A community at war: The Bronx and crack cocaine

Noel K Wolfe, Fordham University


This dissertation examines black and Latino faith-based community activism against crack cocaine in the Bronx from 1983 through 1990. Specifically, it explores the activism of two Bronx organizations, the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition and South Bronx Churches. It demonstrates that an impetus for the draconian response to crack came not only from law and order politicians but also from minority communities besieged by crack and crack-related violence. This research examines the social, cultural and political climate in which multiracial coalitions demanded and aggressively lobbied for a punitive response to crack sellers and users from their own communities. These demands were made several years before the passage of federal anti-drug laws that ushered in a new age of racially discriminatory sentencing and mass incarceration. In focusing on faith-based multiracial activism against crack, this dissertation demonstrates the deliberate actions of urban activists in seeking a punitive response to crack and broadens the historical framework for analyzing the impetus behind the War on Drugs. The dissertation’s findings offer a corrective to drug policy scholarship that contends that the War on Drugs, and in particular the war against crack cocaine, was purely a national political response motivated by political and economic gain. By detailing minority community advocacy and local strategies to combat crack in urban neighborhoods, the research expands the drug policy literature to include activist voices from the communities that suffered during the crisis of crack. It also sets forth activists’ multifaceted anti-drug strategy as a community-crafted alternative to the primarily punitive federal legislative response. Through a textual analysis of New York City newspapers’ coverage of crack and an examination of the Congressional Record, the research explores how activists utilized media coverage and political partnerships to further their goals. Lastly, it offers a critique of activists’ failure to include drug-selling youth from their own neighborhoods in their conception of “community.”

Subject Area

African American Studies|American history

Recommended Citation

Wolfe, Noel K, "A community at war: The Bronx and crack cocaine" (2015). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3719490.