Charles Rangel: The Front-Line General in the War on Drugs

By Norment, Lynn | Ebony, March 1989 | Go to article overview

Charles Rangel: The Front-Line General in the War on Drugs


Norment, Lynn, Ebony


CHARLES RANGEL: The Front-Line General In The War On Drugs

IT is an understatement to say that U.S. Rep. Charles B. Rangel is simply angry about the devastating effect that drug abuse is having on his community, this country and our youth. "Outrage" more accurately expresses the New York congressman's feelings about the cancerous epidemic that manifests itself in the form of crack, hereoin, cocaine, marijuana and PCP.

An outspoken force against the evils of drugs long before he arrived on Capitol Hill in 1971, Rangel was a natural choice to chair the House Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control. He has traveled hundreds of thousands of miles -- to Bolivia, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, Haiti and other areas -- to inspect possible drug sources and check on enforcement of agreements to ban crop growth. With the fire and passion of a Baptist minister, the Harlem lawmaker has been tackling the problem with legislation, congressional hearings, speeches and personal conversations (and confrontations) with government officials as well as ministers, lawmakers, educators, parents, doctors and anyone-else who will listen.

Consequently, he has emerged as the n ation's most aggressive foe of those responsible for the drug invasion. He has become a front-line general in the war against drugs.

And that in itself outrages the congressman, for he insists that the executive branch should be at the forefront of the battle. "If there really is a war against drugs," he says, "you'd think that the secretary of state would tell the producing nations with multinational agreements that it is not only communism that gets us angry, but that when it comes to violating treaties and dealing with drugs, we feel outraged!"

Last year, Rangel was the object of the White House's rage after he got a standing ovation for a speech during which he criticized the federal government for its "turtle-like speed" in addressing the drug crisis. But that didn't surprise the feisty congressman because he had been banned from another White House drug conference in 1986, even though he chairs the House Narcotics Committee. He tells story after story about how government officials have repeatedly ignored his and his committee's requests for assistance and cooperation in drafting drug legislation. Ironically, says Rangel, the White House called press conferences to announce that Congress had passed drug bills in 1986 and 1988, even thought it was the Rangel legislation it had fought from conception to passage.

With his characteristic humor and wit, Rangel takes it all in stride. But his charming smile dissolves into anger and dismay when he talks about the hard, cold realities of the drug war. He rattles off anecdote after anecdote, depressing statistics after statistic. He is outraged because gangs that operate as armed "crack" distributorships were responsible for 387 murders in Los Angeles alone in 1987, even more in 1988.

He is outraged because already impoverished inner-city neighborhoods are being paralyzed by drug dealers who control the streets and terrorize the residents, who turn children into drug couriers and stifle operation of the few remaining businesses.

He is further outraged by the fact that cocaine overdose complaints at hospital emergency rooms have soared more than 700 percent since 1983 and that "crack" complaints rose 15-fold between 1984 and 1987.

He is outraged because a number of heroin addicts who seek help are being "pumped up" with methadone. "It's a crime to give these kids a drug that is more addictive than heroin itself," he says.

He is outraged because the "politically powerful men of God" won't put drugs on their agenda and because they aren't screaming about the babies being born to teenage-addict parents. "All these people are talking about protecting the world against communism and the Soviets, and they talk about abortion and peace and goodwill and Christ. …

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