Editorial: Family Devalued 5/12/00

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Adam J. Smith, Associate Director, [email protected]

This week, forty-one year-old Linda Sue Martin of Medina, Ohio was sentenced to a year in prison on drug charges. No drugs were found in her home during a police search. The evidence against her consisted primarily of some paraphernalia and her admission to police, not that she had ever sold drugs, but simply that she had used them and that she had "cooked" some cocaine into crack. What is disturbing about her case, however, is how Ms. Martin came to the attention of the police. It seems that the police were alerted by local school authorities, who were themselves alerted by a school counselor. And how did the counselor find out about Ms. Martin's drug use? She was told by Ms. Martin's 14 year-old daughter who confided in the counselor, seeking help for her mother.

Based upon the daughter's subsequent statements to the police, we know that a prison term was not the "help" that she had in mind.

Programs like DARE, in which police officers teach a drug-related curriculum to more than 70% of all public high school students, have been widely criticized. In part, that criticism has sprung from stories of DARE officers urging students -- often elementary school students -- to turn in anyone they knew who uses drugs so they could be "helped." Family members included. But it is now becoming apparent that representatives of all kinds of societal institutions -- and not just those with guns and police powers, have been enlisted as informants for the American prison state.

Was no one empowered to call in a social worker? Was no one able to bring the mother in to talk to her about counseling, or to offer a referral to drug treatment? Was drug treatment even available? We don't know. What we do know is that prison space, perhaps in one of those brand-spanking new private prisons -- the ones being built around the country on spec, so sure is the gulag industry that our thirst for punishment will not soon be slaked -- was ready and waiting for Linda Sue Martin.

Now consider her daughter, and the thousands of other sons and daughters of drug users both occasional and chronic who, bombarded with anti-drug information -- often bordering on hysteria -- decide to take matters into their own hands to seek help for a parent or loved one. What happens to these children when their "tip" leads to the arrest and incarceration of the person they were trying to help? Would the child be better off seeing their parent get help, the family offered counseling and a process of healing begun within the family unit? Or do we truly believe that the child is better off having the police burst down the door, being held at gunpoint, the home ransacked and the parent carted away in handcuffs to return no time soon?

What must such an experience do to that child's view of society and its institutions? What lesson have we taught that child about our society's respect for and impact on the family? What does this scenario, and the policies that mandate such an outcome, say about the veracity of politicians who call for more aggressive prosecution of the drug war in the name of children and family values?

The truth is that the drug war is antithetical to family values, and to the well-being of children, to respect for the law and to the health and welfare of Americans. What it is about is feeding the ravenous prison-industrial complex, and turning unwitting children into snitches. It is about the expansion of the criminal justice system into what were once helping professions. It is about punishment and hysteria and the diminution of long-cherished rights. The drug war is fast turning the United States of America into the kind of place where a fourteen year-old girl, trying to get help for her mother, instead finds agents of the state lying in wait, eager and ready to destroy them both.

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Issue #137, 5/12/00 New York Assembly Legalizes Over the Counter Sale of Syringes | Woman Whose Daughter Turned Her In Gets One Year | Justice Department Reports Seventy Percent of Jail Inmates Drug-Involved | Mexico City Police Commissioner Calls for Dutch Approach to Drug Policy | Q and A on Dutch Drug Policy | Report Calls on the UN Biodiversity Convention to Stop Dangerous US Fungus Experiments | Student Senate Overturns Presidential Veto of HEA Reform Resolution | Green Harvest Eradication Program Denied Funding in Hawaii | No Helicopters to Colombia: Act Now Before May 16th Vote | Stop "Smoke a Joint, Lose Your License" -- Action Update | RAISE YOUR VOICE: Action Needed Against Higher Education Act Drug Provision | MORE AlertS: New York and Washington State | EVENTS: District of Columbia, Toronto, New York, San Francisco | Editorial: Family Devalued

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