In a recent interview with Ana Marie Cox in the New York Times Magazine, Chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee and Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz admitted her “criminal-justice record is perhaps not as progressive” as the records of some of her progressive colleagues.
Wasserman Schultz was asked during the interview about her status as “one of a dwindling number of progressive politicians who oppose legalization of even the medical use of marijuana.” Her response was frankly a word salad of tired drug war cliches—the same ones that have fueled mass incarceration for decades.
“I don’t oppose the use of medical marijuana,” Wasserman Schultz declared. “I just don’t think we should legalize more mind-altering substances if we want to make it less likely that people travel down the path toward using drugs. We have had a resurgence of drug use instead of a decline. There is a huge heroin epidemic.”
Aside from the fact that these views are out of step with the majority of Americans, particularly among her party’s base and leading presidential contenders, Wasserman Schultz’s opinions on these matters are troubling because she is a representative from the state of Florida.
The Sunshine State is one of the crown jewels of mass incarceration in America. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics report, Prisoners in 2014, Florida had the third highest number of sentenced prisoners under jurisdiction of state or federal correctional authorities, and the second highest population of incarcerated women in the nation.
The state also boasted the second highest population of noncitizen inmates in the country, and the highest number of noncitizen inmates age 17 and under. This is perfect for the private prison companies, which do business there (GEO Group is headquartered in Boca Raton).
Florida prison conditions are abysmal to say the least, marked by stories of horrific inmate deaths, medical neglect, sexual abuse, and subhuman living conditions throughout the system.
Yet, somehow Wasserman Schultz finds it perfectly acceptable to oppose mainstream society, leading figures in her party, and mountains of data and evidence.
Wasserman Schultz added, “It’s perfectly O.K. to not be completely predictable. I am a person, and I have individual opinions that may not line up ideologically. They’re formed by my personal experience both as a mom and as someone who grew up really bothered by the drug culture that surrounded my childhood.” She clarified the “drug culture” did not surround her childhood “personally,” especially since she grew up in suburbia — a statement undermined by the prevalence of opioid pill and heroin addiction in suburban Florida.
“It sounds as if these are things that come from a personal place for you,” Cox replied. Wasserman Schultz suggested, “I guess I’m protective. Safety has been my top legislative priority. I’m driven by the idea that safety is really a core function of government.”
Unfortunately, Wasserman Schultz’s scary feelings about “drug culture” perpetuate the destruction of “safety” for countless Americans, including numerous people who live in her own state. A number of Floridians are in prison serving lengthy sentences because of drug war and tough-on-crime policies, which she supports. This is not a trivial issue of one’s politics being “completely predictable” but rather an issue of a powerful congresswoman disregarding the truth about the devastating War on Drugs.