Assessing the Damage of the ‘War on Drugs’

Tribune News Service
Edward Crawford throws back a tear gas container after tactical officers worked to break up a group of bystanders on Chambers Road near West Florissant on Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014 in Ferguson, Mo. Crawford was found dead late Thursday night, May 4, 2017.

Payton Williams
Voices Editor

The Fourth Amendment is a useful little piece of legislation.

It’s a pesky thorn in the side of the unscrupulous law officer, and in our society, we need as many of those as we can get.

For the benefit of those who skipped government class in high school, I will print it here, in its entirety:

“[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

This sounds entirely reasonable, right? So, like any reasonable piece of legislation, it should come as no surprise that it has been almost completely eroded by the legislation of our shaky and ill-advised War on Drugs.

Since the beginning of the War on Drugs in 1971, courtesy of the Nixon administration, there has been a concentrated effort to destroy two important pieces of legislation, the aforementioned Fourth Amendment, and the federal law of Posse Comitatus.

The Posse Comitatus Act, may it rest in peace, was passed in 1878, and made it a felony for the United States Armed Forces to do the job of the civilian police.

It is no mistake that legislators passed the law soon after the Civil War ended.

Lawmakers intended to create a clear distinction between the Armed Forces and domestic law enforcement.

The armed forces are charged with destroying the enemy, and the domestic law enforcement is meant to keep the peace with as little force as possible.

But now we are forced to cope with a police force that is fighting a war.

A police force whose main goal is destroying the enemy, and a police force whose enemy is, for lack of clear definition, the American people.

Police militarization has increased at an alarming rate since the War on Drugs began more than 40 years ago.

This trend was made dramatically clear to the American people three years ago, after the controversial police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

Or perhaps that shooting has left our collective consciousness in the wake of the innumerable similar shootings that have happened since.

The images, however, if not the particulars, have by now been burned into all of our memories.

These images are now the status quo as it were.

A new and dangerous status quo of police, clad in military gear, coming down hard on the citizens of this country. According to statistics compiled for a study of the problem conducted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) between 1995 and 1997 alone, the US Military transferred 3,800 M-16s, 2,185 M-14s (assault rifles), 73 grenade launchers, and 112 tanks to state police forces.

Now, call me crazy for asking, but what regular use does the police force have for a tank? How much of the infrastructure in a typical US city could even hold up to a tank?

The study also found that the amount of SWAT teams present in the average US city has increased to unfathomable lengths.

In the 1960s and 1970s, SWAT teams were somewhat rare, relegated to only the most major of American cities.

They deployed mostly for active shooter events, hostage situations and acts of terrorism.

Since the beginning of the War on Drugs, however, 89% of cities with a population greater than 50,000 people have dedicated SWAT teams, and 70% of smaller cities also have dedicated SWAT teams.

These SWAT teams, though once dedicated to responding to violent crimes, now spend most of their time conducting drug raids, and most of these drug raids are low-level possession charges.

From the years 2011-2012, According to an analysis by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), there were approximately 500 SWAT team events.

These events, most of which were drug raids, resulted in the deaths of 7 people and the wounding of 45 others.

According to the ACLU’s analysis, SWAT officers found drugs at only 35% of the raided locations.

I’d like to let that figure sink in for a moment. 35%.

These uniformed police officers, heavily armed and military trained, broke into houses, often late at night, with battering rams, often even with diversionary flash grenades, all while only finding drugs at 35% of the locations.

How many of the other 65% were innocent people? How many of the other 65% had their doors broken down, their property damaged, their persons damaged, and sometimes even their lives taken, by police
for no lawful reason whatsoever?

This is a flagrant waste of resources. This is billions of dollars down the drain, perpetuating a solution that doesn’t work.

Drugs are still widely and cheaply available on the streets of this country, and the police force of this country continues to chip away at our personal rights in this country until soon enough, there will be none left.

Take that pesky Fourth Amendment quoted above for instance.

It states that no warrant can be issued without probable cause. Probable cause must be supported by oath or observation in court. Probable cause relies on proof.

Since the War on Drugs really heated up under Ronald Reagan’s administration, however, there has been introduced into the legal language of this country a new term: “Reasonable suspicion.”

Reasonable suspicion does not have to be proven in court.

Reasonable suspicion is based on the intuition of a police officer, and with reasonable suspicion, a police officer has the right to search you, your house, your car, or anything else they deem “reasonably suspicious.”

This is a huge jump from the rigid parameters laid out by the Fourth Amendment, wherein congress intended to make probable cause the only means by which anything owned by a private citizen could be searched or seized.

This right is important, and we cannot allow it to be taken away, nor can we allow the line between the Armed Forces and the police force of this country to be blurred any more than it already has been.

Benjamin Franklin once famously said, “Those who would give essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Compare that to a recent quote from Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who while speaking about the subject of lifting restrictions on police access to military surplus weaponry, said, “We will not put superficial concerns above public safety.”

If we really are to a point in this country where we think of the right to our private property and our livelihood as a “superficial concern,” then we truly are lost.


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