Kyle Grillot for Buzzfeed News. It was 8 p. The men pursuing him, one on foot, two in a car, had begun narrowing the gap. He knew what was coming.
The homeowner was the ringleader, directing everything that would unfold: enlisting two black men as bait to lure Zhu — an even younger black man — to his house, injecting him with crystal methamphetamine until he began to mentally detach; then holding a pillow over his face while penetrating him. Finally, he managed to break loose.
Then he was running — 23 years old, on a darkened street, gasping, panicking, wondering how this had happened. All he had wanted was some fun, a connection, perhaps good sex, anything to forget his troubles — but instead he was running for his life, and they were catching up.
Those men, possessed by meth, smelling blood. He ran from house to house, hoping his distress would be enough to elicit assistance of some kind — that at least a door would open. Today, Jacen Zhu sits in his car in San Diego reliving that night in , relieved that he can. The story of how he survived and who kept him quiet unravels later. For now, he talks to BuzzFeed News about the wider issue: how crystal meth is spreading far beyond the party scene of the white gay community and into the lives of black and Latino queer men.
And in particular, how white gay men are weaponizing meth against black men. Even in tiny doses, it can cause unconsciousness and death. But, according to Zhu and others with firsthand experience, in these situations it is the acutely stimulating effects of meth that can unleash extreme racism and violence. Zhu talks of the trauma he experienced from that incident. That night was just one of many. Zhu knows that he was lucky — he escaped — but that many do not.
His testimony, combined with those of a dozen queer people of color who spoke to BuzzFeed News, forms a distress signal. It reveals how innumerable black and Latino men are being subjected to unimaginable cruelty by white men on meth, but their experiences and distress are never heard. News coverage has offered just a flash of this horror, but only over the last two years — because it related to a powerful white man. In July and January — just 18 months apart — two black men were found dead from meth overdoses in the West Hollywood home of major Democratic donor Ed Buck.
But despite Gemmel Moore, 26, and Timothy Dean, 55, dying in the same circumstances, in the same house, from the same drug, the police did not arrest or charge Buck, the man many believe to be responsible, for over two years. His connections to powerful figures in Los Angeles as well his reported half a million dollars in donations to the Democrats fueled the worst suspicions: that his influence and whiteness were protecting him. A groundswell of local activism sparked street protests, social media campaigns, and interviews on news channels — all predominantly by black LGBTQ advocates — chanting as one: Arrest Ed Buck.
He was later indicted on charges of running a drug house, battery causing serious injury, administering meth, three counts of distributing meth, and two counts of distributing meth causing death. He pleaded not guilty to the charges. The allegations of several other men, contained in the court documents, suggest a pattern of conduct. Buck, it is alleged, invited black men — some were sex workers or homeless — to his apartment, before giving them meth and other drugs, sometimes forcibly injecting them while they were unconscious.
Other times, according to the court documents, he filmed them and encouraged them to perform for him sexually by dressing up in underwear and parading around. One man said he awoke in pain, bleeding from his anus. Another said Buck approached him wielding a power saw. But this story of meth, race, and power runs deeper than the allegations against one high-profile donor. In interviews with BuzzFeed News for a three-part series that begins today, black and Latino queer men in LA and across Southern California detail their experiences with meth and the explosion of abuse, violence, and sexual exploitation it has unleashed.
They reveal what happens in those drug-filled rooms when men of color meet white men for sex. A dozen others with either personal or professional insight — those trying to help victims — share what they have witnessed. All agree: There are countless white men who use meth to abuse people of color. DeMarco Majors, a year-old former pro basketball player and model, almost yelps when asked if he agrees with Zhu.
For years, Davis exchanged sex for meth and a place to stay. There is no doubt for him that there will be other Gemmel Moores, too. The accounts of these men, alongside all those who speak to BuzzFeed News, expose the Ed Buck allegations as just the smoke signal. Beneath rages unseen abuse and new forms of sexual exploitation. They speak of torture, gang rape, guns to the head, intentional overdose by injection, enforced meth inhalation, and systematic, even targeted abuse of individuals over many months — sometimes years.
And they speak of the racism, ignited by meth and exploding into realms rarely discussed: plantation slavery role-play; sexual slavery with meth acting as chain, whip, and reward; and sexualized, scattergun use of the n-word — all amid a culture drenched in the fetishization of black men.
They describe black bodies as still being colonized in 21st-century America — owned, beaten, and bought — with one image that manifests in multiple ways, surfacing again and again:. Zhu begins with technique: how the white men he has met administer more meth than is agreed upon. His disposition is sunny — initially. But this is not what happens. He has also been pressured into inhaling meth. So I would light it up and act like I took a puff.
Do another one. Zhu has seen meth from several angles: as a teenager exchanging sex to survive, as someone addicted to meth, and today as an adult film performer, escort, and go-go dancer in San Diego.
Before delving into where enforced meth and deliberate overdosing leads, Zhu makes a wider point about its use. Davis, the dancer, agrees that the drug is on the rise in California, particularly among young queer black people.
He forms cones with each hand to represent a small cluster of such users in isolated parts of town. Those on the front line trying to help are witnessing this too. Nationally, between and , the number of fatalities from the drug doubled to 13,, according to the CDC. And meth use among black sex workers has rocketed too; more than half The effect of the chemical on the brain is critical to understanding why it grips people so intensely.
Meth stimulates an enormous release of dopamine, far greater than those from cocaine or sex. If toward, it draws you in with a great, sometimes unmanageable feeling of desire and reward. Those who convey their meth experiences to BuzzFeed News describe their first time in superlative terms — the most intense, the most euphoric sexual liberty — and the ensuing relationship to the drug as like an abusive one: It controlled me, destroyed me.
Meth can also lead to paranoia, psychosis, twitching, impaired movement and speech, long-term cognitive degeneration, tooth loss, weight loss, depression, and anxiety. Among gay and bisexual men, meth is known by two main nicknames: Tina, or T for short, and ice.
But it is the resulting meetings when sex and meth fuse together that racism can explode into the enactment of any stereotype or supremacist belief. First with slavery role-play. Kenneth — who asks that his surname is not included — has been in meth addiction recovery for nearly 20 years and as such has witnessed its trajectory into black gay circles. For him and others, this path has been fairly clear: The drug was popular among white gay men from the s onward, but only in the last few years has it proliferated more widely into black and Latino queer communities as white men began introducing it to them.
As Kenneth sits by his bed in his apartment, he contemplates again the role-play request. His body jolts suddenly. And you may get a yes. I almost did. He describes how he would react at the time as like being stunned; wrong-footed into silence.
For Thomas Davis, however, the phenomenon filters out beyond language and role-play. His experiences of PnP parties reveal that some white gay men are not pretending or playing: They are reaching back generations and repeating. Davis begins to explain what often happens when white men invite black men to their homes for meth and sex.
Davis is slim and energetic. He wears a plunging V-neck T-shirt and loose jeans. He was raised in Colorado by white adoptive parents. He speaks quickly in vast paragraphs of multi-clause sentences, spooling through connections as they occur to him in the moment. His demeanor is urgent: listen. If they wanted, they would have sex with them. If their dick wasn't too ugly, I would suck it. Things like that. Sometimes Davis was lucky to survive.
It could have been a simple measurement being off, having somebody else measure doses for me. It was expected of us, as the younger ones, to bring the party. Jacen Zhu knows where this setup — a party run by a white man with an endless amount of meth — can lead: running down a street, knocking on doors for help. Eventually, after banging on door after door, one occupant phoned the police. The cops arrived in time to escort Zhu home, but he never filed an official complaint of the abuse.
He was too afraid of retaliation. Only now, seven years later, is he able to reflect on the race and power dynamics behind that ordeal — to see through the horror. And the more meth is supplied, the more it acts as a whip. You become a different person. The damage remains. When we speak, it is only 12 days since he last took meth, a relapse in his recovery. And because the white man had engineered a situation in which Zhu was also harmed by black men, the trauma response widened.
Sometimes even still.