Lost Heart of the Interstates
When a reporter and photographer drove along Route 1 recently, they discovered the lost heart of what an interstate highway used to be: a road with character, humanity, spirit, and some crucial problems - just like the United States. Today they are traveling the Mid-Atlantic portion, from North Carolina to New York City.
UNITED STATES Route 1 crosses the edge of the troubled city of Newark, N.J., runs parallel to Manhattan Island up through New Jersey, then moves with roaring, headlong traffic over the George Washington Bridge into the urban crucible of the Bronx.Troubled. Roaring. Crucible. Sadly these words fit the condition of all big-city ghettos in the Northeast. Route 1 catches what the interstates ignore. From Raleigh, N.C., through the Bronx, Route 1 is sometimes pleasantly rural or suburban, sometimes a journey past shopping malls and high-tech corporate parks. But it is also a menacing journey as it runs near or through the drug-saturated ghettos of Newark, N.J.; Washington, D.C.; Boston; Philadelphia; Baltimore; and Richmond, Va. Newark, highly touted as an all-American city by the National Civic League, is in fact typical of major cities in the Northeast: It is two cities. The first Newark is a city of business growth, with nearly $6 billion in downtown construction over the last five or so years. A new federal courthouse is close to completion, and Matsushita Electric Corporation recently donated $1 million to a fund to build a downtown performing arts center. Energetic Mayor Sharpe James has his city of 313,800 on the move. But the other Newark lies buried in blighted neighborhoods, weighed down with poverty, double-digit unemployment, schools in crisis, a high rate of AIDS cases, and a drug culture that virtually rules the streets. For five hours on a cold night in mid-October, photographer Neal Menschel and I wore bulletproof vests and rode in an unmarked police car with two officers. We wanted to see the other Newark. NARCOTICS officers Derrick Eutsey and Jack Tamburello reminded us, "You're in Newark, but this could be any big city on the East Coast." Officer Tamburello, who has 24 years of police service including undercover work, explained the severity of the drug problem. m locking up people now I locked up 15 to 20 years ago," he said. "They are still involved in the drug lifestyle. The court system is so bogged down that they have three or four cases pending on individuals. [When they come to trial] they plead on one case and drop the other two. Within a year, they're back out again." "See that guy there?" said Officer Eutsey, pointing to a young man on a corner as we drove into the ghetto. "We've locked him up five times, three times since I've been in narcotics and two times prior to that. He gets out because of the bail system." Following in his father's footsteps, Eutsey has been a policeman for five years. One night he was shot point-blank in the chest, the bullet bouncing off the his bulletproof vest. "It was like being hit with a hammer," he said. "Wherever there's drugs, there's guns. The Saturday night special is a thing of the past. Its all automatics now." Another time he had to shoot an attack dog belonging to a drug dealer. "The dog had a hold of my leg," Eutsey said. Two blocks later, Eutsey slammed on the brakes. He and Tamburello jumped out of the car in front of a small house. Four or five young men in their late teens or early 20s stepped back from each other. "Hey, man, what's happening?" said Eutsey, quickly taking the arm of one man. "Lean on the car, man." FROM the young man's pockets Tamburello took out a thick wad of money and a beeper, both indications of drug dealing. But there were no drugs. "This stuff yours?" asked Tamburello. The young man mumbled a response. Eutsey bantered with the others, telling them the police were getting complaints about the house. He looked under a shrub for "stash," vials of cocaine stored nearby so that dealers won't get caught with the drugs in their pockets. From across the street the young man's mother came out of the front door, talking a mile a minute about her son and what he doesn't do anymore. "Ma'am," Eutsey said, staying cool and low key, "you know we've been here before." Minutes later we returned to the car and drove away. "She's aware of what her son's doing," Eutsey said. "What often happens is that the parents become subservient to the kids because they're not gainfully employed. The kid is bringing in the money, the VCRs, the new cars. The roles are reversed." We drove to Springfield Avenue, where the riots occurred in 1967. On the way there, corner after corner was dotted with small groups of young black men or one man standing by himself. "These guys aren't waiting for the Grand Prix to start," Eutsey said wryly. "Most of our work is with informants, with snitches," said Tamburello. "We're trying to get big quantities of drugs to knock out the people actually bringing it down and delivering it. Anonymous phone calls help us too, but you have to be careful because sometimes it's somebody trying to knock off the competition." Often the Newark police department works with federal or state agencies on organized drug busts. But the men said that a seizure, for instance, of 350 pounds means that another 6,000 pounds made it through. Informants usually get $10 to make buys, thereby establishing that a house or apartment the police are watching is a source of drugs. A search warrant is obtained. The police raid the house. "If the job comes up good," said Tamburello, meaning that a lot of drugs are confiscated, "you pay them again, $50 to $100. You take care of them." We pass a street where four prostitutes are waiting on the corners. "A lot of guys will use these girls to transport the drugs," said Eutsey. On lower Springfield Avenue there are new townhouses and no clusters of young men. "Pretty nice, huh?" said Tamburello. Six blocks later he said, "It's slow tonight because of the cold weather. But if you were here in July or August, this city rocks." We stopped at an old police precinct in the neighborhood. The officer behind the desk, Lt. Joe Ferrullo, introduced himself and described how Newark has changed during the 20 years he has been a policeman. His conclusion: "The drug arrests here are an avalanche." As he returned to the car, Tamburello said the main answer to the drug problem is drug education, starting in the first grade. That and stopping the flow of drugs from other countries. "You can write off the two or three generations on the street now," he said. "The federal government has thrown millions of dollars into law enforcement as the front-line attack on drugs. It's not working." EUTSEY agreed. "We ran an undercover operation awhile ago," he said. "We put our guys on the streets selling look-alike drugs, trying to stop people coming into Newark from buying drugs. We got 129 lockups, and out of those 92 did not live in Newark." "One problem we deal with is the proximity of New York," Tamburello said. "That is the hub of drugs. For a $500 investment you can go to New York and be back in two hours with a quantity of drugs and sell it here for three times your money." He said the police win a few battles, "but we're losing the war on the streets. You know the story of St. Francis? He was sitting on the beach trying to pour the whole ocean in a hole he dug? Sometimes I feel like we're St. Francis here." In minutes we were on our way again. I looked back out the rear window. Three young men stepped out of the shadows and came quickly together in a group. "We stop it one place," Eutsey said, "it pops up another."
Second of three. The first part of this series appeared Nov. 15. The third part will appear Nov. 29.