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May 9, 2009 -- Open Salon (US)

War on Drugs = War On Us All

By Patrick Hahn

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive


According to this story in the Baltimore Sun, on the 25th of February of this year, police stormed the home of Andrew Leonard, a 33-year-old chemist residing in Medfield, a leafy neighborhood in north Baltimore. Leonard and his wife were watching television and relaxing after attending church services when the police smashed down their door, handcuffed Leonard, and interrogated him while other officers ransacked their home in search of drugs. Leonard has no criminal record, no drugs were found on his property, and officers later realized they had entered the wrong house.

The city has not reimbursed Leonard for smashing down the door to his house. According to the article, "Leonard said he was told that since the warrant listed Leonard's address, the officers hadn't technically stormed the wrong house." The article further stated that the Police Commissioner's office originally had promised to reimburse Leonard for the damages, but had not returned any of his calls for the past two weeks.

It gets better. Leonard and his friends repaired the damage as best as they could, and Leonard called the city's bulk trash pickup and requested that they remove the old door. He left the old door outside for the trash collectors to take away. Not only did the city never come to pick it up, but inspectors gave Leonard a $50 ticket for having trash in his backyard!

What a perfect crowning touch.

In fairness, I should mention that the next day the authorities rescinded the fine, after newspaper coverage shamed them into doing so. Too bad they won't rescind the War On Drugs, a far greater shame on us as a society.

Indeed, the Leonards got off easy, comparatively speaking. In a previous post, I recounted the story of Cheye and Trinity Calvo of Berwyn Heights, Maryland, whose home was invaded by the Prince George's County Police, who delivered a package of marijuana to their house (let me repeat that: the POLICE delivered a package of marijuana to their house) and then proceeded to smash down their door, shoot their two Labrador retrievers dead, handcuff the Calvos, and force them to kneel while they ransacked their home. And here's the punchline ­ Cheye Calvo is the MAYOR of Berwyn Heights! (The Leonards also own an 80-pound Labrador retriever, but this time the police neglected to shoot it.)

For more stories of this sort, check out this white paper by the Cato Institute titled "Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America," which features page after page of stomach-turning accounts of heavily-armed SWAT teams invading people's homes and proceeding to bully, terrorize, humiliate, and sometimes kill the law-abiding citizens who reside within. Old people, sick people, small children, pregnant women ­ none are safe from their depredations.

Whatever else we can say about the purveyors of the War On Drugs, I guess we can't accuse them of false advertising. A war is when you search out and destroy the enemy by any means necessary. Collateral damage is regarded as inevitable. But that shouldn't be the mission of law enforcement.

I've already commented on the absurdity of a War On Drugs in a society in which we are all the targets of a multi-billion dollar propaganda machine trying to get us all addicted to as many kinds of drugs as possible. For the most part, the War On Drugs is a problem masquerading as a solution. Nearly 100 million Americans have tried marijuana, and the vast majority of them don't seem any the worse for the wear. And to whatever extent drug abuse is a problem, it's not the sort of problem amenable to law enforcement, much less to paramilitary units armed with machine guns, stun grenades, helicopters, and armored personnel carriers. All the War On Drugs does is to drive everybody out of the business except for the most vicious psychopaths, and, by giving them an oligopoly, to make those individuals rich.

Two more stories in the Baltimore Sun this past week reinforce the notion that the War On Drugs has spiraled out of anyone's control, at least in Baltimore. On Wednesday, they reported that a federal jury decided to spare the life of Patrick Albert Byers, who was convicted of the murder of Carl Stanley Lackl, a witness in another murder case in which Byers was the defendant. (The latter charge was dropped after the only surviving witness to the murder, not surprisingly, recanted his testimony.) Since Byers allegedly ordered the murder of Lackl while in prison, sending him back to prison doesn't sound like much of a deterrent, now does it?

The very next day, the Sun carried a story about Lance Walker, an alleged member of the Black Guerilla Family prison gang, who was being tried for murder and who threatened a witness in open court, in front of the judge. "I know who you are," he raged. "You're going down." He was convicted, although that's not much in the way of reassurance. Previous stories in the Sun have described how the members of the BGF enjoyed crab imperial, fine wines, expensive cigars, and willing women ­ while in jail. And while three Baltimore City Corrections Officers have been indicted for alleged activities in support of the BGF, that's not much of a reassurance either. This sort of thing is not the act of a few rogue prison guards. It bespeaks a system which is rotten to the core, corrupted through and through by drug money. After turning nation after nation into these hideous narco-republics, we've become one ourselves.

Like a virus, the War On Drugs has no purpose other than to perpetuate itself. It's accomplished nothing other to enable the rise of vast murderous criminal gangs and a vast murderous police state apparatus to match.

It pained me to write this essay, because for most of my life I believed that the police were the good guys. But within the course of my lifetime, with almost no public discussion or debate, the friendly neighborhood cop on the beat has morphed into a scary occupying army, keeping the sullen rabble in line with ostentatious displays of lethal firepower. The Founding Fathers' dream of a government that derives its powers from the consent of the governed lies in ruins.

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