CASH-FOR-STERILIZATION: Billboards Resurface in Oakland
Billboards advertising Barbara Harris' Children Requiring a Caring Kommunity, known as CRACK, which offers a $200 payment to drug addicted people seeking long-term birth control, resurfaced in Oakland, CA, last week. The program is no stranger to criticism: About 100 protestors ripped down a CRACK billboard during Harris' Oct. 19 visit to Oakland. Harris defended her program, in which 89 women have participated since 1994, saying, "The victims of these situations are the kids. Look how many children are living lives that are screwed up because of screwed-up adults." After seeing one of the new billboards, resident David Butler said, "It's a shame. There are more white people doing drugs than black people. It's very insulting." He added that "you have to protect mothers first. If not, you're putting the cart before the horse. All [Harris] is going to do is bring a lot of hate." Others are not buying Harris' argument, including University of California-Berkeley Professor Jeffrey Burack, who said, "I think everyone is a victim of drug abuse -- the families, the kids, the women themselves. Taking that sort of view that these women don't deserve help ... (she has) taken a punitive approach that hasn't shown to be effective." Johnnie Lewis, founder of SISTER -- an Oakland women's drug treatment and recovery program -- participated in the previous billboard protest, but wasn't sure if she would demonstrate again. She said, "I'm going to look at these signs. At first I though she was misinformed, but with a good heart. But now I'm really believing she has another agenda that she's not telling. I really don't believe she is who she says she is" (Reynolds, Oakland Tribune, 11/19).
Harris' approach is "so wrong-headed and frightening [that] it's astonishing," Oakland Tribune columnist Brenda Payton writes. She argues, "It's difficult to believe she could be so naive and ignorant as not to have recognized the danger of what she has put in motion." While she says she does not condone pregnant women using crack, Payton asserts, "if you accept the rationale that crack-addicted women should be sterilized, what about alcoholic women?" Further, Payton asks, "could there be a more demeaning offer than a $200 payment to be sterilized? A drug addict so desperate to take the offer is almost certainly going to use the money for another fix. It's the equivalent of offering a crack addict a stash of rocks to be sterilized." Payton concludes, "Sterilization as a policy has a dangerous and shameful history throughout the world and this country, Harris and her supporters would do everyone a favor if they reshape their campaign to save children exposed to drugs" (Payton, Oakland Tribune, 11/18).