Montana Politics

The War on Drugs is a War on Education and Civil Liberties

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Savana Redding was not a hardened criminal serving time in a penal institution when, according to both her testimony and that of officials she  experienced a humiliating search that

was methodical and humiliating, Ms. Redding said. After she had stripped to her underwear, “they asked me to pull out my bra and move it from side to side,” she said. “They made me open my legs and pull out my underwear.”

She wasn’t suspected of carrying hard drugs, either. It turned out that officials decided to strip search the 13 year old because she was potentially in possession of that most dangerous of drugs, prescription Advil.

Savana was in eighth grade, and her searcher? An overzealous principal who suspected that Redding might be using drugs, because another student had named her.

Savana Redding’s story probably should have ended with an apology and a suspension for the clearly deranged school official who thought a prison-style strip search was appropriate in a search for contraband Advil. Amazingly, though, the district still maintains that it did nothing wrong, and the case has slowly worked its way to the Supreme Court, where God knows what Antonin Scalia and the boys will cook up.

The district’s response is a stark reminder of the state of drug control policy in the United States, with laden with military metaphors and absurd justifications. In their brief to the Court, the district describes being “on the front lines of” the war to control drug abuse by students, and argues that one justification for the search was that the 13 year old Redding had been “unusually rowdy” at a dance months before.

Dealing with drugs is a complicated reality for many schools, but the idea that the answer is to treat students as if they have no rights is certainly not the answer. That approach has failed in national drug interdiction, and won’t work any more effectively in schools. Instead, students will see teachers and administrators as enemies, becoming less willing to engage in the only real solution for the drug problem—open dialogue and a sense of community.

One of the enduring themes presented to aspiring educators is that a portion of their job is to transmit important ideas about citizenship to students. How can we possibly do that when civil rights don’t exist inside the school doors?

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is a seventeen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

17 Comments

  • In Mexico there are 1000's dead and many beheadings. Here the drug violence is also taking a heavy toll. To frame the issue simply as "… a War on Education and Civil Liberties" is not born out by this deadly realitiy.

  • To frame the issue as "..a War on Education and Civil Liberties" is simpy not supported by the 1000's dead in Mexico and rising drug violence here.

  • Doesn't the escalating violence prove that the policy isn't working? It seems that after all of these years waging war against drugs, it would seem you would see more success than this…

  • Jason, what the rising violence proves is that there is a lucrative market here. Huge insatiable demand. The effort to interdict drugs in schools lead to what happened here. The fact that they went to the absurd lengths over Advil is no different than schools which have overreacted to mere drawings of firearms by students. Institutional buffoonery manifests itself in many ways on a variety of matters. In my opinion, that's what is really at issue here.

  • Well said, Pogie.

    "Drug related violence" like the awful stuff happening in Mexico is usually evidence that prohibition doesn't work. Prohibition removes a substance from government control and turns that control over to the criminal black market, which in turn sends prices sky-high, creating the lucrative markets, which are necessarily controlled by criminal organizations who only thrive if they are ruthless enough to silence their enemies. We tried this with alcohol and that was the result.

    In schools, vigorous efforts should be made to discourage drug use, using truthful information and not over-the-top scare tactics or random searches/testing.

  • Craig – I will agree on one point. any time a school institutes zero tolerance of anything, they are going to act in an absurd manner. Zero tolerance leaves no room for common sense.

    But I was talking to a Colombian fellow about a month ago, and his view on the war on drugs was the same: it hurts everyone in Latin America and doesn´t help America any. The problem is that we are attempting to limit the supply of drugs, when the demand is still there. It is much like (and I think you will relate to this analogy) the attempt to limit the supply of guns when there is still a demand for them – it only encourages crime because it removes the entire system of law and order from a particular market. Anything that is illegal, be it drugs, alcohol, prostitutes, is going to attract criminals because the consumers, generally law abiding people otherwise, have to interact with and provide funding to people who by definition are criminals. And those criminals, who normally would be non-violent salespeople, have to become violent because prohibition limits their recourse to the legal system. The drug war is particularly egregious in that most of the crime is deflected south of our borders, where you see North American dollars (and increasingly Euros) financing Latin American killers, all the while with the US keeping up pressure on Latin American countries to continue with our failed policies.

  • Is it even possibly to be "unusually rowdy" at 13?

    And a very sad truth is that there are drug dealers and/or users serving far longer far worse sentences than rapists and murderers. I don't care if this sounds terrible, but I would rather have my kid become addicted to drugs and have a choice and a chance than raped, murdered, or sexually abused.

  • We wish to thank you just as before for the wonderful ideas you offered Jeremy when preparing her own post-graduate research in addition to, most importantly, for providing each of the ideas in a blog post. In case we had known of your site a year ago, i’d have been rescued from the needless measures we were participating in. Thank you very much.

  • Whats up this is kinda of off topic but I was wondering if blogs use WYSIWYG editors or if you have to manually code with HTML. I’m starting a blog soon but have no coding skills so I wanted to get advice from someone with experience. Any help would be greatly appreciated!

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