For Ma’liaya Tadamy

A harrowing tragedy struck a dear friend this week, when she learned that her sister, Ebony Epps, and Ms. Epps’ two-year old daughter, Ma’liaya Tadamy, were victims of a brutal stabbing at their home in the Jefferson Park area on Monday evening, not far from the USC campus.

Ma’liaya’s life was lost, but Ms. Epps, who is also five month’s pregnant, is expected to survive.

Lataz Grey, Ebony’s boyfriend, turned himself over to police for the stabbing less than a day later. He is now behind bars, with bail set at $4.5 million dollars.

On Wednesday evening, Ms. Epps’ friends and family held a vigil for the slain toddler at Exposition Park, where the family spoke, shed tears, and sung into the night. It was at the vigil that I learned more about the tragic event, including the fact that Grey was high on methamphetamine when he lost control.

When I heard that substance abuse was involved, I couldn’t help but think back to the literature on drugs in the inner-city.

“It’s destroying a lot of people I know…I got homies going to jail for dumb shit off that shit. They tweaking doing stupid shit, shit they never thought they’d do. That meth is killing them, dude. Trust me, it’s killing them.” Tick Tock, from Seth Ferranti’s Meth…

As my friend would say, the attacker being high was “still no excuse.”

And yet, the attacker seems bigger than Grey to me.

It was in 1971, at the height of opposition to the Vietnam war, when president Nixon declared the war on drugs, claiming “…public enemy number one in the United States is drug abuse.”

Over four decades later, “California is the national epicenter of [meth] trafficking and distribution…” according to the Attorney General’s office of Kamala Harris, who has “made it a priority of the California Department of Justice’s task forces to stop those who would sell and manufacture this debilitating drug.”

But it was as early as 2006 that a report identified meth use in California as a leading threat to public safety in an effort to “expand education to the general public and specific high-risk populations.” Scanning through the report, it brought back memories of the drug in my own neighborhood, back in 2006.

Like many of my peers, ‘tweak’ was all around me, as friends –teenagers– graduated from smoking marijuana to smoking meth. Many lost their youth and education to methamphetamine addiction, while others lost their families, and even their bones.

Analyzing the links between the drug war and mass incarceration, Mumia Abu-Jamal points out how ever since Nixon’s declaration, drug use has only proliferated across the nation:

“…If we look at U.S. high school seniors, we find an astonishing figure. In 1975, 1.9% of these students reported cocaine use. In 2005, that number was 2.5%…these figures show, after billions of dollars were spent on prisons, and an incredible number of people were imprisoned in rates that no other nation has yet faced, the rate of drug use has not only not declined, it has increased.” 

And here, I recognize that from afar, it might seem unfair to link a “random” act of violence to a larger political perspective, but it’s actually quite the opposite: the rhetoric of violence in impoverished neighborhoods as just “isolated” incidents is a classic instrument used to depict “others” as inherently distinct from “us”. In reality, every participant in the economy plays a part in its dynamics.

Earlier this year, Harper’s Magazine revealed some ‘lost notes’ of an interview with John Ehrlichman, who played a central role in Nixon’s Watergate scandal, and who made a damning confession about ‘the drug war’ spearheaded by his boss:

“…We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

The statement has naturally sparked debate between sides about its validity, but for the people out there who have been criminalized by the drug war, it’s basic knowledge; no surprise; as clear as daylight.

On the evening news on Wednesday, Lataz was hardly cast in sympathetic terms by reporters. But here at Jimbo Times, I don’t hesitate for a moment to think of Lataz as another brother lost to a “war” we didn’t know we were fighting until it was rather late; a brother of which there have been so many generations now.

As anyone who’s had to deal with addiction –either in their own lives or their families– knows, when drug addiction ravages one of our people, it brings suffering to all of us.

Moving forward, my friend has set up a fundraising page for Ma’liaya’s funeral. With respect to this Mother’s Day, I can only hope she and her loved ones are shown some of the support they need.

With love and still resilient,