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The Word of the Lord: Persecutors Beware

by Paul M. Bischke

Swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home." "Let my people go." "I offer it up to Jesus."

Whether pointing at slavery, poverty, or repression, Christians throughout the ages have taken solace in Scripture stories that mirror the hardships of their lives. In the United States, African-American spirituals referring to Moses, deliverance of his people and the other-worldly soaring of Elijah have become traditional for all Christians. And in every denomination, Christians speak of "casting their cares upon the Lord."

These songs and sayings appeal to a larger context, the view of humanity moving across the ages in fellowship with our Creator. A picture where senseless suffering takes on meaning through solidarity with our suffering fellows and ancestors, through devotion, compassion, and humor, through the hope of constructive social change, and the hope of justice, both temporal and final.

I've stumbled upon a Scripture of this kind for our Drug War age. Pardon my use of the slang term "druggie;" it's my abbreviation for "drug law violator" or "abstinence violator," not meant to belittle anyone, nor to trivialize the suffering of drug prisoners or drug abusers. This said, please consider with me now "Jeremiah and the Druggie," taken from the prophetic book of Lamentations (traditionally attributed to the prophet Jeremiah).

Jeremiah and the Druggie (Lamentations 3: 45-65)

The following excerpts (marked by the verses in which they occur) from Lamentations chapter 3 illustrate an uncanny resemblance with the War on Drugs we are living through.

v 45 Thou hast made us like the offscouring and refuse in the midst of the people.

v 46 All our enemies have opened up their mouths against us.

v 47 Fear and a snare are come upon us, desolation and destruction.

v 52 Mine enemies have chased me hard, like a bird, without cause.

v 53 They have cut off my life in a dungeon and cast a stone upon me.

v 55 I called upon Thy name, O Lord, out of the low dungeon.

v 58 O Lord, thou has pleaded the causes of my soul; Thou hast redeemed my life.

v 59 O Lord, Thou hast seen my wrong: judge Thou my cause.

v 60 Thou hast seen all their vengeance and all their imaginations against me.

v 61 Thou hast heard their reproach, O Lord, and all their imaginations against me.

v 62 the lips of those who rose up against me and their plot against me all the day.

v 64 Render unto them a recompense, O Lord, according to the work of their hands.

v 65 Give them sorrow of heart ...

Like all of us, Jeremiah must admit that he's got his faults (v59). But he complains that his persecutors have exaggerated and misconstrued his wrong-doing.

Let's put the druggie in Jeremiah's place and consider the actions of drug warriors against him or her. This exercise show today's drug persecution to be extraordinarily similar to the persecution Jeremiah suffered centuries ago.

Druggies are social pariahs ("offscouring and refuse," v45); public officials regularly denounce druggies (v46); they live in fear (v47); druggies are "chased" with wire-taps and police investigations of their phone and financial records (v52); their property and money is taken by drug enforcers in the absence of criminal convictions; they are punished severely even when they've done no tangible harm ("without cause" v52); since the current Drug War began in 1981, millions of druggies have had years of their free lives stolen from them through jail and prison sentences and they can now be put to death ("dungeons" and "stonings," v53);

Hundreds of thousands of nonviolent druggies are wasting away behind bars in America today hoping for some relief (v55); their sentences are severe and often inflexibly mandatory (v60); drug warriors are constantly devising craftier ways to ensnare and punish druggies­­undercover stings, early morning raids, entrapment, reverse stings, lost jobs and driver's licenses, technicalities that construe mere users as sellers, conspiracy laws that punish druggies, friends, families, and acquaintances through convoluted legalities, and a general negation of Constitutional rights, all examples of the "vengeant imagination" (v60); drug warriors are constantly concocting new horror stories and ever more exotic drug hazards and threats to maintain fearful public support for the Drug War ("crack babies;" reefer madness; smack is back; the meth menace is upon us; medical marijuana is a "cruel hoax," etc., all examples of the "reproachful imagination" (v61).

Jeremiah believed that if his deeds were judged by God rather by the vengeant and reproachful imagination of his persecutors, he would not have suffered as he did. I believe very sincerely that this same principle applies to those imprisoned on drug charges in America today.

The perniciously justified violence of the Drug War seems to please many Americans who are mesmerized by anti-drug slogans and propaganda. But its ritualized program of persecution falls well short of the standards of Judaeo-Christian morality. The Drug War is philosophically and morally in opposition to the root values of Western civilization.

This is a hard message to get across today. Drug War propaganda has sunk into people's bones so deeply that it impairs moral reasoning. People actually believe that users and sellers of pleasure drugs should be punished more severely than killers and rapists, even when their actions result in no tangible harm. This is perverse. The public conscience has been distorted by fear and falsehood (propaganda, misinformation, and disinformation) and the public conscience needs to be set aright. We must teach people to look beyond the moral fiction that views a marijuana user as despicable while an alcohol user is considered okay. Both of them are okay if their use is kept under control. And unless they harm somebody, neither should be punished. As for those who are intemperate with pleasure drugs of any kind, let us follow the advice of St. Augustine: "such things are cured not by bitterness, severity and harshness, but by teaching rather than prohibition, by gentle admonitions rather than threats."

Those who are suffering the effects of the Drug War persecution should take heart; the great text book of Western civilization recognizes that your punishment is unjust and unjustifiable. Other forms of bigotry and injustice in our society have been uprooted when the scapegoaters, immoral position was exposed. Take heart; it can happen this time, too. Let's just keep telling the truth.

Paul Bischke is a business writer and drug policy researcher for the Drug Policy Reform Group of Minnesota and ReconsiDer of Syracuse, New York.

Copyright 1998, Paul M. Bischke. All rights reserved.

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