In a Salon essay published today, Alecia Phonesavanh recalls the night her 19-month-old son, Bounkham (a.k.a. Bou Bou), was horribly injured by a flash-bang grenade tossed into his crib during a fruitless drug raid in Habersham County, Georgia. “It’s been three weeks since the flashbang exploded next to my sleeping baby,” she writes, “and he’s still covered in burns. There’s still a hole in his chest that exposes his ribs. At least that’s what I’ve been told; I’m afraid to look.”
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The ACLU mentions declining public support for the War on Drugs as one reason to reconsider the ferocity with which it is waged. But while de-escalation would be welcome, it does not address the fundamental immorality of responding to peaceful transactions with guns and handcuffs. Even if reforms like those recommended by the ACLU encourage police to be more judicious in their use of force, unjustifiable violence will always be a defining feature of drug prohibition.
Newspapers are filled with stories (example) about how Russia’s Sochi Olympics construction has cost a lot of money due to “corruption.” I asked my in-apartment Russian experts what this might mean. It turns out that cronies of the government are getting paid more-than-standard-commercial rates to build stuff. So taxpayer funds are being transferred to the politically connected.
I’m wondering how this is different than the U.S. military, which is ridiculously expensive but not typically labeled “corrupt.” TIME reports that the cost of a USAF Boeing 757 (C-32A) is about $43,000 per hour to the taxpayers; Conklin & De Decker says that $12,000 per hour is about what an airline would spend to fly one extra hour in the same airplane. In December, I wrote about how the U.S. Army is planning to do primary helicopter training in $6 million Eurocopters (foreign militaries and private flight schools get this done in aircraft that cost about 1/20th as much)
“Politics itself is nothing but an attempt to achieve power and prestige without merit.” P.J. O’Rourke
The War on Drugs, another disaster. A half century, billions of dollars, countless stupid laws, Mexico a war zone. Result? Every drug known to man, woman, or hermaphrodite is for sale at great prices in every high school in America. Another triumph of private enterprise over governmental regulation. If Washington tried to provide free drugs, it couldn’t come close. No one would be able to get so much as an aspirin.
The problems purportedly addressed by stop-and-frisk and mandatory minimums are of the government’s own making. Thus, if we got to the root, the “need” for these bad policies would disappear.
Stop-and-frisk is largely aimed at finding youths who are carrying guns and drugs. Mandatory minimums are directed at drug sellers. It’s not hard to see what is at the root: drug prohibition. When government declares (certain) drugs illegal, those drugs don’t disappear; instead they move to the black market, which tends to be dominated by people skilled in the use of violence. Because the trade is illegal and the courts are off-limits for dispute resolution, contracts and turf will be protected by force. Those who operate on the street will find it wise to be armed.
So, as a result of prohibition and its attendant violence-prone black market, in some parts of town a percentage of young men will likely be walking around with guns and drugs. Seeing this, politicians and law-enforcement bureaucrats turn to stop-and-frisk and mandatory minimum sentences. But the only real solution is to repeal prohibition. There’s no need for intrusive police tactics or prison terms.
In a free society, government has no business telling us what we can and can’t ingest or inject. Before drug prohibition, America had no drug problem. It’s prohibition that created the problem, just as alcohol prohibition gave America organized crime on a large scale. As we’ve seen, when government tries to ban drugs, it creates bigger problems by putting drugs in the streets and gangs in control.
This sort of thing happens on small and large scales every day, with the level of suspicion far beyond what’s reasonable. The effect on society is destructive, and it sets a vicious circle into motion.
This all gives us a clue as to how views of the verdict can be so colored by race.
Sometimes, cases like Trayvon’s are hard to talk about productively, because we’re not really arguing about the same story. What story you hear when you follow the case depends on the experiences you’ve lived through. And your experiences are determined, in part, by the color of your skin.
Most of the time, there is a tragedy that overshadows the two fundamentally different views of what happened, so that it’s impossible to divorce the consequences from the mechanics. Not so when it comes to the story of 59-year-old Louise Goldsberry in the Herald-Tribune, where it’s about as clean and clear as it gets.
It’s basically a he said, she said story when the operating room scrub nurse arrived home from a day at work, only to find as she washed some dishes at her kitchen sink a guy outside in a “hunting” vest pointing a gun at her face.
Statolatry, a belief that government knows better than you do.
Under President Obama, the United States is “a nation governed by fear,” the American Civil Liberties Union says in an open letter that echoes the criticisms Obama has made of George W. Bush’s national security policies.
“[W]e say as Americans that we are tired of seeing liberty sacrificed on the altar of security and having a handful of lawmakers decide what we should and should not know,” the ACLU writes in a statement circulated to grassroots supporters and addressed to Obama. “We are tired of living in a nation governed by fear instead of the principles of freedom and liberty that made this nation great.”
Want to make money on the drug war? Start a company that builds military equipment, then sell that gear to local police departments. Thanks to the generation-long trend toward more militarized police forces, there’s now massive and growing market for private companies to outfit your neighborhood cops with gear that’s more appropriate for a battlefield.
Some of this is decades-old news. For over 25 years, the Pentagon has been supplying surplus military equipment to police agencies across the country, largely in the name of fighting the drug war. In fact, in as early as 1968 Congress passed a law authorizing the military to share gear with domestic police agencies. But it was in 1987 that Washington really formalized the practice, with a law instructing the Secretary of Defense and the U.S. Attorney General to notify local law enforcement agencies each year about what surplus gear was available. The law established an office in the Pentagon specifically to facilitate such transfers, and Congress even set up an 800 number that sheriffs and police chiefs could call to inquire about the stuff they could get. The bill also instructed the General Services Administration to produce a catalog from which police agencies could make their Christmas lists.
I broke the law yesterday and again today and I will probably break the law tomorrow. Don’t mistake me, I have done nothing wrong. I don’t even know what laws I have broken. Nevertheless, I am reasonably confident that I have broken some laws, rules, or regulations recently because its hard for anyone to live today without breaking the law. Doubt me? Have you ever thrown out some junk mail that came to your house but was addressed to someone else? That’s a violation of federal law punishable by up to 5 years in prison.
Harvey Silverglate argues that a typical American commits three felonies a day. I think that number is too high but it is easy to violate the law without intent or knowledge. Most crimes used to be based on the common law and ancient understandings of wrong (murder, assault, theft and so on) but today there are thousands of federal criminal laws that bear no relation to common law or common understanding.
It’s critical to appreciate the history of policing, to understand that what we now see as normal and inescapable wasn’t always the case. For most of our history, this country did not have a group of people with shields and guns who wandered the streets ordering people about. The fall from grace, If you perceive it as I do, came fast and hard.
American attitudes toward police were built on images of Andy Griffith, strolling the streets of Mayberry to save random cats and, an allusion Radley employs, serving as guest umpire in the occasional baseball game. Good. Honest, One of us. This was the police officer upon whom we relied, and the one we pictured as we told our children that they were here to help us; they were our friend.
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The book contains required caveat number 3, mentioned numerous times that this is not an anti-cop book. And indeed, Radley pays homage to those within law enforcement who recognized the developing schism between police and the public that would lead us to blur the line between soldier fighting a foreign enemy on the battlefield and police fighting a domestic enemy on the streets of America, using the same clothing, weapons and attitudes.
There’s certainly a lot of overlap between the war on drugs and police militarization. But if we go back to the late 1960s and early 1970s, there were two trends developing simultaneously. The first was the development and spread of SWAT teams. Darryl Gates started the first SWAT team in L.A. in 1969. By 1975, there were 500 of them across the country. They were largely a reaction to riots, violent protest groups like the Black Panthers and Symbionese Liberation Army, and a couple mass shooting incidents, like the Texas clock tower massacre in 1966.
At the same time, Nixon was declaring an “all-out war on drugs.” He was pushing policies like the no-knock raid, dehumanizing drug users and dealers, and sending federal agents to storm private homes on raids that were really more about headlines and photo-ops than diminishing the supply of illicit drugs.
But for the first decade or so after Gates invented them, SWAT teams were largely only used in emergency situations. There usually needed to be an immediate, deadly threat to send the SWAT guys. It wasn’t until the early 1980s under Reagan that the two trends converged, and we started to see SWAT teams used on an almost daily basis — mostly to serve drug warrants.
Today, Congress exercises police powers never granted by the Constitution. Conservatives who favor federal “wars” on drugs, gambling and other behaviors should understand the damage they have done to the constitutional underpinnings of limited government.
Do I need to list the examples? Well, given that the people with whom our society tasks the dissemination of current events are leaders among those who don’t care or are excusing it I suppose I do have to offer a sampling. There’s: the IRS’s targeting of grassroots conservative groups, the peculiar harmony of other federal agencies’ joining in, including the EPA, the Department of Justice’s sweeping up Associated Press phone records, the DoJ’s treating a journalist as if his job were espionage, the State Department and the entire Obama Administration’s actively lying to the American people about the deadly attack on our embassy in Benghazi during a campaign, the National Security Agency’s collecting millions of Americans’ phone records, the NSA’s grabbing access to wide swaths of Internet data, the Secretary of Health and Human Services’ using her office to solicit donations for an ObamaCare-aligned nonprofit, Obama Administration officials’ creating secret email accounts and even false identities (who go on to receive government service awards), the DoJ’s Fast and Furious gun-running scheme, its refusal to prosecute Black Panther members for voter intimidation, and then, of course, the misleading and false statements to Congress by both Attorney General Eric Holder and IRS officials.
What makes the news scary are the revelations of what else Team Obama’s been up to. Follow the bouncing scandal ball:
* On Benghazi,
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* In clear violation of the First Amendment, the administration
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* The strange goings-on at the Environmental Protection Agency, where recently-departed chief Lisa Jackson was using a fictitious e-mail account
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* Then came the IRS bombshell — something every taxpaying American can relate to.
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All this adds up to a perfect storm of mistrust, now exacerbated by the fears of the surveillance state that has mushroomed since the panicky post-9/11 “reforms.”