OPINION | Louisiana: Give John Kennedy the boot

Louisiana U.S. Senator John Kennedy recently released an advertisement in support of his re-election campaign that caused plenty of controversy upon its release. 

The ad targeted rising violent crime rates in Louisiana’s cities and defended the actions of the police, which have been increasingly criticized after the George Floyd protests in 2020. 

Though the ad certainly has no shortage of memorable clips, the moment that got everyone stirring was its finale. 

The video ended with him staring directly into the screen. He reinforced his support for the police with a noteworthy quote. “Look, if you hate cops, just because they’re cops, next time you get in trouble, call a crackhead,” Kennedy said. 

There is so much wrong with Kennedy’s “crackhead” comment that it is honestly staggering to try to put it into words. 

However, action can be taken on by citizens on Tuesday, Nov. 8. as Kennedy and other candidates will be on the ballot for the Senate. 

Kennedy managed to deploy an explicitly racist dog whistle against communities of color in just a brief sentence. He dismissed the socio-economic struggles of those communities, dehumanized people struggling with drug addiction and derided genuine attempts to reform and better police departments and practices. 

The purposeful use of the word “crackhead” evokes painful memories of blatant sentencing disparities over cocaine possession that began in the 1980s. 

Congresspeople at the time used false, unscientific information about crack cocaine and powder cocaine to push through the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986. The law established that possession of five grams of crack cocaine violated the act and perpetrators would be sentenced to a minimum sentence of five years in prison. Unlawful possession of powder cocaine, on the other hand, required a person to have 100 times the amount of crack cocaine, at 500 grams.

Over-policing in communities of color led to a dramatic rise in the number of arrests of Black Americans. According to an American Civil Liberties Union report, the act “effectively transformed federal prisons into institutions increasingly dedicated to incarcerating African Americans.” 

Police departments were able to target communities of color due to their disproportionate representation in poverty. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 19 percent of Black Americans and 17 percent of Hispanic Americans live in poverty.

So, when Kennedy used the word “crackhead” to demean criticism of law enforcement, he was making a remark that, on the surface, seems benign. But what he was really doing was making a subliminal appeal to repulsive racist beliefs, which at least some of Louisiana’s electorate undoubtedly still hold.

Also, his comment inherently dehumanizes people struggling with cocaine addiction. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in 2020 about 1.3 million people suffered from a cocaine use disorder. That same year, cocaine overdoses claimed the lives of another 19,447 individuals.

Instead of introducing or sponsoring meaningful legislation to combat cocaine addiction, Kennedy would rather fire partisan shots against President Biden on Twitter

“Seal the border. That would do a lot more to address the drug crisis than Pres. Biden’s handing out new crack pipes,” he tweeted. His racist jab against Hispanic immigrants is just another example of his feelings toward people of color. 

Unfortunately, Senator Kennedy’s ad contains even more bigoted takes than just the “crackhead” comment. Earlier in the ad, Kennedy commented on the rise in crime rates and recent criticism against the police. 

“Violent crime is surging in Louisiana. Woke leaders blame the police. I blame the criminals,” Kennedy said.

His assertion on violent crime is true. However, his statement fails to explain why crime is rising across the country. 

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, the current spike in crime is due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After losing their jobs, millions of Americans suddenly found themselves unable to pay for essential items such as shelter or health care.

A community’s proximity to poverty plays a massive role in everyday decisions. Impoverished areas provide almost no opportunities to generate wealth. Often, people in these communities will turn to crime to provide for themselves. 

According to the World Economic Forum, the percentage of Americans in poverty grew by one percentage point to 11.5% during the COVID-19 pandemic. That is about 37.2 million people facing poverty in our nation. 

Though he talks plenty about violent crime in his re-election ad, Kennedy never speaks up about these statistics. To me, it appears that he is using the idea of violent crime as a means to stir up fear within Louisianians. It seems that he has no desire to actually come up with genuine solutions to the problem.

Furthermore, in his ad, Kennedy cited his voting record against police defunding measures. This is very interesting because to date, there has been no legislation introduced in the Senate calling for reduced police department funding. 

“Defunding the police” means using some money from police departments to fund and invest in historically underfunded but highly important public programs such as mental health services and education. Investing in such services would have a direct impact on people in a very tangible way, and would go a long way toward eliminating crime and poverty. 

Kennedy’s defense of law enforcement is very ironic, considering a couple of his actions following Jan. 6, 2021. According to National Public Radio (NPR), he and five of his Republican Senate colleagues voted against certifying the electoral college count for President-Elect Joe Biden. Kennedy willfully objected to the lawful transition of power from President Donald Trump to Biden purely due to partisan affiliations. 

During Trump’s impeachment trial for inciting a violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, Kennedy voted to not convict the former president, according to Politico. The insurrection Trump stirred led to the deaths of five police officers, according to the New York Times. Kennedy claims to be devoted to the law, and yet he has shown time and time again that his loyalties lie with his party and his personal ambitions.   

Kennedy’s re-election ad was only 30 seconds long, yet he managed to convey everything wrong about the conservative mindset on crime and poverty. He seemingly weaponized racially charged fear-mongering in order to gin up support from White working-class Louisianians with underlying prejudices. 

The deployment of racist, factually incorrect rhetoric comes at the cost of black and brown people’s suffering from a lack of adequate material conditions in their communities as well as over-policing. 

As a Black man, seeing my senator say abhorrent, bigoted things is incredibly disheartening. 

When you head to the voting booth, take my advice: give John Kennedy the boot.

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