Black hoods in `70s sold out their own race

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Society rewarded these miscreants but don’t forget what they were

LES PAYNE NEWSDAY

A line in the “Godfather” movie gave birth to the current “American Gangster” flick, just as in real life La Cosa Nostra gave birth to the Black Mafia and “Don Carlo” leased the torch to Frank Lucas and Leroy “Nicky” Barnes.

“I don’t want it (heroin sold) near schools,” says Don Zaluchi in a meeting with other heads of Mafia families in the ’72 movie. “I don’t want it sold to children! That’s an infamia. In my city, we would keep the traffic in the dark people, the coloreds. They’re animals anyway, so let them lose their souls.”

Ripped from real life

This racist touch screenwriter Francis Ford Coppola lent the Mafia defiled the general high gloss the film applies to these brutish silk thugs and killers. The targeting of the Mafia’s deadly heroin at the black community, however, is lifted straight from the facts of life on city streets.In 1972, the feds wiretapped a high-echelon meeting of Cosa Nostra leaders on Staten Island, headed by Carlos “Don Carlo” Gambino, the then capo di tuti de capi. The Italian mob discussed getting back into the heroin street trade. They had withdrawn in the early ’60s when new conspiracy laws allowed prosecutors to convict top leaders who never actually handled the street dope, including Carmine Galante and Vito Genovese.

“When they ran it for 30 years,” one federal official told our investigative team back then, “it never got sold near a school or in the suburbs …These others, they sell to anyone who has the money. You ought to listen to them. (On wiretaps) they say, `What are they doing to our boys in Vietnam (by selling them heroin)? The stuff belongs in the ghetto.'”

Death and the Dons

Not coincidentally, the millions being made from heroin on the streets of Harlem, Bed-Stuy and increasingly throughout the five boroughs and the suburbs of New York were being raked in by expatriate Cuban mobsters and black gangster entrepreneurs such as Frank Lucas and Nicky Barnes. This duo appears to be the composite from which Denzel Washington drew his character for “American Gangster.” Lucas, the “country boy” up from North Carolina, got his drugs directly from Southeast Asia. The more formidable, Harlem-hardened Barnes got heroin from Italian mobsters who continued to deal despite the official Cosa Nostra ban.

As the Cosa Nostra had dealt its poison to the black community to the enrichment of the police, and with the indifference if not the blessings of the dominant society, so, too, did Messieurs Lucas and Barnes — but their trafficking had a blow-back effect on the white community. In 1969, with the black Dons riding high as drug lords of Harlem, heroin-related deaths in the city climbed to more than 800, mostly among blacks. The muggings, burglaries and robberies the junkies executed to get cash for their deadly daily habits were astronomical. By 1971, the yearly death rate exceeded 1,100, and the victims began to mount among white youth.

On Long Island, for example, of the 25 addicts who died from heroin-related causes in 1972, 20 were white, at an average age of 25. With heroin leaking out into the suburbs, Nixon declared war on hard drugs, and Gov. Nelson Rockefeller enacted the toughest drug laws in the nation. Street addicts/dealers, mainly blacks, began — and continue — to fill the prisons, again, ironically, to the indifference, if not the blessing, of the dominant society.

With the body count and the lockdowns devastating Harlem and Bed-Stuy, Lucas and Barnes and the Italian mob rolled in the cash. When Barnes appeared on the cover of The New York Times Sunday magazine under the headline, “Mr. Untouchable,” an irate President Jimmy Carter famously loosed his attorney general to bring him to book. Sentenced to life without parole in ’78 on drug-related charges, Barnes wormed his way into the witness-protection program in ’98 by snitching on his drug-dealing associates.

Refuge in government

Lucas served even less time than Barnes. Both former heroin kingpins now hide in the bosom of the federal government.

These two miscreants who helped debase two generations of blacks are being rewarded by society, apparently for doing the state good service. After the movies, the documentaries and the books, we might expect to see their faces on a U.S. postage stamp.


Les Payne is a columnist for Newsday.

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