White Drug Crime? What’s That?
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Justice is not nearly as blind as it should be.
By Joshua Collins
In the dusty parking lot of an isolated honky-tonk in the remote regions of the Rocky Mountains, I handed a trumpet case containing $30,000 to a complete stranger.
The girl, perhaps 20, and looking every bit the part of the stereotypical mountain girl with hip-hugging jeans and cropped dirty-blond hair, told me to wait. She jumped into her SUV and sped down the dirt road, disappearing into the jagged peaks of the horizon in the high plains of South Park County, Colorado.
It was my introductory foray into drug smuggling, and I had no idea what I was doing. In theory, she would come back with 30 pounds of high-grade marijuana that I would then drive back to Brooklyn. At least I hoped she came back, because the money wasn’t mine.
“Every time I hire a Black man, he gets arrested,” one of my long-term clients, a Black man who ran a marijuana delivery service in Bushwick, told me. “Give me dorky-looking white kids with glasses.”
I walked inside and ordered a beer. My nerves needed it.
It was 2009, and that day was the beginning of a four-year run in which I and a few friends would organize a smuggling network that transported marijuana from California or Colorado to New York, where we sold it wholesale. By the end of that period, I was selling 20 pounds a week and had built a stealth marijuana grow house in the basement of a factory in the Brooklyn Navy Yards.
We didn’t get away with it because we were particularly clever. We got away with it because in most of the U.S., if you weren’t Black, you were invisible to the justice system.
We were also lucky. Mountain Girl did indeed return, and with buckling knees, cold sweats and a 1,800-mile white-knuckle grip on the steering wheel, I transported a trunkful of felonies across two-thirds of the country before selling it in Brooklyn, where it was worth almost $90,000.
I had doubled my partners’ money, and after some operational costs, made a nice profit for myself. For a kid who had been squeaking out a living as a perennially broke touring musician living just across the street from the projects, it was a lot of money.
As I looked for clients, which in Brooklyn at that time wasn’t a difficult task, I watched the public housing block from my bedroom window. Often sitting next to 20 to 40 pounds of marijuana, I realized I had it a lot easier than the Black teenagers hustling $10 bags in the projects for pocket money.
Plainclothes cops and uniformed patrolmen couldn’t get enough of those kids. Between aggressive “stop and frisk” strategies, surveillance vans and plainclothes cops easily spotted by their identical costumes (white guys in Timberlands, with sunglasses, black leather jackets and Yankees caps), it was an around-the-clock operation.
When I walked past those same officers, often with multiple felonies on my person, they ignored me completely. If their goal was to get marijuana off the streets, they failed completely. But I don’t believe that was their goal at all. The same war on drugs that allowed us to profit off of an easily grown plant criminalized impoverished Black communities and excluded them from the profits.
While they chased teenagers, we expanded. We graduated to commercial shipping, buying used cars whose panels we stuffed with contraband and paid a third company to transport them east. Our problem wasn’t a lack of supply but rather a need for more customers.
“I can’t hire Black men. Every time I hire a Black man, he gets arrested,” one of my long-term clients, a Black man who ran a marijuana delivery service in Bushwick, told me. “Give me dorky-looking white kids with glasses and bike helmets. No one even glances at them.”
Our employees and partners were white too. A Black man can’t drive a car with 100 pounds of marijuana through the great plains of Kansas. Nor can he walk into a commercial shipping hub in Northern California to send custom tables packed with marijuana to Manhattan without drawing suspicion. He can’t receive those shipments at a safe house in central Brooklyn and transport them back to Bushwick for distribution. But I could, and did. I was one of the invisibles.
I have friends still in jail from that period, and with one exception, they are all Black.
Eventually, I decided I’d had enough. The risk didn’t justify the reward. I put half my savings into a bar as a silent partner on a handshake deal. I used the rest to organize one last shipment, giving the money to a longtime partner up front.
He disappeared and I never heard from him again.
A year later, the owner of the bar sold my share to an investor who was willing to sign contracts and show where the money came from. I could do nothing. What option did I have? “Hello, police? Yeah, these guys stole all my drug money. Could you get it back for me?”
And so I left the hustle as I started: with nothing. But I went on to start a new life with a clean record and my freedom, a luxury most of my Black friends from that period were never afforded.
- Joshua Collins, OZY Author Contact Joshua Collins