Jon Meacham inspired this piece.
The story was almost over even before it had fully begun. When Keith Jackson, a black eighteen-year-old from Anacostia, heard where the men wanted to do the deal, he grew skeptical. “Where the fuck is the White House?” he asked. Yet the buyers persisted. They got Jackson to Lafayette Park on September 1, 1989, purchasing three ounces of the drug off him for $2,400. “This is crack cocaine,” President Bush told the nation evenings later, flashing the bag the teen sold, “seized a few days ago by drug enforcement agents in a park just across the street from the White House.”
Only the bag was part of a set-up. Presidential aides, vacationing at Bush’s Kennebunkport compound, dreamed up the plan. Buying crack near the White House would show how bad the drug problem was, would justify Bush’s escalating Drug War. But DEA agents failed to find dealers lurking in Lafayette Park. So they focused on Jackson some distance from downtown.
Ensnaring the young man was not easy. “We had to manipulate him to get him down there,” one agent admitted. Jackson was soon deemed guilty—hearing the verdict, he wept so violently “federal marshals subdued him with a straitjacket”—and serving a ten-year prison term. President Bush was unmoved. He felt no weight of responsibility for the teen’s fate. And he never wept, as far as we know. But the story, Bush’s and ours, would go on by God’s…