Comedians Keith and Kenny Lucas met Kaizen Crossen in their Newark, New Jersey, housing project. He was their friend and their protector. They left Newark, he didn’t. They found career and financial success, he found guns and drugs, and eventually ended up in jail for murder. But in the end, they’re two sides of a coin: the mental and physical toll of life in a white supremacist state is unavoidable for Black Americans, even if it manifests differently for different people. In Vulture, the Lucas Brothers tell Crossen’s — and their — story.
It would appear that we and Kaizen were worlds apart as we sat on the manicured lawns at our college debating Kantian metaphysics with privileged students from all walks of life, while Kaizen braved the harsh winters of Newark in search of money for his growing family. On the inside, however, we all suffered from acute post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of growing up in a war-torn inner city. We were both exposed to violence, which had an insidious impact on our psychological health. According to the National Institutes of Health, “inner-city students that experience violence are more likely to be depressed, to contemplate suicide, and to abuse substances.” Our issues with depression, suicide, and substance abuse materialized during our time in law school, at Duke and NYU; Kaizen’s did on the streets of Newark.
We started recognizing the hypocritical, often absurd, duality of our legal system. Whites create, interpret, and enforce the law. Those who violate the law are deemed criminals — fair enough. Whites and blacks use drugs at similar rates. Yet somehow blacks are arrested at disproportionately higher rates for the use and distribution of drugs. How is that possible? It’s only possible if black criminality is embedded in the premise of our robust legal system. If “blackness” is the crime, then mass incarceration, generational poverty, segregation, and police brutality necessarily follow.