I arrived in Cartersville, Georgia, 50 miles north of Atlanta, around sunset on Monday. In the early evening light, local television vans were filming in the parking lot of the civic center, where citizens and civil rights leaders gathered amid folding chairs and righteous rage, demanding answers from their mayor, sheriff, police department, and county officials. Among the crowd were the unwilling catalysts of this protest: 70 of the community’s young people were unjustly arrested and jailed earlier this month for possessing – collectively – less than an ounce of marijuana. They have come to be known as the Cartersville 70.
The Libertarian Party of Georgia was invited to speak at the town hall meeting, joining our partner Peachtree NORML, Georgia CARE Project, the NAACP, American Civil Liberties Union, and others to support “the Cartersville 70.” The moniker-turned-hashtag “Cartersville70” invokes a legacy of people of color wrongly accused or unjustly imprisoned, including The Central Park Five, The Dixmoor Five, and The Ford Heights Four.
If you missed the national embarrassment unfolding in our beloved state, 70 young people – ranging in age from 15 to 30 – were arrested New Year’s Eve after police raided a birthday party in a private home. Officers – who were not called to the scene, but happened to be nearby – claimed they smelled marijuana and used that pretense to search the premises.
Inside, police found “evidence of widespread drug usage” several glass pipes, a grinder, and a small amount of marijuana in plain view. When no one claimed the stash, which police claimed was “within the reach and control of everyone,” the decision was made (by whom remains unclear) to arrest nearly all the young people present.
Dozens of Georgians – nearly all of them black men 19-25 – were arrested, handcuffed with plastic zip ties and their bodies and belongings forcibly searched. More than 60 were jailed, photographed, crammed into crowded cells, denied phone calls, and slapped with $1,000 bond. The party’s hostess was verbally abused and threatened with a taser held to her head, she told Monday night’s gathering. One young man spent a full week in jail, much of it in solitary confinement. Charges were later dropped against all but one defendant but for many, the damage had been done. Mugshots circulated. Some lost their jobs for the arrest alone.
I was honored to speak to the residents of Cartersville on behalf of The Libertarian Party of Georgia. Event hosts Georgia CARE Project and our partners at Peachtree NORML detailed the absurdity of marijuana prohibition. Representatives from Georgia chapters of the NAACP and the ACLU condemned the arrests and subsequent mistreatment, pointing out that in people of color are 400% more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession in Georgia, despite similar usage.
The Libertarian Party chose to highlight abusive practices like civil asset forfeiture and pretrial detention, which violate Constitutional civil rights by punishing the accused before trial, instead of presuming them innocent. The lifetime consequences of drug arrests, disproportionately born by the poor, harm people far more than marijuana.
“All people must be treated fairly and equally before the law,” reads the Libertarian platform. “All rights of all individuals matter all the time – no exceptions.”
The coalition represented Monday evening is a powerful force to demand legal reforms and harm-reduction policies to replace the current, punitive enforcement. We encourage allies to back HB 505, which would require criminal convictions or a guilty plea before police can seize and liquidate private property.
Update: after the town hall received significant media attention, the Bartow County Sheriff has promised to review its policies regarding marijuana arrests.
The Georgia NAACP
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Georgia
Gerald A. Griggs – Advocate, Attorney, Activist
Georgia CARE Project
Libertarian Party of Atlanta
Libertarian Party of Georgia