Pubdate: Sun, 19 Sep 1999
Source: Houston Chronicle (TX)
Copyright: 1999 Houston Chronicle
Author: Timothy Egan, New York Times


Reversal in N.Y. mirrors change across U.S.

NEW YORK -- On a day when Mayor Rudolph Giuliani went to Brooklyn to tout
the renewal of the Bushwick neighborhood, once considered one of the most
notorious drug bazaars in the country, Pipo Rios opened a 40-ounce malt
liquor not far from where the mayor spoke.

Rios used to sell crack, but street-level drug dealers are hard-pressed to
make a living these days, he said. So now he deals in Tommy Hilfiger
knockoffs. "I can make more money selling these," he said, pointing to a
stack of the jackets inside his cramped kitchen.

Rios, 36, said he no longer used crack, either. Still, the plum-colored
marks on his arms are the trademark of another drug that he does use --

The change in Rios' life is the story of the decline of crack in New York --
done in by age, boredom and new opportunities.

Today, in communities where children grew up dodging crack vials and
gunfire, the change from a decade ago is startling.

Over the last 10 years, the New York police made nearly 900,000 drug
arrests -- more than any other city in the world. Almost a third were for
using and selling crack.

But nearly every major U.S. city plagued by the drug has matched New York's
rise and decline in crack use -- regardless of how law enforcement
responded. The crack epidemic behaved much like a fever. It came on strong,
appearing to rise without hesitation, and then broke, just as the most dire
warnings were being sounded.

In New York, the use of crack stopped growing as its addicts became known as
the biggest losers on the street. At the same time, the violent drug markets
settled down, as dealers and users fell into retail routines. Perhaps most
telling, there was a generational revulsion against the drug.

"If you were raised in a house where somebody was a crack addict, you wanted
to get as far away from that drug as you could," said Selena Jones, a Harlem
resident whose mother was a chronic crack user. "People look down on them so
much that even crackheads don't want to be crackheads anymore."

The police consider the transformation of parts of Harlem, Washington
Heights and Brooklyn something of a miracle.

"I'm not ready to say we won," Police Commissioner Howard Safir said
recently. "But we're no longer the crack capital of the world." He
attributed the change to a policy of zero tolerance for anyone using or
selling drugs in the open.

In Washington, D.C., however, drug arrest rates actually declined in some of
the peak crack years -- and the city still recorded a steeper drop than New
York in the percentage of its young residents using cocaine from 1990 to the

"This happened over a period of time when Washington had fewer officers on
the street, the police made fewer arrests for drugs, and the mayor himself
was indicted for smoking crack," said Bruce Johnson, a New York social
scientist who has conducted extensive surveys of crack use across the
country for the National Institute for Justice.

"Something clearly happened to change the attitude among youths," Johnson
said. "They deserve a lot of the credit."

The drug is still around, of course. But a clear trend has developed that
few public officials predicted: Crack has become a drug used primarily by
older people.

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