All Wet

The Edge gets down with the latest drug craze.

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Art McKoy ticks off the names from memory. There was the man in Shaker Heights accused of killing his young daughter. The 19-year-old in East Cleveland who "went on the railroad tracks . . . and let a train run over him." The guy who, two days after being released from a hospital, "blew his brains out." The 20-year-old who "started biting a 3-year-old baby's head."

These things happened, he says, because of "wet."

Activists like McKoy, of Black on Black Crime, have been raging about wet since the late '90s. Just hearing the ingredients sends shivers: Take a joint or cigarette, douse it with PCP or embalming fluid, and -- presto! -- you too can hallucinate and swing from feelings of euphoria to invincibility to anger to paranoia, all the while increasing your tolerance to pain. And just as crank ripped through crackers out West, wet is doing the same to black folk on the East Side.

"You can talk to any policeman -- especially homicide," says McKoy, "and they will tell you that wet -- PCP -- is the police's worst nightmare."

Though wet has made a heightened appearance this summer (it's been linked to several shootings), the body count goes back at least to 1998, when three young men were shot in East Cleveland by a childhood friend after they had smoked wet. Said County Coroner Elizabeth K. Balraj at the time: "People have been known to react in a bizarre, uncontrollable way" from even a small amount of PCP.

But if you haven't heard of wet, you're not alone. Though the media tend to cover the drug world with the breathlessness of war, wet has been obscured by the latest rages of OxyContin, ecstasy, and crank. "We have been screaming about this for the last couple of years," says Khalid Samad, who does anti-gang work with the Cleveland school district and police department. No one seems to care because, as he puts it, "It's in the black community."

Claims of racism are flung as often these days as hallelujahs in a Baptist church, but Samad's thesis has precedent. In the '80s, it wasn't till coke reached the homes of suburban lawyers that Official America discovered that, yes, Houston, we have a problem.

"The only people who don't know about [wet] is the media and the powers that be," says McKoy.

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