The rise of crack cocaine in the late 1980s propelled the war on drugs. The experience of Canton, Ohio, shows how the response to crack solidified mass incarceration. A declining industrial city of 84,000 people in northeast Ohio with deep-seated racial divides, it was overwhelmed by aggressive, enterprising crack dealers from outside the city. In response, politicians and residents united behind the strategy of incessant arrests and drastic prison sentences. The law-enforcement offensive worsened conditions while pursuing African Americans at blatantly disproportionate rates, but few people engaged in reframing the drug problem. Instead, a punitive citizenry positioned punishment as the principal remedy. The emergency foreclosed on more comprehensive assessments of the city's tribulations, while the criminal justice system emerged as the paramount institution.