Did the Drug War Give Us President Donald Trump?

As the media and the political establishment struggle to make sense of the election of Donald Trump, some themes have emerged. In one common thread, writers sympathetic to the plight of economically distressed rural voters identify a series of factors that have led to their misery.

Writing at Jacobin, Dan O'Sullivan noted that when Democrats and the media sneer at Rust Belt Americans, they’re “either ignoring or laughing at the evisceration of people by drug addiction, treatable health problems, overwork, malnutrition, foreclosure, infant mortality, slum housing, usurious loans — the sundry complications of poverty. The list is endless, and each bullet signifies another humiliation, another compromise, another deadening.”

With the heroin epidemic eating up so much media time, it makes sense that addiction is highlighted as yet another stressor on these communities. But what about the policing of drugs? On the Washington Post’s Watch blog, I point out that panic over meth in the 1990s and early aughts led to a law enforcement crackdown with some parallels to the policing of crack in the '80s, when users and dealers were aggressively prosecuted and child protective agencies ripped families apart. There are important differences, of course, including race—meth is a drug that has traditionally been associated with white and Hispanic people, while crack in the '80s was primarily seen as a drug used by black people in cities.

The Post piece focuses on the story of a woman named Lori Kavitz, who is still in prison, hoping to get her sentences commuted before Donald Trump enters office. After a series of traumatic events, Kavitz started living with a man who sold meth. The Iowa department of human services took her two young sons while she and her boyfriend were under investigation, putting the kids in foster homes the boys say were abusive. (Iowa is one of a handful of states that deems parental drug use child abuse.)

Then, when Kavitz was arrested, automatic sentencing enhancements led to her being sentenced to 24 years, though she’d never been in trouble with the law before. To this day, she has yet to meet her grandchildren because her family can’t afford to travel to the state where she is incarcerated.

In lobbying for her clemency, sentencing judge Mark Bennett has written, “her sentence was a gross miscarriage of justice, and I was on that day, in that courtroom, in that hour embarrassed and ashamed to be a U.S. District Judge imposing such an unfair sentence. At that time I said on the record that her sentence was 'idiotic, arbitrary, unduly harsh and grossly unfair.' I called it one of the most 'unjust sentences I have been forced to impose.'"

Lori Kavitz's family is hoping President Obama will commute her sentence as part of his historic clemency initiative, which has led to more than 1,000 reductions in sentencing through presidential clemency. Her son is worried that with Obama leaving office, his mom will lose her chance to come home.

Read the entire story at the Washington Post.


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