American Scrap & Children of the Drones

American Scrap & Children of the Drones


SHANE SMITH:
This week on “Vice,” America’s cities
are picked apart for scrap… MAN: I know what
I’m doing wrong. I’m going in and taking
stuff that’s not mine. SMITH: and then we see
the real cost of America’s drone wars. Move that camera, eh? Ooh. [Shouts] ♪ [Cheering] Oh! DAVID CHOE: Not only
are the people scrapping buildings
for the scraps. They’re scrapping
the scrapyards. ALVI: This place is known
as the University of Jihad. ♪ Manufacturing
in the United States has been on a steady decline
for the last few decades, and as a result, the cities
that were once home to these industries
are falling into a state of extreme urban decay. The situation has gotten so bad in some of America’s
old industrial cities, that there’s a cultural
phenomenon happening where some of the people
left behind are literally stripping
the infrastructure from old schools, houses,
hospitals, and factories for their raw materials. They’re called scrappers,
and we sent David Choe for a closer look at this
growing underground business. ♪ CHOE, VOICE-OVER:
This 3.5-million-square-foot Packard Automotive Plant,
which has sat completely abandoned
for over 20 years, was once considered
the most modern automobile-manufacturing
facility in the world. Since 2000, America
has lost a net total of about 70,000
manufacturing plants. CHOE: Hey,
what’s up, man? Hey, dude.
Hi. I’m Dave. Dez. This whole thing
that you just took apart is one of these
bridges up here? Yeah. And you dismantle
the whole thing? Yep. In Detroit, young people
mostly make their money how? Probably robbing…
Right. selling drugs. Everybody is trying
to get money in all kind
of different ways, but this is the way you’re only
hurting yourself instead of hurting
other people. As far as with drugs or carjacking somebody
for their car just to get a dollar…
Right. they don’t have
to do all that. This way of living,
you can make as much money
as you want to do what
you need to do. If I had to pay
a $1,000 bill, I can come here and make
$1,000 to pay that bill. Well, there’s two ways
to look at it. One is, yeah, you’re
not killing anyone. You’re not robbing anyone. You’re not selling drugs,
and it’s hard work, and– Hard work is always
appreciated within yourself. Right, but what
you’re doing is– It’s making the city look
abandoned and shut down, which that attracts,
then, a criminal element. What do you think
about that? All we go for
is abandoned stuff. Don’t nobody care
about it. The city don’t
care about it. Right. Now, you got scrappers that’s scrapping
them houses. Yeah. Could never do that because
I like to see the houses… Right. looking nice
and put-together. That’s
a neighborhood. They can be renovated. Right. What did you do before
you were scrapping? I worked
at the pawn shop. You worked
at the pawn shop? 7 years. So what happened? How come you stopped
working at the pawn shop? Well, they went
out of business. CHOE, VOICE-OVER: In a town
where even the pawn shops are going out of business, scrapping off
the old infrastructure of our once-huge
manufacturing base is one of the only ways left
to survive. Everywhere we went in Detroit,
the old factories, the old hospitals,
even the old churches and schools were hollowed out
and scrapped. To get a closer look,
we had legal scrapper Honest Don show us
through a school to see exactly how they go about systematically scrapping
the entire building. CHOE: They got every
single locker, huh? What’s going on here?
They ripped the lights out? All the wires are
missing out of these. This is where all
the showers were, huh? CHOE: This is
an amazing pool. When did they
build this school? Whoa. CHOE, VOICE-OVER: Since 2008,
Detroit has shuttered nearly 100 schools in an effort to shrink their massive
budget deficit, and those buildings left behind
are being ravaged by illegal scrappers. So this all happened
within about a year. Jesus Christ. CHOE, VOICE-OVER:
This phenomenon of gutting a shrinking city’s
old infrastructure is not just happening
in Detroit. It’s happening in all of
America’s old industrial cities, like St. Louis, Milwaukee,
Buffalo, Flint, and Cleveland. In Cleveland,
where manufacturing has been extremely hard hit,
scrapping has become a cutthroat
and even deadly business. We met up with
a young scrapper named Sean. He took us out late one night and showed us
how he makes a living. SEAN: This is like
Scrap Mile right here. So everyone
is scrapping. Everyone
is scrapping. Do you feel like you’re
doing anything wrong? I know what
I’m doing wrong. I’m going in and taking
stuff that’s not mine. Ha ha ha! Yep. That window
is open. We can get in there. Right there?
Yep. See that one? That’s the one
we go in every time. I got my little,
basic hammer. I usually
clip with this, and I got
the trusty crowbar for all your B&E needs. This is an old
mattress factory, so they have a lot
of weird stuff, a lot of stuff to do
with mattresses. It’s creepy
in there, too. Oh, yeah. [Thud] You’re a graffiti
artist. You know
what you’re doing. [Thud] ♪ Stuff like that,
that’s going with me. There’s wire
right here. See, I’m cutting
that right now. See the copper? You got a little
copper in there. Cha-ching. Be careful. Let’s go
up to the roof and just see
what it looks like. [Taps] Yeah. No one
is in here. Some birds.
Are those birds? This is a nice-ass
load, man. So someone came up here,
obviously– So someone came up here
and made their own load, planning to scrap,
but I’m taking it. And then why do you think
they didn’t take it? I don’t know.
They had no ride? I don’t know.
Fuck them. It’s mine now.
That’s how I look at it. Usually what I do
is get your load straight to the edge,
ready to drop off, right, wait for
the train to come. You could throw
anything off this roof, and you won’t hear it. So you use the train going by
as a distraction for the noise. Yes. That’s exactly
what I do. There we go. That’s stainless. That’s some
stainless steel. All right.
We can load out. I’m gonna get the hell
out of here now. All right. CHOE, VOICE-OVER: For Sean,
this building represents a steady and relatively safe
cash flow of money to get by, but if you’re willing
to take higher risks, you’ll get higher rewards. All right. CHOE, VOICE-OVER:
Later that night, we met up with a scrapper who goes
by the name Dreadlock. He took us out and showed us
the next level of scrapping. You see where that
fence is right there? Yeah. In that yard, I had
a whole container OK.
that I lived in. No one ever really
knew I was there. You lived
in a scrapyard? Yeah.
That’s crazy. Over there,
I got shot, as well. Who shot you? I got shot by one
guard over in here and one guard
over there. There was a bounty
out on me because I was hitting
them real hard. I’m a little bit unclear
what’s going on. You used to live
in a scrapyard and steal from the scrapyard
and sell to another scrapyard? Yeah. I mean, that’s next-level
criminal shit. I wouldn’t even think
to scrap the scrapyard. It’s a lot more
chancy. Every place
has security. Are we gonna get
shot at right now? No. That took too long
to answer. No. We’re–
Ha ha ha! The pause scares me.
Ha ha! This is
fucking crazy. What is he,
Heathcliff the cat? This motherfucker
is going to break in again. I mean… this guy does not
give a fuck. Not only
are there people scrapping buildings
for the scraps. They’re scrapping
the scrapyards. Have you gone to jail
for scrapping? Yep. So you’ve been incarcerated
and physically harmed, and yet
you still do it. Why? My last cash-in…
Right. was $751, and that was
a day’s work. Right. My first paycheck of
two week’s paycheck… Right. was $690-something. So in one day, you can make
more than two weeks of work. There you go. CHOE, VOICE-OVER: The amount
of money made in scrap is a major reason
for the lengths these guys go in order to obtain it. The price of a pound
of scrap copper, for example, is about 5 times more
than it was in 2002. To get an idea of what
is causing this incredible boom in scrap metal, me met
with Glenn Perrenoud, the owner of Western Reserve
Recycling scrapyard, who has been buying
and selling scrap in Cleveland for over 30 years. CHOE: How good
is business? Statistically high
right now. Right. The scrapers
bring the scrap here. You guys take it. Then what happens next?
Where does it go? Through the years,
it’s been almost 100% export
to China. 100%?
Pretty close. Whoa. So the Chinese buyer
comes here, picks out
what he wants. They furnish
export containers, and we load
the containers. Right. The container
goes on a train and then onto a boat,
and then goes to China. It’s a good deal
because the day we ship
the stuff, they wire the money,
and you have it the next day,
and they don’t see the material
for two months. It’s crazy to think
that the U.S. is this superpower
that was, “We’re number one!
We’re number one!” We’re not anymore. CHOE, VOICE-OVER: Wanted to see
how this goes down day to day. We met up with this guy
Johnson Zeng, A Chinese buyer who zigzags
across America buying our scrap. CHOE: So how many times
have you driven back and forth
across America? So you drive a lot. You probably see more
of the United States than most Americans. Well, I’m glad you’re
in North Carolina today. Got lots of scrap.
Open-eye helix. $1.72, $1.73,
somewhere in there. Yeah.
Oh. Oh. We’ll go in here and see
if we can’t find some brass. This is the red,
semi-red that you buy, and over here, we have
our mixed brass turnings you usually buy. $1.90 is gonna
be close. Yeah. $1.30? Nope. $1.38. OK. I think that’s
about it, Johnson. We can head down and…
OK. see how your prices
are today. OK.
All right. Let’s see what
we got here. GORDON: Oof.
Christmas wire 53? You’re gonna have to buy that
if you’re gonna buy anything. Ha ha ha! That red brass
is good, clean red brass, no yellow in it. [Homer on phone
speaking Chinese] That’ll work. Johnson, I always
give you the preference. You gonna prepay
50,000? Dee, sold Johnson
3 loads. Thanks, Johnson. CHOE, VOICE-OVER: As they
concluded their business, we realized one of the reasons
the prices are so high is because Johnson
is not the only one buying. [Laughter] Oh… Hi. Nice to meet you. So while we’re here
at Gordon Scrapping, you ran into
some competition. How much competition
is it, hundreds of guys or thousands of guys? They don’t even
need to see it. CHOE, VOICE-OVER: With hundreds,
if not thousands, of these guys traveling
the country buying scrap, we wondered, “Just how big
an industry is this?” So we talked with Adam Minter,
author of “Junkyard Planet” and frequent writer
on the subject of the worldwide scrap trade. MINTER: China really came on
the international scrap market starting in about the mid 1980s,
and by the early 1990s, China had a huge demand
for raw materials to fuel its industrial behemoth, to become the workshop
to the world. For years, the price of copper,
for example, hung around a dollar a pound,
and all of a sudden in the 1990s, you could see it
start edging upward. CHOE, VOICE-OVER: The increase in Chinese demand spread to all types of metals, from aluminum to iron. MINTER: There’s no faster way to get raw materials than to just scrap something
that’s in somebody’s junkyard. It’s a lot cheaper,
and it’s a lot quicker than digging a copper mine,
say, in the Andes, and there are times when I go
to Chinese scrapyards, and I get a little upset
because I’ll see this perfectly good scrap metal that I know was recovered
in the United States, and sometimes
it’s really obvious. You can see road signs
with American cities on them, but we live in a globalized
economy at this point. Whether we like it or not,
this idea that the U.S. sends recycling to China,
we’re kind of stuck with it. It’s too late to change it. It’s a multi
multibillion-dollar industry. CHOE, VOICE-OVER: In fact,
we exported nearly 10 billion in scrap to China in 2012,
which made me think two things– one, at $10 billion,
how many of these guys like Sean, Dreadlock,
and Honest Don are out there every night
ripping up our cities, and, two, that we’re
literally tearing up the old infrastructure
of our golden industrial age, shipping it to China
so it can be melted down to build the hospitals, schools,
and factories that will fuel
their golden industrial age. ♪ Remote control drones
have changed modern warfare. Pilots located thousands
of miles from the battlefield can now eliminate targets
with a simple click of a button. For the U.S. government,
drones are perceived as a surgical weapon
that keeps our soldiers out of harm’s way… Dozens of highly skilled
Al-Qaeda commanders, trainers, bombmakers, and operatives have
been taken off the battlefield. Simply put, these strikes
have saved lives. SMITH: but for
the innocent victims caught up in these attacks, these drones
are anything but precise. Suroosh Alvi recently
investigated the issue of so-called collateral damage
due to drone strikes and the problem that it’s
creating in the countries where they’re being deployed. His report begins here
in the USA. ♪ MAN: I never thought that I
would be able to kill someone. I was a U.S. Air Force MQ1 Bravo
Predator sensor operator. I had a responsibility,
you know? I swore an oath to defend
the Constitution against all enemies,
foreign and domestic. How many people do
you think you killed operating drones? Directly?
Yeah. 3, 3, 2, 5, and that would be
13 people. My second shot
was a building, and they’d been monitoring it
for a couple days, and then
we fired on it. In that instance,
there was what I believed
to be a child that ran around the corner
of a building right before
missile impact. Do you feel like maybe
you killed a kid? Yes. I feel like
that shot resulted in at least
a civilian dying and a child civilian,
at that. ♪ Telling us that
civilians won’t die was a part of
the indoctrination. It was part of
the ability to get us to accept
what was going on. ALVI, VOICE-OVER: After sitting
with Brandon Bryant, I wanted to see the effects of
these drone attacks firsthand. So I traveled
to northwest Pakistan, one of the most
heavily targeted regions in the U.S. drone campaign. ♪ The Swat Valley has historically
been on the front lines of the battle with the Taliban. Today the Pakistani Army
has a tenuous hold on power in the area. Under the Obama administration,
drone strikes in Pakistan have increased by almost 600%. In fact, a few days
before we arrived, there was a drone strike
just outside the major city of Peshawar. WOMAN: An apparent
U.S. drone strike in Pakistan has killed
another senior figure of the Haqqani network. Police said he was one of 3
top militants who died when missiles blasted
an Islamic seminary. The Afghan group is allied
with the Taliban. ALVI, VOICE-OVER: It’s strikes
like these that have caused outrage amongst
the Pakistani public and have sent anti-American
sentiment to a boiling point. ALVI, VOICE-OVER: We wanted
to get the Pakistani military’s perspective on the drones. So we met
with General Javed Bukhari, who, just days
before our meeting, was appointed to his position after his predecessor was blown up by a Taliban IED. ALVI: I wanted
to ask you from a military
perspective what your view is on
the drone campaign in the tribal areas
of Pakistan. The drones have,
unfortunately, been of no help
in any way in terms of the efforts
which have been going in Pakistan
by government of Pakistan, by the army,
even by the common people, common citizen
of this country. Unfortunately, it has been
very counterproductive. It seems as though
it’s given a propaganda tool
to the Taliban and helps them
recruit. It does. It certainly does help them
recruit more people. The resentment among
the population of that area which is being
struck by the drones and the fear under which
the people of that area live, that causes
a lot of stress which actually translates
into a lot of resentment among them.
Right. So they have been
truly counterproductive. ALVI, VOICE-OVER:
This resentment is creating new enemies for America
every single day. [Man on loudspeaker
speaking Arabic] ALVI, VOICE-OVER: Madrasas,
schools dedicated to the study of Islamic religion,
are often seen in the West as breeding grounds
for terrorists. To see if the drone campaign
was being used to radicalize militants
in these religious centers, I visited Darul-Uloom Haqqania,
one of the largest and most notorious madrasas
in all of Pakistan. ♪ ALVI: We’re about to meet
with Maulana Sami Ul-Haq. His father was the founder
of a madrasa outside of Peshawar
that has about 4,000 students. Former graduates
of this place include Mullah Omar, the spiritual
leader of the Taliban, and Jalaluddin Haqqani, who
actually changed his last name in honor of the school
and, in turn, named his terrorist group
the Haqqani network. These men are the most important
figures in the Taliban, all indoctrinated
in this one same school. This place is known
as the University of Jihad. [Children speaking Arabic] ALVI, VOICE-OVER: Inside,
we found a number of students who had direct experience
with drone strikes. One of them was particularly
interested in speaking to us when he saw our cameras. ALVI: How do they affect
the young people from this area? ♪ ALVI, VOICE-OVER: I wanted
to understand how this madrasa was fanning the flames
of this frustration. So I sat down with the leader
of the school himself. What do you teach
your students about the relationship
between Pakistan and the Muslim world
and America? What advice
would you give to one of your students here
if they lost a family member
due to a drone strike and they said,
“I want to get revenge and kill
American soldiers”? What would you say
to that student? ALVI, VOICE-OVER: Sami Ul-Haq’s
support for revenge was echoed by everyone we spoke to
in the region, but there are forces
in this country hoping to work
against these ideas. Sabaoon is a Taliban
deradicalization center in the Swat Valley. Feriha Peracha has been
working here to deprogram
young Pakistani militants. ALVI: What is your view
on the effect of the drone attacks
on this region? What do you think it
does for the recruiters, these strikes? ♪ ALVI, VOICE-OVER:
Although Dr. Feriha works on deprogramming as many
young radicals as she can, there are many she cannot reach, and what they have to say
is terrifying. ♪ Through difficult negotiations
with spokespersons, I got an unprecedented
opportunity to speak to speak to an active
Taliban militant in a secret location. He agreed to be filmed but only if we could
conceal his identity. ALVI: Do you want
to get retribution for your family members who were killed
by the drone attack? Do you have friends that also joined
the Taliban like this? ALVI, VOICE-OVER: As part of our
negotiations with the Taliban, we were able to send
a special envoy deep inside the militant
stronghold of North Waziristan. There, we were allowed
to capture exclusive footage of an actual Taliban
recruitment meeting. ALVI, VOICE-OVER:
It’s a self-fueling fire initiated by the drones, which causes the Taliban
to gain popularity, thereby creating more terrorists
who, in turn, attack us. BRYANT: If our actions
create more enemies, we have to look back
and question whether our actions
are actually worth it. ♪

Eugene Islam

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