He’s dead and she’s half naked. Two images I encounter at every newspaper stand in Mexico City– blood and babes. A magazine cover shows a marijuana leaf and a stiletto heel in the shape of a gun. One newspaper regularly divides its front page with a preening bikini clad woman and cadavers. I’m compelled to believe that the graphicness of the individual images is enhanced when harmonized.
I whipped out a video camera and asked a few questions.
Sex and violence in the media isn’t new; but in the case of Mexico, fantasy is built on painfully real violence. Newspaper vendor Victor Luna tells me the pairing is meant to catch readers with a double barrel shot- the violence of “daily life” and sex, for a touch of “glamour.” One, the sex or the violence is sure to hit.
Ryan Reed Kaufman was 4 years old, unwanted by a mother who smoked crack while she was pregnant, living with a foster family who pacified him with NyQuil every night at bedtime. He had no reason to expect that the grown-ups who came to visit him one day at child protective services might take him home with them.
But he knew enough to try. When they handed him a coloring book, he stayed within the lines as best as he could. When they gave him a box of Legos, he asked to build a house. When it was done, he placed a toy boy inside it and then asked, “Who will take care of the little boy?”
Ryan recalls that moment only vaguely, but he’s heard the story since that meeting in 1992, back when the term “crack baby” was used to describe children such as him and experts predicted that children born to addiction would become a biological underclass, super-predators who would cause the crime rate to surge, a lost generation.
John Silber, then president of Boston University, spoke of “crack babies who won’t ever achieve the intellectual development to have consciousness of God.”
“Theirs will be a life of certain suffering, of probable deviance, of permanent inferiority,” Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer said in 1989.
They were written off even before they could talk. But in the two decades that have passed since crack dominated drug markets in the District and across the nation, these babies have grown into young adults who can tell their stories — and for the most part, they are tales of success.
Vargas then goes over the stories of a few different children who were born with drugs in their system and largely abandoned to the care of the state.
Some of the stories are horrifying:
It was at the height of the crack epidemic that a little girl named Marika came to live with Eunice Boone. Her Capitol Heights house was known as the “reject home,” because she would take the children no one else wanted. After Marika was born, Boone said, the girl’s biological mother told a social worker: “Didn’t I tell you to let that [expletive] die?”