American Gangster Today


I haven’t seen American Gangster, but I was checking out the boards on IMDb, and I came across a comment that really got under my skin.  It just seemed so ignorant.  Here was the originial post (by a user named mizwright):

I was in an audience sitting next to some young black boys and I don’t think they understood what they were watching. They have no concept of the Vietnam war, the drug wars that started in the 1960s…the older people understood perfectly about that era.  Good movie, but youngsters won’t understand it.

The comment got me thinking.  From what little I know of American Gangster (Manhattan drug lord Frank Lucas rises to power by smuggling heroin– “Blue Magic”– into the country via the coffins of fallen soldiers returning from Vietnam in the sixties), it seems like several conclusions could be drawn between then and now.   My response: 

 I haven’t seen AG, so I don’t know how much it focuses on the Vietnam War or other strictly 1960s material. However, I’m willing to bet it’s not impossible for younger people to understand it, as they still face many of the same issues in somewhat altered form. The 1960s weren’t the only years to struggle with war and drug abuse. Today, 92% of heroin in the world originates in Afghanistan. The poppy resin used to make it is grown illegally by Afghan farmers, and is bought by hands that eventually reach al-Qaeda and the Taliban. These terrorist organizations don’t deal opium directly, but they supply gunmen to protect drug-producing labs and transport convoys. In return for their mercenary-type work, they receive a cut of the profits, which is where the bulk of their funding comes from. No one knows how much the terrorist organizations bring in from this work, but conservative estimates run into the high tens of millions per year. While the number of casualties don’t approach the 1960s, some young Americans are dying to fight these terrorist organizations, and other young Americans are caught up in battling addiction on American soil. History repeats more often than we think.

Drugs are getting so scary.  During the last couple of years, America was inundated by a huge influx of fentanyl-laced heroin (stamped as Rolex, Rest in Peace, D-Boy, White House, Timberland, etc.) that has been dropping users like flies.  Twenty-two pounds of this crap was put onto the streets (eighty million hits worth).  People are still dying from it.  Paramedics are unable to revive people who overdose on it, or else they have to use four times the typical dose of naloxone.  It is estimated to have killed well over 1,000 people so far.  These users often die with the needle still in their arms, and sometimes even before the dose is fully administered.  Overdose is rarely instantaneous with heroin, so this is completely scary.  No disrespect to mizwright, but I think today’s young people can somewhat grasp what the youth of the 1960s felt, at least with regard to drug use, trafficking, and the resulting impact on individuals and society.




Filed under Drugs, sixties

4 responses to “American Gangster Today

  1. COMMENTARY: Drug Dealer Frank Lucas, Denzel and Dad

    My Father as a kid delivered groceries to the first drug kingpin “Bumpy” Johnson, who at the time, lived in the corner building on 120th street and 5th Avenue, across the street from Mount Morris Park. He use to tell me these colorful stories with admiration, about this man. Bumpy was an employee and conduit for the mafia, helping to orchestrate the distribution of heroin into Harlem and surrounding communities in the 1940’s, an epidemic that would later spread and engulf the entire country for generations to come.

    The street gangs of the 40’s would become some of the first addicts, their members would ultimately form the first ruthless drug-gangs of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Families were destroyed individual lives ruined, violence and crime across the board increased at staggering rates. In spite the gains from the Civil Rights Movement, as a community we never fully recovered from the initial impact of the flooding of drugs into our communities.

    Frank Lucas, portrayed by academy Award winner Denzel Washington in “American Gangster”, was the driver for Bumpy Johnson until his death by heart attack in 1968. By the time Mr. Lucas took power- the Harlem community had been decimated by this epidemic and the second generation of addicts already overwhelmed the streets. Like the Hip Hop culture violent movies have a tremendous impact on our children. Our young-people are continually bombarded with negative messages that unfortunately help shape and mold their character, Al Pacino’s as Scareface is still a popular image on T-Shirts.

    The moral of the story is not that the bad guy gets it in the end. Too many hopeless kids who are engaged in criminal activity, view the demise of these individuals in a fatalistic and morbidly glamorous way. Enlighten by our past history and current events we have to be careful not to glorify criminals. Mr. Lucas has the right to have his story told but as parents, mentors, big brothers and sisters, we must always monitor the messages and more important the response to the message portrayed in media.

    Dad’s discussions about Bumpy, were a small part of the rich history of the community that he shared with me. He gave me, as I did my son, Claude Brown’s definitive book on life in Harlem, “Manchild in the Promise Land”, when I was a teenager. He also talked about Malcolm X and Dr. King, Miles Davis and Charlie Parker. Together we watched, Gil Noble’s informative program “Like It Is”. My love of history and current events came from my dads talks about the Bumpy Johnson’s as well as the Dr. King’s of this world. He taught me to discern the messages that would bombarded me in my life-time. He knew then that no matter what, there would always be plenty of people like Bumpy Johnson and Frank Lucas around to share theirs.


  2. What a blog post!! Very informative and also easy to understand. Looking for more such comments!! Have a facebook? I recommended it on digg. The only thing that it’s missing is a bit of new design. However thank you for this information.

  3. Hi Reid:
    Sad to say, I’ve been away from computers and the internet for over two years now. I was fortunate to gain access to one today and thought I’d see if my lonely blog was still around. Your comment was the first one I read. I was happy to see you posted only about a month ago.

    Thanks for your comment on the post, and especially for the recommendation. (I have to say, it made my day!) I ended up seeing AG a few times and still hold the same opinion that history often repeats itself in eerily similar ways throughout generations. We pay a heavy price when we fail to learn from the mistakes of our parents’ time. Hence the timeless lesson: what we do not learn from, we are destined to repeat…I feel that’s been lived out in particularly horrendously violent fashion through the 20th century.

    In a few short years, I saw many of my close friends go off to war in Afghanistan and Iraq (all returned home, thankfully, although all still bear the mental and sometimes physical scars that bear witness to that troubled social & political time in our history). They fought for many reasons (some more justified than others), one of which was to combat the terrorist cells that are still providing a way into this country for a drug that I am addicted to. (Hence the two-year hiatus from technology in general– the hardships of this lifestyle finally caught up to me, and it’s been a rough road just getting back to a computer.) That wasn’t easy on me. I struggled with addiction for several years before I learned of the ties between heroin and Afghanistan, al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and the “war on terror” that has so heavily affected this generation. Whether the drug comes from Mexico or southeast Asia or whatever, Afghanistan is the primary supplier of the poppies, and the Taliban is the primary “hired muscle” that gets it out of the country and on its way to all corners of the world. Needless to say, I felt bad enough before knowing that. Talk about feeling like a real piece of *!&#, living with the knowledge that good friends were risking their lives to go up against these highly organized and violent groups that get so much of their funding from something I do daily. It ate me up inside. I absolutely tried to quit after that (not for the first or last time). I learned as much as I could about it (out of guilt, I suppose), but it didn’t seem to make mainstream headline news very often. I wished it had. Knowledge & truth are power. That’s the best key to repeating mistakes from the past….

  4. Have you ever considered publishing an e-book or guest authoring on other websites? I have a blog centered on the same subjects you discuss and would love to have you share some stories/information. I know my visitors would appreciate your work. If you’re even remotely interested, feel free to shoot me an email.

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