Longform

The Girl Who Played Dead

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Hudson, who is now with the Crime Scene Response Unit, witnessed the birth of Dallas' crisis. It started in the mid-1980s, when the Jamaican posses arrived from the Crown Heights area of Brooklyn and the drug trade jumped to a sinister new level of sophistication. Until then, powder cocaine had been the drug of choice, but in 1985 the Jamaican crime syndicates sent emissaries to Dallas with an extraordinarily valuable piece of technology: how to "cook" powder and baking soda into crack cocaine rocks, which are smoked. The Jamaicans quickly took over turf once ruled by the Cuban crime element in South Dallas, in short order assassinating a couple of Cuban drug lords. "They knew how to convert the powder to crack, so they just started converting it and getting people hooked on it," says Dallas police Detective Charles Storey, who served on the multi-agency Jamaican Task Force during those years. "Crack is very addictive, and it just became a landslide."

What Storey remembers is 55: the number of murders in Dallas in 1988 alone that somehow involved Jamaican dealers or their product. By then, the Jamaican--or, more accurately, West Indian--posses had carved up South Dallas and East Oak Cliff. "It's a very structured organization, and it ran exactly as a business," Storey says. "But it was a business that had no conscience. They took total control."

The posses employed every recognized principle for growing a business: marketing, advertising, R&D. Former dope fiends tell how the Jamaicans sold bigger $20 rocks than the other guy, or gave you a free rock after you'd purchased 11. Storey ran into something even more cunning--marketing campaigns pointing out the location of new traps. "There used to be Jamaicans standing on the street corner handing out pieces of paper that say $20 rock, $50 rock, apartment 110." They passed out free rocks in an apartment complex or set up a free community phone to get residents to look the other way. "Money creates corruption, and the crack creates the same problem," Storey says. "They turned South Dallas into a geographical area of victims."

You wouldn't find a Jamaican sitting in a dope house, doling out rocks under the door to desperate users. That was the work of the locals, poor South Dallas kids impressed by $50, the typical day's pay for a young lookout--entry level in the crack cocaine business--or $200 to sit inside a trap. "They would come down here and offer them pie in the sky: You'll have all the money you want. You can buy jewelry, cars, women, whatever," Hudson says. "Then they would go out and rent this little apartment somewhere, put 'em in it to sit there 24 hours a day and do nothing but sell dope. And give them a little bit of money.

"And you'd be surprised how many of these dope houses we'd go into that all you would see is chicken boxes--thousands of chicken boxes. You know, to keep them there, they'd go out and buy chicken to eat. I mean, they were slaves. They never left the house until they died. It's so pathetic."

The Jamaicans ran their business with cool, murderous precision and swift retribution for kids who saw the thousands of dollars flowing in and out of the crack houses and started wondering why they were only getting a measly couple hundred bucks. It was tempting to pocket a few more, or to slip someone else's product into the trap and take a bigger cut of the profits. But that was a deadly game. "Time and time again you go out on these murders, and it's 15- and 16-year-old kids," Hudson says. "That's what really just hammered you. You thought, well, here are kids with a life, and it's over."

James Gallagher, who's been a Dallas police homicide detective for 20 years, remembers one such case in the 1980s that let him know the city was dealing with an entirely new level of violence. It started with an anonymous call from Brooklyn telling Dallas police that they would find a young man's body at a certain address on Grand Avenue. Gallagher and another detective went there and found a locked apartment. They peeked in a window and saw there was hardly any furniture, a good sign that the place was a drug house.

"We kicked the door in," Gallagher says, "and there he was at the kitchen table. They had nailed his hands to the table and shot him in the knee before they killed him. They tortured him. And it was just a constant wave of that. The violence to us was almost unbelievable, and we work violence every day. What got us were these kids--15, 16 years old."

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Julie Lyons
Contact: Julie Lyons