“Don’t Criminalize Us!” By Niyah Theus, Clark Atlanta University

By February 26, 2020 Voices of Change 2 Comments

Lowery Institute Change Agents in photo from left to right: Vanessa Apira, Taryn Gill, Olive Ouyema-Gongombe, Niyah Theus, Laurisa Guillaume, James Woodall (President of Georgia NAACP)

Lobbying is a powerful tool. As young leaders, we want out voice heard. On February 11, 2020, The Lowery Institute Civic Engagement branch, lobbied and conversed along side the Atlanta NAACP. The NAACP (The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) is a civil rights organization in the United States. The goal of the NAACP is to secure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights in order to eliminate race-based discrimination and ensure the health and well-being of all persons.

The purpose of lobbying with the NAACP was to present and ask questions regarding particular house bills. The house bills varied from the elimination of plastic bags to the severity of the death penalty. However while sitting in on the session, House Bill 809 caught my attention. Angelika Kausche, a woman of German decent, as well as a newly naturalized citizen, is the freshman legislature who proposed and wrote the bill. House Bill 809 focuses on raising the age of purchasing tobacco from 18 to 21. Hearing Kausche propose this bill struck a nerve being that I am a 20 year old college student and yet again there is now something else that I am unable to do.

This made me think of other rights that are determined by age like voting. If they can raise the age of purchasing tobacco products then what is stopping them from raising the voting age? I asked Kausche if her bill was a tactic to further suppress Georgia voters and she looked at me as if I was I had offended her “true nature.”

Kausche argued that the purpose of her bill was to address the health issue within teens and young adults that vaping has caused. I along with a few of my fellow Lowery Institute colleagues continued to question the nature of this bill. We asked questions revolving around the nature of her bill further criminalizing African American youth. We then asked if tobacco is becoming an issue because it has become a “white epidemic.” What I mean by white epidemic is that due to the amount of white kids using and getting addicted to the various tobacco products it has now become an issue. When we raised the question to Katsche she still acted in disbelief and suggested that we were getting off topic which is the idea of the tobacco products being a health issue within the community.

Finally, we argued how her bill could further racially criminalize black youth who are caught with the substances. Aside from our questions, other audience members asked why she is targeting the age demographics and not the stores. Then when asked about educating the juvenile community in regards to the dangers of tobacco products, she argued that funding was an issue, yet I offered her the idea of gaining volunteers from the community to educate their own.

Overall, throughout her conversation about her bill she decided to mention other representatives who had similar bills to the one she had written. I assume she felt the need to mention what other people were doing so she wouldn’t feel so “attacked.” To conclude this was an exciting conversation to be apart of due to the opinions and feeling that arose during the conversation. 

What do you think? Should the ability to purchase tobacco products be raised from 18 to 21 years old? Do bills like this seek to criminalize young adults or is it just a health concern?

2 Comments

  • Kayla Howard says:

    It seems that there is a lot of great conversation that comes about from lobbying. I think you made a great point. The same evidence that is used to justify raising the age to purchase tobacco could potentially be used to raise the age of other important rights. Its always important to remember the implications that could result from proposed legislation.

  • Niyah says:

    This was a great read!!

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