On a recent evening, Kai—who asked the Voice to use that name as an alias—finishes up a rack of ribs and a slice of cheesecake at a barbecue restaurant in Harlem. It’s only 7, but it’s been three hours since he last shot up. “I want to use right now,” he says, looking nervous. “I’m thinking of how, I’m thinking of how.” He takes out a cell phone and double-checks the Craigslist ad he had put up the day before, hoping someone will answer it soon. He sells drugs, he says, to support his own addiction, a fact that gets more obvious every minute since his last fix.
Despite the city’s crackdown, Kai says he has gone untouched by law enforcement for the seven years he’s been dealing on Craigslist. In his ads, he lays out strict e-mailing rules for his clients: include only a name and cell phone number. If a potential buyer follows the rules to the letter, he sets up a meeting in a public place—but he arrives without drugs. He says he can tell in a few seconds if a potential customer is legit, but makes each buyer lift up their shirt to show him that they’re not wearing a wire, and lift up each pant leg to show him that they’re not carrying a gun. Small talk builds to questions about drug use and then to specifics like quantity and price. Kai says he doesn’t negotiate.