Amid controversy over her prosecution of a black teenager, Democratic presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar’s stint as Minnesota‘s Hennepin County attorney is drawing scrutiny. As The Intercept reported, Klobuchar allegedly prosecuted Somali people who possessed khat, a herbal stimulant grown in Southeast Africa and the Arabian peninsula.
The stimulant is reportedly commonly used in social gatherings, and The Intercept reports that it is culturally equivalent to drinking coffee or tea. It also allegedly has uses in Indigenous tribal medicine.
Despite criminal justice reform advocates and scholars claiming the harms of that are akin to those presented by chewing tobacco, it is an illegal narcotic in the United States, and its active chemical, cathinone, remains a Schedule I drug alongside heroin and LSD.
Klobuchar reportedly prosecuted dozens of khat cases a year, despite the cultural usage of the flowering plant. Although such cases often did not involve prison time, they still resulted in felonies for the accused. However, the Minnesota Sen. told Associated Press 1999 that “treatment or probation is usual” for such cases.
Rene Clemenson, an attorney for six Somali defendants prosecuted by Klobuchar, told AP that the now-presidential candidate’s decision to prosecute such cases made little sense.
“The county has spent so much time, money and effort on what is a social gathering in the Somali community, like meeting for a cup of coffee. It’s sad because it has seriously affected the Somali community, which in my experience is industrious and hardworking.”
Klobuchar’s time as a prosecutor has been put under the microscope as she increases in the polls ahead of Monday’s Iowa caucuses. Speaking to Fox News’ Chris Wallace on Sunday, Klobuchar evaded the host’s continued questioning of whether she was aware of the reported problems with the evidence used to imprison black teenager Myon Burrell for the killing of 11-year-old Tyesha Edwards.
Sen Amy Klobuchar responds to new evidence in a murder case she prosecuted years ago as well as to criticism that her tough-on-crime record is alienating some black voters. #FNS #FoxNews pic.twitter.com/fz9D2sKV4K
— FoxNewsSunday (@FoxNewsSunday) February 2, 2020
The 59-year-old politician’s handling of the case has prompted the Minneapolis N.A.A.C.P., Black Lives Matter, and other local activists to call on her to suspend her presidential campaign. She received a particular backlash for her decision to refuse to let Burrell attend the funeral of his mother, who was killed in a car accident on the way home from visiting him in prison.
According to NPR, Klobuchar claims to have witnessed a surge in voters turning out for her on the Iowa campaign trail. The news comes just hours before the Iowa caucuses, which will set the pace for the presidential primary and could make or break for candidates like Klobuchar.