During the 80s, the “Just Say No” drug campaign seemed like a great idea in theory and made for some kool t-shirts & buttons, but in practice, many will agree that the effort failed miserably. In inner-city America, many joined forces to combat the Crack cocaine epidemic that was systematically ravaging their neighborhoods and ghettos across the nation. Once such artist, Chico, from New York’s Lower East Side, had been extremely pro-active in loaning his artistic talents to serve as ghetto PSA’s (if you will) to assist in the good fight. Whether it was an aluminum gate painted to memorialize the brutalization and death of graffiti artist Michael Stewart or a dilapidated concrete wall warning local denizens of the death being peddled in colored vials, Chico’s murals brought home the message, in larger than life color. His “Crack Kills” wall, circa 1987, and captured here by legendary Brooklyn lensman and S&C contributor, Jamel Shabazz, warned viewers to think “once,” not “twice,” about using Crack and was literally a sign of the times. Shabazz’s best selling book, A Time Before Crack (Powerhouse Books) captured many young men and women of color, spirited and fresh as ever, before Crack (and Aids) devoured many of their souls. Graffiti art back in the 80s allowed many young men (and women) in New York a voice; whether on the side of a train or on a wall, guys like Chico could take to the streets and artistically speak to the masses, with greater results than any multi-million dollar drug campaign.

With Crack’s worst behind us, the “Crack Kills” wall, yet another ghetto Picasso by the legendary Chico and memorialized by the incomparable Shabazz, is a grim reminder of the genocide that once was and the thin line between life & death.

-Koe Rodriguez

via sc73