Egyptian-American who beat opioid abuse in US Congress bid

Sarah Gad’s road to law school was far from conventional, with a legal education that began in a jail cell in Cook County jail. (AN Photo)
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Updated 12 February 2020

Egyptian-American who beat opioid abuse in US Congress bid

  • Sarah Gad says she is fighting to change a system that is designed to marginalize people and to rectify miscarriages of justice
  • Gad became addicted to prescription painkillers following a near-fatal car accident that left her unable to walk or speak

CHICAGO:  An Egyptian-American Muslim who was jailed for nonviolent drug offenses is challenging Democrat Congressman Bobby Rush in the party’s March 17 Illinois primary.

Sarah Gad, 32, a third-year student at the University of Chicago Law School, said she is fighting to change “a system that is designed to marginalize people” and to “rectify miscarriages of justice.”

The Democrat hopeful’s road to law school was far from conventional, with a legal education that “began in a jail cell in the Cook County jail.”

Gad became addicted to prescription painkillers following a near-fatal car accident that left her unable to walk or speak.

After forging prescriptions to feed her opioid habit, she landed in jail, where she “saw and experienced countless human rights and constitutional violations.”

“My story is by no means unique,” Gad told Arab News. “I talk about it openly now because I want to help break the stigma that accompanies both addiction and criminalization of this disease, and because I want to shine a light on a broken system that is in desperate need of reform.

“While awaiting trial and in custody, I was sexually assaulted. When I reported it, I was labeled a snitch. I became a target for beatings every day. When I was released, I had to have reconstructive surgery on my face.”

Gad said the trauma of being incarcerated made her addiction even more difficult to overcome, and her life became a “revolving door in and out of jail” from 2013-2015. After being arrested in July 2015, she spent five days in jail and overdosed on the day she was released.

“It was that overdose that saved me. It wasn’t until I overdosed that I finally got the help I needed to overcome this disease,” she said.

“Addiction is a disease that does not discriminate. I found myself unable to get out of bed without using. I felt like my personality and my brain were hijacked by these prescription drugs. I was injured and then given drugs that I became addicted to, and then went into jail with an addiction and left jail with an addiction, until that overdose.”

Gad was in her third year of medical school when she was struck by a drunk driver and her life changed.

“I ended up doing more jail time than the driver who hit me. I was punished more severely than he was because nonviolent drug offenses are treated as felonies and in a DUI conviction your first offense is treated as a misdemeanor with no jail time,” she said.

For a long time, Gad struggled to get back on her feet. She was left homeless and unemployed because of her record. She got a second chance when attorney Kathleen Zellner offered her a temporary research position that became permanent.

Gad began as a researcher for medical malpractice cases, but her role expanded and she became the law firm’s full-time forensics director, investigating civil rights and wrongful conviction cases.

“When I started working for Zellner, I witnessed egregious miscarriages of justice,” she said. “I couldn’t believe these miscarriages of justice were tolerated under the law. I decided to apply for law school to push for criminal justice reform and fix the deficiencies in our criminal justice that I experienced firsthand, but also witnessed through my work.”

Gad founded and sits on the board of two Chicago-based nonprofit groups and her philanthropic work has attracted national attention. In 2019, she was awarded the University of Chicago Humanitarian Award for her contributions to the South Side and Hyde Park communities.

“I am someone who has personally experienced many of the hardships I seek to eliminate, and that is why I am pushing so hard for change. I know what it is like to be homeless in Chicago in the middle of January. I know what it is like to be stigmatized by our system and feel hopeless.” she said.

Gad’s rival, Bobby Rush, has held the congressional seat since 1993, and the challenger says she was approached to run for office by people in her community because of Rush’s absenteeism in the district legislature and in Congress.

“First, I went to Washington D.C. to familiarize myself with the process and to see if I could be an effective leader in that setting,” she said.

Rush, who founded the Illinois chapter of the Black Panthers, the militant political outfit, has the worst attendance record of any Illinois member of Congress and ranks 10th worst nationally out of 435 Congress members, according to public data.

“I joined the legislative affairs team with the Drug Policy Alliance in Washington, where I helped draft legislation pertaining to drug policy and reform,” Gad said.

“I had the opportunity to participate in dozens of congressional hearings, and over the course of three-and-a-half months, I didn’t see Congressman Rush once. He didn’t even show up to hearings that were hosted by his own congressional committees.”

Gad said she was alarmed when Rush failed to show up at a hearing about the HR 40 bill on proposals for reparations.

“Our district has the highest population of American descendants of slaves. We have severe economic imbalances that have been perpetuated since slavery and the days of the Jim Crow laws (segregation), and exacerbated by ‘tough on crime’ policies,” Gad said.

“No district in the country stands to benefit more from reparations than ours, and Rush should have been there letting the committee know that.”

Gad said that after her time in Washington, she feels “obligated” to represent the district.

“On many occasions, I found that I was the one speaking up on behalf of our district because no one else was. It was a wake-up call. We don’t have a voice right now,” she said.

If elected, Gad will be the first formerly incarcerated woman to enter the US Congress.

Lockdowns ease across Europe, Asia with new tourism rules

Updated 01 June 2020

Lockdowns ease across Europe, Asia with new tourism rules

  • Countries around the Mediterranean Sea tentatively kicked off a summer season where tourists could bask in their famously sunny beaches
  • Around 6.19 million infections have been reported worldwide, with over 372,000 people dying, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University

ROME: The first day of June saw coronavirus restrictions ease from Asia to Europe on Monday, even as US protests against police brutality sparked fears of new outbreaks. The Colosseum opened its ancient doors in Rome, ferries restarted in Bangladesh, golfers played in Greece, students returned in Britain and Dutch bars and restaurants were free to welcome hungry, thirsty patrons.
Countries around the Mediterranean Sea tentatively kicked off a summer season where tourists could bask in their famously sunny beaches while still being protected by social distancing measures from a virus that is marching relentlessly around the world.
“We are reopening a symbol. A symbol of Rome, a symbol for Italy,” said Alfonsina Russo, director of the Colosseum’s archaeological park. “(We are) restarting in a positive way, with a different pace, with a more sustainable tourism.”
Greece lifted lockdown measures Monday for hotels, campsites, open-air cinemas, golf courses and public swimming pools, while b eaches and museums reopened in Turkey and bars, restaurants, cinemas and museums came back to life in the Netherlands.
“Today, we opened two rooms and tomorrow three. It’s like building an anthill,” Athens hotel owner Panos Betis said as employees wearing face masks tidied a rooftop restaurant and cleaned a window facing the ancient Acropolis. “We can’t compare the season to last year. We were at 95% capacity. Our aim now is to hang in there till 2021.”
A long line of masked visitors snaked outside the Vatican Museums, which include the Sistine Chapel, as they reopened for the first time in three months. Italy is eager to reboot its tourism industry, which accounts for 13% of its economy.
The Vatican Museums’ famous keyholder — the “clavigero” who holds the keys to all the galleries on a big ring on his wrist — opened the gate in a sign both symbolic and literal that the Museums were back in business.
Still, strict crowd control measures were in place at both landmarks: visitors needed reservations to visit, their temperatures were taken before entering and masks were mandatory.
“Having the opportunity to see the museums by making a booking and not having to wait in line for three hours is an opportunity,” said visitor Stefano Dicozzi.
The Dutch relaxation of coronavirus rules took place on a major holiday with the sun blazing, raising immediate fears of overcrowding in popular beach resorts. The new rules let bars and restaurants serve up to 30 people inside if they keep social distancing, but there’s no standing at bars and reservations are necessary.
Britain, which with over 38,500 dead has the world’s second-worst death toll behind the United States, eased restrictions despite warnings from health officials that the risk of spreading COVID-19 was still too great. Some elementary classes reopened in England and people could now have limited contact with family and friends, but only outdoors and with social distancing.
In Asia, Bangladesh restarted bus, train, ferry and flight services Monday, hoping that a gradual reopening revives an economy in which millions have become jobless. Traffic jams and crowds of commuters clogged Manila as the Philippines tried to kickstart its economy.
Around 6.19 million infections have been reported worldwide, with over 372,000 people dying, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. The true death toll is believed to be significantly higher, since many died without ever being tested.
In the US, the often-violent protests over the death of George Floyd, a black man pinned at the neck by a white Minneapolis police officer, are raising fears of new outbreaks in a country that has more confirmed infections and deaths than any other.
The US has seen nearly 1.8 million infections and over 104,000 deaths in the pandemic, which has disproportionately affected racial minorities in a nation that does not have universal health care.
Protests over Floyd’s death have shaken the US from New York to Los Angeles. Demonstrators are packed cheek by jowl, many without masks, many shouting or singing. The virus itself is dispersed by microscopic droplets in the air when people cough, sneeze, talk or sing.
“There’s no question that when you put hundreds or thousands of people together in close proximity, when we have got this virus all over the streets ... it’s not healthy,” Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said.
Some efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus are being upended by the protests. In contact tracing, newly infected people list everyone they’ve interacted with over several days in order to alert them that they may have been exposed. That may be a daunting task if someone has been to a mass gathering.
The process also relies on something that may suddenly be in especially short supply: Trust in government.
South Korea and India offered cautionary tales Monday about just how hard it is to halt the virus.
South Korea reported a steady rise in cases around Seoul. Hundreds of infections have been linked to nightspots, restaurants and a massive e-commerce warehouse near Seoul. The resurgence is straining the country’s ability to test patients and trace their contacts.
“We have been seeing an increased number of high-risk patients who have been infected through family members or religious gatherings,” said Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “There’s a particular need for people over 65, pregnant women and those with chronic medical conditions to be alert.”
Incheon, a port city west of Seoul, said Monday it’s considering banning gatherings at 4,200 churches and other religious facilities.
In India, cases increased rapidly but it still eased restrictions Monday on shops and public transport in more states. Subways and schools remain closed as experts said India is still far from reaching the peak of its outbreak. The government eased the lockdown to help millions of day laborers who have lost their jobs and are unable to feed their families.
China, where the global pandemic is believed to have originated late last year, reported 16 new cases Monday, all travelers from abroad. Much of China has already reopened for business and Monday saw classes restart in middle and high schools. Kindergartners and fourth- and fifth-graders will be allowed back next week.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa says China has pledged to make available 30 million COVID-19 testing kits per month to African countries, which are facing a shortage.
Japan started blood tests Monday to check what percentage of its people have developed antibodies, a sign of past coronavirus infections. The tests will be conducted on 10,000 randomly selected people in three areas including Tokyo and results are expected at the end of the month.