The Philadelphia Inquirer has a story (goes into pay archive in a week, sorry) about the rising number of overdose deaths from fentanyl-laced heroin. It's interesting in several respects, especially for how it deals with a topic usually absolutely avoided in crime stories:
Mercedes Perez, who lives a few doors down on this North Camden block, went to investigate.
In a junk-strewn lot teeming with flies and covered in broken glass, she found Samantha Bender, a young suburban mother, lying dead on her back, surrounded by empty blue bags of heroin.
"She was a pretty girl. Looked very young," said Wanda Guzman, another neighbor. "I thought she was only about 16."
Catch that? What fact is clearly conveyed but not stated? The clues are "suburban mother" and "pretty girl". Samantha Bender is white. The article's recurring point is that white suburbanites drive into the city and buy heroin from black and Hispanic people. Here in Philly we call this "tourism."
Yameralis Sanchez, 16, lives a few houses from where Bender died. She saw Bender going into the vacant house and tried to warn her.
"She looked at us like, 'It's not your house.'
" The sight of a "pretty white girl" using an abandoned home as a shooting gallery wasn't out of place, either.
"They are always whites, every day. They still use it," Sanchez said. "I lose count... . I see about 30 to 40 a day. I don't know how many use it after I go to bed."
It's extremely unusual for a story to identify the race of the people in the story without race being the headline issue. I remember thirty years ago my hometown paper used to do it all the time - most prominently on the front page in cases of a black man raping a white woman. The racist purpose of that kind of "factual reporting" was clear, which was why they stopped it. In this case, it's "okay" because the bad guys are white. But why do it at all? I think the article amounts to a open letter to suburban whites who think heroin is a black problem, in an attempt to alert them that their friends and family members are actually the ones at risk.
The article also folds into this mix some interesting details on police procedures, like the "reversal" - a sting that targets users rather than dealers:
To begin one of the reversals, officers took control of the corner by arriving in huge numbers, clogging the intersection with their SUVs and allowing a K-9 dog to roam on a leash. They stood there chatting and joking, until there could be no mistake that the corner belonged to them for the day. Then, they disappeared.
Officers wearing baggy jeans and T-shirts, baseball caps sitting sideways on their heads, huge gold chains dangling from their necks, took positions at the corner. A few minutes later, about 9:30 a.m., a white man wandered up and asked for six bags.
Those arrested were taken to a garage at the Delaware River Port Authority building, at the foot of the Ben Franklin Bridge, where they were photographed and fingerprinted. In a matter of minutes, they left with a court summons. The process amounted to a minor, embarrassing inconvenience for the addicts, but it gave police a chance to discourage them from going back to the corners.
What follows is a depiction of a weary veteran cop trying to educate two snotty, probably white high school girls about the risks they're running by pointing out a female addict in her 40s who didn't care if she died. This passage is the heart of the story, showing as it does imaginative police doggedly trying to stop otherwise good - read: white - people from throwing away their lives. The only place the author or editor flinched was in the description of the undercover officers who conducted the sting. I am sure a draft of the article at some point identified them as black. The logic of the piece, to humanize the story by giving details usually omitted so the reader can clearly imagine the scene, would require it. But it was a detail too far, because it explicitly labeled the dealers as minorities, so it came out.
The article also has good detail on fentanyl for those who are unfamiliar:
In the medical profession, fentanyl is most commonly described as being 80 times as powerful as morphine. The experts say 125 micrograms - the equivalent of three grains of salt - can be lethal.
"It doesn't take much of this drug to get you into trouble," said Hoffman, who works at the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. "It can paralyze your chest wall so that you still have a pulse, but you can't breathe."
Get that, white suburban drug user?
One more interesting thing about Samantha Bender. A story from 2004 says she was good friends with Sarah Fox, a South Jersey woman who attended Julliard. Fox was found raped and murdered in Central Park, and the story quoted Bender as saying:
"It's so unfair, so unfair. She was so beautiful."
Another pretty white girl done in by the city.