The Undefeated Champions of Defeat City

by longformphilly

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Kathy Dobie | GQ | May 2014

When you leave the baseball fields at Pyne Poynt Park in Camden, New Jersey, you can stroll two blocks south or one block west, and there, under a power line hung with sneakers, or here, next to a giant stuffed tiger tied to a telephone pole, you can most definitely buy dope and maybe powdered or crack cocaine, though that’s not the flavor of the month, hasn’t been for a decade. You could walk another few blocks and buy prescription drugs or weed. It’s all right out in the open, nothing shy or taboo about it. Just the glassy-eyed tiger looking a bit rain-scraggy but also slightly menacing, and the roads are potholed and cracked, unlike those in Cherry Hill or Mount Laurel or any of the surrounding suburbs where most of the buyers live. Those customers usually grab what they need and get the hell out, but some get waylaid, dope-snagged, hook, line, and sinker, and move into one of the tent cities that have mushroomed along the edge of the neighborhood. The homeless addicts sport farmer’s tans and use the neighborhood parks as shooting galleries. And the children of North Camden—a ten-by-twelve-block neighborhood, bounded by rivers on three sides and on the fourth by a freeway—have their own ghost stories to tell: We seen this dope fiend on the bridge making noises, going cack, cack, cack! and I yelled to my friend: Run, Ronald, run, the fiend’s gonna get you!

Here, on the tiger’s block, you’ll come to the spot where a 24-year-old was gunned down last May, a newbie to the drug trade. That’s why he was killed, people say: He just hadn’t learned the ropes. Walk a bit farther west and you’ll come to the John Wesley apartments, where the paved courtyard is almost always filled with kids in the warm weather and where two men were shot on June 3, one taking eight bullets but surviving. People say it was his fat that saved him; he was a big man.

Three years ago, Camden ranked as one of the poorest cities in the country and the single deadliest, with a murder rate twelve times the national average. That was also the year that Camden, faced with a mounting deficit, decided to lay off almost half its police force. Ah shit,everyone was thinking, this is when all bloody hell breaks loose. Some drug dealers printed up T-shirts proclaiming January 2011: It’s Our Time.

And Bryan Morton? He had an idea: “Let’s start a Little League.”

Writer bio: Despite a lack of affiliations with South Jersey, Kathy Dobie beautifully captured the spirit of Camden. Dobie, whose work has appeared in Harper’s, The Village Voice, Vibe, and Salon (among many others), was raised in Hamden, Connecticut. She now lives in Brooklyn. Her first book, “The Only Girl in the Car,” was published in March.

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