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Apocalypse, New Jersey: A Dispatch From America's Most Desperate Town

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This is another potential hole in the policing plan: The fact that broken suburbs – full of increasingly un- or underemployed young people – send a seemingly limitless supply of customers for Camden's drug trade. The typical profile is a suburban kid who tore an ACL or got in a car accident back in high school, got an Oxy prescription, and within a few years ended up here. This city, incidentally, has a reputation for having the best dope on the East Coast, which partly explains the daily influx of white junkies ("Dope," jokes Morton, "is a Caucasian drug"). In fact, when Camden made the papers a few years back after a batch of Fentanyl-laced heroin caused a series of fatalities here, it attracted dope fiends from hundreds of miles away. "People were like, 'Wow, I've gotta try that,'" says Adrian, a recovering addict from nearby Logan Township who used to come in from the suburbs to score every day and is now here to visit a nearby methadone clinic. "Yeah," says her friend Adam, another suburban white methadone commuter. "If someone dies at a dope set, that's where you want to get your dope."

While I was talking to Adam and Adrian in the city's lone McDonald's, an ambulance showed up – somebody OD'd in the parking lot. Adrian craned her head and nodded, watching the paramedics. She says she and Adam often sit at the city transportation center in the mornings and watch the steady flow of fights and drug-induced seizures.

"The thing about Camden is, when you come back here, you can always say, 'At least my life is better than what I thought,'" says Adrian. Two minutes later, she's in full McNod, head all the way back, eyes completely closed, zoned out from a methadone dose she got at a nearby clinic.

A decade or so ago, you wouldn't have seen white people just hanging out in downtown Camden. Now they're here by the hundreds every day. "There wasn't no white people up in this motherfucker," says Raymond, the self-described gangster who was shot six times. Now, he says, the city is full of white kids on dope. "The last few years, it's like an epidemic surge," he says.

That's the crazy thing about this city. The Camden story was originally a controversial political effort to isolate urban crime and slash municipal spending by moving political power out of dying nonwhite cities. And they do it, this radical restructuring backed by the best in Baghdad-style security technology, and for a second or two it looks like it's working – only the whole thing might be rendered moot in the end by the collapse of the rest of America. All over the country, we've been so busy arguing over who's productive and who isn't that we might not be noticing that the whole ship is going down. There's no lesson in any of it, just a giant mess that still isn't cleaned up.

Back in Northgate with Sgt. Lutz, we've circled around now, and Lutz shouts at the girl, who's made it all the way to the park.

"Hey, I told you to go home!" he shouts.

"But I need to get some fucking chicken!" she shouts back.

Lutz laughs, shakes his head, drives off, nodding toward Northgate Park.

"Best chicken in Camden," he says.

This story is from the December 19th, 2013 - January 2nd, 2014 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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Matt Taibbi

Matt Taibbi is a contributing editor for Rolling Stone. He’s the author of five books and a winner of the National Magazine Award for commentary. Please direct all media requests to taibbimedia@yahoo.com.

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