Blacks, Drugs & the FBI: The Inside Story of a Black FBI Agent
The FBI special agent has a certain mystique that has been created by television and Hollywood executives. Our popular image of the FBI stretches from the cinematic imagery of the black and white television series "Untouchables" to the dark days of J. Edgar Hoover's infamous Counter-Intelligence Programs (COINTELPRO). Whatever image one has of the FBI, Powers wasn't the typical FBI special agent. He was a young black man, a black man who kept his eyes wide open. Indeed, Powers, a former FBI special agent, is best known as the author of the book Eyes To My Soul: The Rise or Decline of a Black FBI Agent.
The word agent marks the life of Powers. He has been an agent for the FBI, but also an agent for change, justice and most important, for African-Americans. Whether it has been from an academic pulpit, law enforcement or community activism, Powers committed his life early on to enlightening and uplifting African-American people.
Powers first entered law enforcement in 1982. As one of the youngest recruits of the Maryland State Police, Powers immediately stood out among his peers by establishing an anti-drug program, "Operation Drug Out." The success of the program received national attention and was featured on the CBS Evening News. By 1985, Powers had joined the Federal Bureau of Investigations as a special agent. During his nine years of access to the FBI's secret operational procedures, Powell came to understand the role of law enforcement in maintaining the social and economic position of African Americans. Powers witnessed first-hand the firmly embedded institutional racism in FBI policy.
Powers left the FBI in 1994 to become professor of Criminal Justice: Legal Studies and Sociology at Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold, Maryland. Dr. Powers received his Ph.D. from American University in 1998.
It was one of his former supervisors who brought him face to face with the harsh political realities of FBI tactics. "One thing that I will never forget, and it was kind of profound, that a supervisor in Detroit told me. I had the files of Mayor Coleman Young in front of me, he had been investigated for 20 years, no criminal charges, but just the psychological pressure, the COINTELPRO kind of operation that makes him look like he is going crazy and you and I look at him and say he is going crazy. I asked my supervisor why would they [the FBI] continue these operations. And he asked a basic question to me -- he turned it around and said, 'Why would we stop?' He said the programs were very effective."
J. Edgar Hoover started COINTELPRO operations in 1967. The program was originally created to monitor domestic Communist activity. However, Hoover began to apply the program to any group or organization he deemed unpatriotic or dissenters from the social and economic status quo. This meant Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, the Black Panther Party, Nation of Islam (NOI), Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Community Health Free Clinics, Community Cooperative newspapers, and arts organizations such as the Watts Writers' Workshop were infiltrated with spies, harassed and targeted for disinformation campaigns regarding their activities.
It wasn't just the continuance of COINTELPRO operations against black elected officials that incensed Dr. Powers. As an FBI special agent, he worked at probably the most dangerous job in America -- black undercover drug agent. Powers worked three years undercover in Cincinnati and Detroit, witnessing first-hand the so-called war-on-drugs. "I testified before Congress that there is absolutely, unequivocally no war-on-drugs. I don't say this as a lay person, I say this from being an FBI agent for 10 years," says Powers. Indeed, Powers provides authoritative confirmation of what many African Americans intuitively believe but cannot prove.
The so-called war-on-drugs, confirms Powers, really has two components: racism and statistics. "The emphasis was on quantity, not quality. Because I can get one big-level dealer and catch him with a ton of cocaine, but guess what? On the statistics before Congress it registered as one arrest. I can get 10,000 of the brothers and sisters out here on the corner and send them all to prison and go before Congress and say that we took down 10,000 of the enemy troops from a very statistical standpoint before Congress -- that is what they are looking for," says Powers.
Have you ever wondered why the government's own statistics indicate the majority of crack cocaine users are white, yet 95 percent of crack cocaine convictions are African Americans? This wouldn't be a mystery question for Powers, who worked directly on crack cocaine cases.
"I recall specifically, working with white agents, we would go into the white community, and catch white kids, I mean 17, 18, the majority. We would catch these kids with cocaine or small bits of crack cocaine. The agent in charge of the investigation would take the drugs and release the kids so they would not have a criminal record. And I'm saying to myself, if the objective is to get drugs off the street, why are we not doing this in the black community?" This is when Powers really began to understand the political nature of the so-called war-on-drugs.
"They [white agents] understood that they did not want to give young white men or white women a criminal record, possibly a felony, which means they can never vote again, never own a firearm, so they understood this. Not only do you disenfranchise them but also you ultimately disenfranchise yourself, because you have just taken a vote away from your population based on a minor violation," says Powers.
Powers also asked a supervisor in the Detroit FBI office why they were concentrating their efforts in the cities. "He said this is the easiest targets. In other words, these are not only the easiest targets to go and buy drugs from but to get a conviction. He is not just thinking about arrest statistics, he is thinking of convictions, the courts are going to believe that a black man was selling drugs. He might get a white kid, you might get an arrest, but will you get the conviction? Hypothetically speaking, you may have a white agent who is not racist, he understands that the system is racist and that he is more likely to get a conviction on a black guy than a white guy," says Powers.
If there is any one thing that proved to Powers that the U.S. government has no genuine interest in fighting a "drug war," it was the numerous times he was told by superiors to end an investigation. "No further investigation to be conducted" is what would come across Powers' desk if an investigation encroached on the nerve centers of international power and wealth. This would happen on drug case after drug case, says Powers. "We would work a case, get to street level, and move up in the organization. One time we traced it all the way to this guy in South America who was giving drugs, and at that particular point the communication comes through, saying 'No further investigation to be conducted.' There is no war-on-drugs; it is plain and simple as that."
Having worked undercover in both the Maryland State Police and the FBI, and covering numerous drug cases, Powers says the only way for our community to fight drugs is to challenge kids to not try drugs. "We laughed at Nancy Reagan for 'Just saying no,' but as trite as that sounds, that is the only way, because she probably knew what I now know, that the government wasn't going to do it."
Dr. Powers put his life in danger by challenging the FBI, one of the most powerful institutions in the world. Perhaps if more of us were guided by principles, our collective social and economic condition would be much improved. Surprisingly, prior to Dr. Powers entering the criminal justice field, he was headed for a career as an auto mechanic. "I had just finished up an auto mechanic program, when a friend talked me into joining the Maryland State Police. It was a difficult decision because my brothers were so adamantly against it. They thought it would make me like "the man," part of the problem rather than the solution. Ironically neither he nor his brothers could have predicted how much of "the solution" he would become.
C.Stone Brown is a columnist for . He can be reached via email at email@example.com
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