I grew up near the edge of the Central District, and our house was at the top of a ridge, which served as a sort of racial dividing line. Houses on the eastern slope had spectacular views of the mountains and Lake Washington. They were expensive and their residents were all white. I can't recall a single black person who lived on that side of the hill. On the other side of the ridge, the houses' territorial views looked back into the gulch. With only scattered exceptions, those were all African American households.

That was Seattle in the 1980s. Thanks to the cosmic fortunes of where my parents settled down, I lived in an intermediary zone, on one of the city's few truly racially integrated streets. My Catholic parochial school one block north had only one other white kid in the class, a freckled girl from a very Catholic brood. The rest were African American, Asian, and mixed race. We were taught about MLK, schooled in the civil rights movement, and informed weekly that we would overcome someday. It was great. The first time I recall being angry—the sort of anger that boils behind your eyes—was in elementary school, learning about racial segregation on Montgomery's buses. That was awful.

By the time I could vote, lots of my classmates had been stopped for drugs in the Central District. The Seattle Police Department had adopted the federal government's Weed and Seed strategy, which ostensibly "weeded out" drug abusers in the neighborhood and "seeded" it with revitalization programs. In practice, though, Seattle cops—just like police forces across the country—scoured the inner city to make a frenzy of arrests, justified by a national hysteria over the crack epidemic. (Crack, it must be stated here, is a form of cocaine more popular with black people, but the difference from the powered cocaine more popular with whites is largely superficial.) The drug-war pandemonium in the 1980s and 1990s, as I witnessed it, amounted to cops stopping young black people on the street, shaking them down for crack or weapons, and busting them for the most likely contraband they could find: pot.