to fight a sentencing disparity on cocaine charges.
Currently, it takes possession of 500 grams of powdered cocaine - a $7,500 value - to qualify for a five-year federal sentence. But it takes only 5 grams of crack cocaine - worth $750 - to get the same penalty.
“That is not fair. They are the same drug, so they should be treated the same way,” Phyllis Newton, staff director of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, told the crowd.
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