“Crack babies,” “Super predators” and prisons


by David Safier

Remember crack babies? They were children who were said to be permanently damaged because their mothers smoked crack when pregnant. The infants held their bodies at weird angles, didn't respond to affection, had no attention span and would be hanging around clogging up our prisons and social service systems for the rest of their lives. All because their mothers smoked crack. Not powder cocaine, crack. That's one of the many reasons given for making five grams of crack result in a five year mandatory minimum prison sentence while it took 500 grams of powder cocaine to yield the same punishment. We've got to think of those poor babies.

Except the "crack baby" scare was basically a crock, as discussed in an article in today's Star. Most of the overblown effects on children born of crack-smoking mothers stemmed from other factors, and studies have shown those children are similar to other children from similar socioeconomic circumstances, minus crack, now that they're grown up.

Crack was mainly a ghetto drug — black and urban. More expensive powder cocaine was often a plaything of the white and wealthy. Crack enforcement in the black community was the War on Drugs on steroids.

Remember super predators?

Super predators were youth — read black youth — who were so wild and uncontrollable, they were beyond redemption. You can't rehabilitate these young people, the theory went, or expect things to change by improving the economic conditions where they live and or helping them find jobs. You can only lock them up and protect the rest of us from their rampaging.

The absolute proof of the existence of super predators was five ghetto youth who went "wilding" in New York's Central Park in 1989, then reportedly raped and beat a woman within an inch of her life. The horrendous story, complete with the confession of the Central Park Five, was front page national news, sending shivers of fear through the nation. Thank God those wild, uncontrollable children were locked up! We'll be safer if we get all those dangerous [dark skinned] predators off the streets!

Except those five young people were innocent, railroaded by a corrupt police department and a negligent, sloppy justice system. If you haven't seen the recent documentary, The Central Park Five, see it. A serial rapist was the culprit, and because of the coerced confessions and prejudiced trial of those young men, he was allowed to continue to rape others while five young men went to jail for a crime they didn't commit.

Crack babies and super predators are the foundation myths of our current penal system. Nonviolent drug offenders fill prison cells, and people who commit crimes, or are even accused of crimes they possibly didn't commit, end up with ridiculously long prison sentences.

A side note. A respected political scientist, John DiIulio, coined the phrase "super predator." He went on to head George Bush's Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, because he was a proponent of "compassionate conservatism." He said he wished he hadn't coined that term which helped put so many youth in prison for so long. ''If I knew then what I know now, I would have shouted for prevention of crimes." He quit the Bush White House, saying it was pushing a far right wing agenda and slunk away into obscurity instead of fighting against the growing prison system he helped create with his "scholarship" which included lines like this:

''Based on all that we have witnessed, researched and heard from people who are close to the action,'' he wrote with two co-authors, ''here is what we believe: America is now home to thickening ranks of juvenile 'superpredators' — radically impulsive, brutally remorseless youngsters, including ever more preteenage boys, who murder, assault, rape, rob, burglarize, deal deadly drugs, join gun-toting gangs and create serious communal disorders.''

The perpetrators and promoters of these two frauds which have helped to do so much harm should be making public apologies to hordes of prisoners and their families, and they should be working with religious zeal to right the wrongs they helped institute.


  1. While the perpetrators and promoters of these two frauds owe a debt, we should all look in the mirror. This travesty of our justice system, media and public opinion occurred because of the racism that resides deep in our society and in ourselves. Dave, I wholeheartedly agree that people should watch the documentary and seriously ponder how this could have happened. Until we understand how most of society contributed to ruin those boys’ lives and to allow a monster to run free, it will happen again and again.