Ed Massey

Case Study

Case Study

"I only saw that some guy's a drug dealer; he's on the corner and he’s got a crack house. Look at the car he’s got. Look at all the money and all the people that follow him because he has that. And I said, ‘I’m going to have that car and I’m going to have that house. That was my mind-set." Caron Butler on his youth (LA Times, 10/31/04).

Case Study – measuring 9 feet in height and 5.5 feet around – examines the inner city crack dealer of the late 20th century – fostering a contemplative view of the issues, conditions and culture associated with the crack trade.

Posed in an assured, standoffish position, the life-sized, encaged figure is partly composed of crack vials filled with simulated crack cocaine, and equipped with a pager, jacket, and shoes characteristic of many in the crack business. The dealers, products of the poverty, violence and family disintegration endemic to America’s inner cities in the 1980s and 90s, were often induced to sell crack by what they perceived as a quick and glamorous way to money. In fact, most became captive to the trade and ended incarcerated or dead.

The deadly violence that accompanied the crack trade is arguably what those in and out of the inner cities found most threatening and contemptible. Inner city residents often became the indiscriminate victims of crack turf wars, while outsiders dared not enter city battle zones and tried to thwart the violence from spilling in to their communities.

Undereducated, unskilled and with few economic alternatives, the dealers were part of a system and culture that captured huge numbers of America’s inner city youth.

The time period is characterized by huge incarceration rates of predominantly male and minority youth. At the height of the epidemic, the federal courts were mired in controversy, with strong ethnic overtones, for their more severe and punitive treatment of crack offenses – in which the defendants were overwhelmingly minority males - as compared to powder cocaine offenses for which the defendants were typically Caucasian.