By Karen Harris Brooks, Special to the NNPA from the New Pittsburgh Courier –
The overwhelming existence of drugs within many African-American neighborhoods has taken a toll on the once close-knit communities. The influx of these illicit narcotics could not have been predicted by the people who live within the boundaries of once thriving and safe environments. Communities have witnessed a decline in the value of lives of the young, the care of the elderly, and trust among each other.
Assistant Pittsburgh Chief of Police Maurita Bryant, a native Pittsburgher, remembers all too well the initial breakdown of the African-American family, as a result of the infiltration of the highly addictive crack cocaine. When you watch the assistant chief of investigations update crucial crime information to the local audience, one is assured that she is both qualified and sagacious. Among those enviable attributes, you will also find a deep sense of commitment to her native Pittsburgh.
Aware of the various communities she is inherently concerned about the troubling turmoil that exists within the neighborhoods she knows so well.
While she admits there are many contributing factors, she remembers the influx of crack, relating it to the beginning of the destruction of Black communities. While heroin was always a problem, she said. It was the inducement of crack that brought about a victimization of families and communities, she said. Bryant speaks with the wisdom that has come from her 33 years in law enforcement.
“The craving for this drug was, not only more intense, but it was a continual addiction. Unfortunately, more females became victims of the addictive crack cocaine. The impact was extreme. This led to more prostitution to acquire the drug. As a result, children were left alone. Women were always the ones holding things together within the family, but with this addiction, there was no one to take care of the home or the kids,” she said. In particular, when both parties fell prey to the lure of the addictive substance,” she said.
Employed as a police officer at the time, Bryant remembers the gradual transition of crack addiction occurring in the early 1980’s. The manufacture, accessibility, and sale of the cocaine derivative became an intensifying path for many unwilling victims, leading to a new wave of rising crimes that did not previously exist within the African-American community. “Most of these crimes,” she said, “are caused by someone under the influence. Somewhere in the mix, drugs have been a contributing factor to the crime itself.”
The quest for drugs and the love of money is a force that fuels the crime rate, including the rash of violent shootings and homicides, she said. The problems exist within every community and neighborhood across the country, and Bryant is active in educating others as she resolves to do everything she can to help solve this issue.
While it is difficult to pull out concrete numbers regarding drug arrests, the numbers are high among both juveniles and adults. Adults, negotiating sales, are using more and more children to deliver the product because the sentencing guidelines for youth are not as harsh, she said. Anytime of the day or night in many neighborhoods, young men possess identifiable street corners, claiming the territorial boundaries. They are well aware of the circumstances surrounding the mother or father who ignores the security and well-being of their children for the euphoric exchange. She said although many sales are conducted with non-minorities who drive to the minority neighborhood to make a purchase, the desire for the drug or subsequent money from the sale outweighs the risks as they expose themselves to arrest or robbery, or even death.
The vicious cycle between the seller, the addict, the enabler, and family is all too familiar to Bryant. She acknowledges that there is a crucial need to touch not only the addicted, but also the young men and women on the corners and those incarcerated, her views regarding alcohol and drug addiction is empathetic.
She is easily recognizable and greets members of the community with a sincere acknowledgement and a smile. Her demeanor is reserved and concise; her schedule is engaging. She said she is dedicated to the education of herself and her peers, travelling across the country seeking and sharing knowledge that aids her in her own community. Her wisdom and skills have been acquired throughout her impressive career within the Bureau. Recently Bryant served as one of the panel experts at a Town Hall meeting addressing addiction in the Pittsburgh area, and continues to travel across the country lecturing and sharing with other communities the problems of drug addiction.
It is difficult to separate professionalism from personal sentiment, but the Assistant Chief manages to do so in a very unique and concrete manner. Because of her desire to make the streets of Pittsburgh safer, Bryant’s heart remains in the communities she serves each day.
From the addict to the boy on the corner to those incarcerated, Bryant passionately says that the solution lies in the “need to touch one individual at a time. I don’t think the young men involved in criminal activity or the drugs plaguing our communities constitute a state of hopelessness. We can do better and be better. I think we just have to work harder at lifting people up far enough, so they can see a way out of the holes they’ve dug for themselves. A state of hopelessness is when it is easier to condemn someone rather than to help them.”