FROM THE ARCHIVE: Inside look on drugs, impact on Bay Area youth in late 1980s

"I'm not going to be stupid and be greedy and stay in the game and end up being killed."

ByJustin Mendoza KGO logo
Thursday, September 16, 2021
Nov. 1989: Drugs and Bay Area youth in late 1980s
Back in 1989, ABC7 looked into the drug issues impacting young men and women in the Bay Area.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Back in 1989, ABC7 looked into the drug issues and gang violence impacting youth groups in the Bay Area.

The late Steve Davis, longtime ABC7 News reporter, introduced us to Lamerle Johnson.

Just about a year before Davis and Johnson met at the Omega Boys Club in San Francisco, he was in custody and facing six years in jail. He was then 17 and already had a long record, according to Davis.

The Omega Boys Club is now known as Alive & Free and is a nationally recognized youth development and violence prevention organization based in San Francisco. It was founded by Joseph Marshall Jr. and Jack Jacqua in 1987, according to its website.

Alive & Free's goal is to "keep young people alive and free, unharmed by violence and free from incarceration." It provides young people with "opportunity and support to build positive lives for themselves and to move into contributing roles in society."

Lamerle Johnson's personal background includes his father leaving him when he was a baby and his mother turning to drugs. Johnson sold drugs on the streets to feed himself.

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To help tell the story of someone who understands drugs and life on the street, Johnson was hired as a summer intern at ABC7 after he enrolled in college.

"There was a compelling honesty about him that remained alive in spite of all that had occurred in his life," Davis said.

Johnson chose the interview subjects, conducted the interviews and collected information with no interference from Steve Davis nor ABC7 management.

"I sell. I distribute. Collect. I just live off of it," said "Susan," whose voice was distorted for our interview. She admits to selling drugs on the street.

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"There's not a girl that knows me that wants me to help them get into it. But I don't really want to do that. I don't feel that I should help anybody make the money that I'm making. They getting a cut of my money. That's my money" she said.

"I'm not going to be stupid and be greedy and stay in the game and end up being killed," she continued. "I see myself getting out real soon. Probably within the next year or so."

"I'm not trying to glamourize what you do. I just want you to tell the truth," Johnson told "Susan."

In the fourth and final part of the series, Steve Davis asks Johnson: "There's a lot of ego in the game, isn't there?"

"Yeah, a lot of ego. They get a nice car and jewelry and some nice clothes and all of a sudden they think, 'I can drive on forever,'" Lamerle Johnson said of the "the game."

"A lot of ego behind nothing... something that kills... and sometimes guys get to thinking they're bullet proof."

Editor's Note: In the process of producing this post, ABC7 found out Lamerle Johnson passed away on December 7, 2016 after a canoe accident at a private lake near Calistoga, according to the Sonoma County Sheriff's office. Witnesses say Johnson fell out of a canoe and presumably drowned. A dive team later located his body where was pronounced deceased. He was 45.

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In this edition of "From The Archive," you can watch the four-part series that aired in November 1989 in the media player above.

You can watch more stories on the "ABC7 Bay Area" app on Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire and Android TV in the "From The Archive" section.