David Carter was all about the badge. The 46-year-old Bronx, NY native came from a long line of law enforcement officers. His father was one of a handful of Black cops to come out of the neighborhood’s 48th Precinct. So when it came time to choose a career being a cop was pretty much a given.
“I had more cops at my 5th birthday party than the Puerto Rican Day Parade,” says Carter, known to most in his old neighborhood as Dave “The Dopefiend,” the local junkie. “Most people looking at me would have never guessed that.”
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Carter, a lanky brown-skinned man with short curly hair, was working on an undercover drug sting in 1988 trying to work his way up the ranks. He’d spent months wandering the streets smelling of cat urine and old garbage blending in with the local users.
“I was only a kid in my early twenties myself, but I was trying to make an impression to get a promotion,” he recalls. “They had me working school guard duty and I told them I wanted to go where the real problems were. It was the drugs coming into the schools, not the schools themselves.”
Dave spent days on end in burned-out buildings keeping a low profile, waiting for his mark to slip up. “I didn’t bathe for days,” he jokes now. “Sad thing is I didn’t notice after a while.”
However, one day on the job changed Dave’s life forever. While laid out in a shell of a building near Grand Concourse a young man named Ty Jackson came running up the trash strewn stairway out of breath.
“I knew of Ty from the neighborhood. He was a good kid,” says Dave. “I was only about five or six years older than he was so I knew of the circles he ran in. He lost his mother in a car accident and his father was never really around. He was looking for quick money and got influenced by the wrong people.”
Dave got a call over his radio that Ty had attempted to rob one of his fellow officers working undercover.
“He got a little rough with the kid,” Dave says of his colleague. “I know he wasn’t trying to hurt him. Just trying to knock some sense in to him. But Ty pulled his gun on him.”
From that point the story went that Ty got scared and ran off, then the calls came over the radio giving his description.
“When Ty opened fire on Ronda that was when things got ugly,” Dave says.”It’s one thing to point a gun at a cop, but to actually pull the trigger? What’s that game? ‘Grand Theft Auto?’ Yeah, his warning level was 5 stars after that.”
After emptying his .22 at Officer Ronda Johnson Ty ran tried to lose the cops at the Bedford Park subway station but didn’t want to get cornered underground. The young man ran up the block and that’s when Dave’s radio squawked for the third time.
“He was headed right for where I was. I was hoping he wouldn’t come in and force me to blow my cover,” says Dave. “But before I knew it I heard him running up the stairs.”
Ty burst through a metal door panting desperately. Dave froze not sure if he was going to do something rash. Instead Ty recognized the local fiend and asked for help.
“He offered me $5 to help him get away. To distract the cops, but I wasn’t sure what to do,” says Dave. “I didn’t want him to panic or draw more attention to our location. I was still thinking about my own case, so I did what I had to do to get him to move along.”
Dave reached into a dusty wooden box hidden under a pile of garbage and gave him the shotgun he kept nearby in case the drug sting went down.
“How many dope fiends have shotguns laying around?” he asks rhetorically with a chuckle. “A handgun maybe to stick up a few folks, but a shotty? We’d a sold it don’t ya think? But he didn’t ask or care. He just took it and ran off. It was so dusty I wasn’t sure it would even fire.”
There are conflicting accounts of what happened from that point. There were reports of Ty spraying bullets after crashing a stolen Nova into a tree near Fordham University. But Dave doesn’t believe those accounts.
“Shotguns are typically close range weapons, what the hell was he shooting with that made officers scatter? Shot guns don’t go ‘rat-a-tat-tatter.’ This was in the official reports,” Dave reasons. “Then they said he grabbed a pregnant lady and pulled out an automatic. If he had an automatic on him where did he get bullets? Cuz he’d just asked me for a gun. None of it made any sense.”
The reports then say Ty let his pregnant hostage go and he ran up Webster Ave. until he was surrounded by police. One account says he dropped the gun, other witnesses say he tried to shoot his way out.
“They killed him,” Dave says with his voice trembling. His choice of words distanced himself from the others on the force. “He was only 17 and no one could answer the questions I had. I was one of the last people to see him alive. I wish I had kept him there and not given him the damn gun. They didn’t need to shoot him, but they were pissed.”
Ty’s death sent Dave into a deep depression. Feeling like he could no longer trust anyone on the force he quit and joined the Army.
“My case was blown because the block was so hot, ” Dave says shaking his head. “It didn’t make sense to stick around. A year later I was jumping out of a plane over Panama with the 504th. We were going after Noreaga–the real Noreaga–but I got hurt.”
A back injury made Dave a less than effective soldier and he was discharged. He took drugs for the pain but nothing was enough. So, in a twist of fate, he turned to harder drugs.
“I became Dave ‘The Dopefiend’ for real,” he says with tears building in his eyes. “I was a mess. I couldn’t function. But luckily I got help.”
A former colleague from the force had a sister who worked with recovering addicts and referred Dave.
“It was a long, hard road but I made it back to the land of the living,” he says while standing on the corner of Sedgwick Ave, a few blocks from Kool Herc’s old building. His hands are thrust into his pockets and his shoulders hunch at the chill. The memory of that day in ’88 is still fresh in his mind, but no longer controlling him. “I’ve been clean for over ten years now. But it’s taken a lot more than just water and soap.”
Dave now counsels teens and uses Ty’s story as a tool to keep them off the streets and out of trouble.
“I tell em to stay on the straight and narrow because there is danger waiting around every corner,” he says. “And the bad guys don’t always look like bad guys.”
And neither do the good ones.
What you have just read is the first in a series of hip-hop inspired narratives called “Sideline Stories” featuring illustrations by Andre LeRoy Davis of “The Last Word” fame and writer Jerry L. Barrow. “Dave The Dopefiend” is a peripheral character from Slick Rick’s classic track “A Children’s Story” from 1988′s The Great Adventures Of Slick Rick.
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