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Prisoners of War From the War on Drugs

A few weeks ago, my husband and I tried to watch a movie called American Violet.

We knew that controversy was laced all through the movie, what we didn’t expect was how it would leave us feeling. We didn’t get further than 30 minutes in the movie when we turned it off. We vowed to come back to it when we calmed down.

My husband was upset and I had that strangest feeling in the pit of my stomach that made me think: this could have been my story–anyone’s story.

Because of that movie, I have been thinking about the war on drugs and what it really means for every day people such as ourselves. Are we really protected by our neighborhoods, or community standings? Does this war only affect people living in impoverished areas, or does it affect the suburbs as well?

I asked myself these questions when writing this piece, and found the results disturbing.

Regina Kelly

In November 2000, Regina Kelly, single mother of 4, was arrested during a drug sweep based upon the word of an informant. She was at her place of work when her arrest took place.

24 at the time, and knowing she was innocent of the charges, she put her faith into the court appointed lawyer, who didn’t appear to really care about her case. Instead, her court appointed lawyer urged her to plead guilty. Her lawyer also told her that if she went to trial, she could be facing 5-99 years behind bars if found guilty. She did not plead guilty.

Kelly’s bail was set for $70,000. Her parents managed to get her bail reduced to $10,000 and raised the money to have her released.

When the trial opened in Feb, 2001; it became clear that the “reliable” informant had lied and the so called evidence was worthless. All the cases–except those who had pled guilty–were dismissed.

Thankfully, she did not plead guilty, but there were others who were not so lucky.

Those who plead guilty to those charges, are now convicted felons. Which means they cannot vote, cannot get assistance, and now are unable to hold a steady job.

Most people who did plead guilty in this case was because they needed to get back to their children, as they were single parents.

This particular event may occurred in Hearne Texas, but this event is not isolated to Hearne, events like this has occurred in Tulia Texas as well:

“In 1999, 46 Tulia residents, most of them African-American, were arrested in a drug raid. Many who were convicted early on were given sentences ranging from 20 to a staggering 90 years, and some of the frightened people who had been picked up in the drug bust pleaded guilty to avoid spending the rest of their lives in jail.”


Will Harrell (Executive Director of the ACLU of Texas) states that in order to receive federal funding, task forces must have good arrest numbers, and targeting minorities is an easy way for the task force to pad their statistics.

Elizabeth Mort

Elizabeth Mort was a new mother, and relishing her role. A urine test that she took, turned out positive for drugs which turned her world upside down. Her drug of choice–an everything bagel (which contained poppy seeds).

Mort and Rodriguez’s daughter was taken by the state a mere day after they returned from the hospital. Despite a test of the child failing to uncover any trace of illicit drugs, a pair of LCCYS caseworkers and two police officers showed up at their door bearing a court order legally entitling them to seize her.

Mort’s case has drawn attention because she is a mother who did not use any drugs when she was pregnant, did not give her doctors any indication that she was a drug user, yet she had her child taken away from her.

It took Mort five days before her family was able to get the child back.

All it took was one false positive.

David McKay

In Spring Valley, NY, a family was displaced from their home–by mistake. A troop of armed officers looking for drugs entered the family’s home with guns drawn.

David McKay, the father and head of household, said that they pointed guns at their 13-year-old daughter, which left her “vomiting and gasping for air in an asthma attack.” The attack was of course triggered by the mistaken actions of the police and DEA agents.

“This isn’t how you treat citizens with rights. This is how you treat enemy combatants in a war zone,” writes Radley Balko of Reason magazine. And Balko is right — the militaristic actions of police have only grown worse with the war on drugs, and while we may not be able to bring attention to every single case of police raids gone wrong, the ones we do catch should be thrust into the spotlight to ensure Americans realize what we are allowing the police to get away with in the name of drug control.

What’s the catch 22 in all of this is that McKay saw several local police officers n the mix; people who he recognized from his work in the community. When he asked them what was this all about, their response was, “you’ll read about it in the paper tomorrow.”

McKay’s home was on 36 Sharon drive, and the person who they were looking for was located at 46 Sharon Drive–just a few houses down. However, McKay is listed on the deed to his home, so it was an obvious mistake–no apology was given.

—–

These are just some examples from what I found; not just innocent people being caught up in this “war” but how these regular citizens are treated when we go to war with an idea.

I don’t know what it would be like to walk in the shoes of Regina Kelly to be torn away from her family while being urged to plead guilty for something she didn’t do, or to feel the pain of Elizabeth Mort when having a newborn ripped from her arms. I especially don’t want to know what it felt like for David McKay when he couldn’t protect his family from law enforcement.

But these things are happening, and there are real faces behind this war; I just wanted to remove the shadows and show you who they were.

From fathers to mothers, these people spoke out about what happened to them, and hopefully, it is making a difference. As their story spreads, let’s hope that changes in policies comes a long with it.

Inspiration: American Violent

Sources:

ACLU Charges Racial Discrimination Second Texas Drug Bust Scandal

No More Tulia’s Legislation Introduced Congress ACLU Supports Oversight Accountability

How the war on drugs went awry in Tulia, Texas

New Mothers: The Latest Victims of the War on Drugs

Losing A Baby Over a Poppy Seed

Family Home Stormed In Another Botched Swat Raid

Police 13-Year-Old Girl in Botched Pot Bust, Family Says

Food for your mind: Tulia Texas Scandal–PBS

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Nikki
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it’s so scary how your guilty until proven innocent. i understand they have to do their “war on drugs” jobs but innocent people are suffering due to carelessness

asummermoon
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It is indeed scary when drugs are involved. However,I’m coming from the other side of the spectrum. I worked in the substance abuse unit with child protection services and I’ve seen some horrible conditions that could make people so paranoid to jump before asking questions.I admit, after seeing the things I saw I was right with the cops yelling “go get em!” But, I myself have been swept up in a police raid while on duty (lawd). It was no joke. I am happy I wore my badge that day -that’s all I have to say about that one.

Ashley S.C. Walls
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Thank you for sharing, I too was sick while watching “American Violet” and I was glad that I did watch the movie in order to learn more about plea bargains, informants, and the aftermath of being in the legal system. I wish that more people would learn about the consequences of their actions and why it is imperative for people to seek opportunities that remove them away from surroundings that increase their vulnerability. I have a friend that made it a priority to not continue receiving link and governmental aid so that she would not have to remain in the… Read more »

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