Appalachia: Under the Gun !

Appalachia: Under the Gun !
Posted by FoM on January 02, 1999 at 22:32:01 PT

In May of this year, the Federal Government designated 65 counties of Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia in the Appalachian Mountain Range, a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA). This means that the DEA, ATF, FBI, IRS, National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Attorney's Office will coordinate with each other, and the local sheriffs, police departments, and DAs to stomp out all forms of drug production, trafficking and use. 
Paul Lewin, Common Sense For Drug Policy, The designation also comes with a $6 million federal grant as "seed money" to set up the new agency with staff, computer equipment, offices and the typical array of vehicles. If past experiences are any guide to what the residents of Appalachia can expect, the alphabet soup of law enforcement agencies will set up road blocks on rural roads to perform search and seizure sweeps, armed men in camouflage with automatic weapons will patrol by helicopter, and a small army of undercover narcotics agents will set up local men and women for arrest. Poverty and Little Economic Opportunity Cited As Justification The federal government's labeling of 65 counties in 3 states as a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area would seem to imply that violent gangs and Colombian drug cartels were terrorizing millions of residents of Appalachia, necessitating a massive federal response. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. In the official 'Appalachia HIDTA FY 98 - Threat Abstract,' the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) states that Appalachia warrants a federal crackdown because "in this tri-state area financial development is limited, poverty is rampant, and jobs are few. Marijuana has become a substantial component of the local economy, surpassing even tobacco as the largest cash crop. This has contributed to a high level of community acceptance of marijuana production, distribution, and consumption. Many honest local merchants do not recognize signs of illegal drug enterprises and in effect help launder drug proceeds. In such an environment eradication and interdiction efforts are difficult, as is obtaining intelligence, indictments, or an unbiased jury." In other words, people are poor, locals aren't that concerned about residents who are doing this, and people aren't informing on their friends and neighbors to the extent that the government desires. The economic stress felt by the residents of Appalachia is not adequately described in the ONDCP's "Threat Assessment." In reviewing the latest census data, one quickly notices that these folks aren't just poor, this is one of the most economically deprived regions of America. West Virginia ranks dead-last (50th) for median household income and unemployment (48.6% of the civilian population was unemployed in 1996 - of course, prisoners aren't counted). Kentucky and Tennessee are also in the bottom 10% of the nation for median household income, and they rank 8th and 11th, respectively, in the nation for the highest number of infant deaths per 1,000 live births. In fact the only categories where these three states lead the nation is in their percentage of public aid recipients, their percentage of population living below the poverty line, and in teen pregnancy. Of course, the 65 counties designated as HIDTA, have fared even worse. The New War on the Poor In the 1960s, federal officials toured Appalachia and witnessed its tragic poverty. The attention brought to it shocked America, which overall was enjoying an era of unprecedented economic growth and prosperity. Together, the federal government and the people of America vowed to fight a War on Poverty so that all Americans would have an equal opportunity in life. In that era, roads were built, schools provided, and utilities like clean water and electricity reached deep into Appalachia to bring relief. In the 1990s, we live in another era of unprecedented economic prosperity, yet this new War on Poverty has taken an ominous turn, courtesy of the War on Drugs. Rather than respond to the economic disparity which still plagues most of the region with investment and development, the federal government intends to respond by arresting fathers and mothers (creating a generation of Drug War orphans), seizing family homes, cars and businesses. Rather than small business loans or investment in infrastructure, federal dollars will be spent on guns, prisons and payoffs to informants. Citizen Observation Groups Can Work Forewarned is forearmed, or so the saying goes. Gathering together the forces of the U.S. Government to pounce on Appalachia will take time -- perhaps up to an entire year. A lot can happen in one year, and if the citizens of the HIDTA counties exercise their civil right to influence their local government, the states involved can reject federal plans. In Northern California, residents have turned out to oppose aggressive marijuana eradication, because of the negative community impact it has. Forming "Citizen's Observation Groups," locals have documented government helicopters violating federal laws on flying altitude, environmental regulations, and endangered species protection, plus they have kept track of illegal search and seizure operations, and how many children have been terrified by the men with face paint and automatic guns. More importantly, by documenting what the government was doing, they have been able to raise awareness within their own communities and present a united front to their local government, which eventually led to some county supervisors voting to reject funding for the program. (For more information on citizens' efforts to halt federal eradication programs in Northern California, go to Paul Lewin can be reached via e-mail at csdp 
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