Since Scott opined yesterday about the injustice of paramilitarized policing, I thought I would follow up by referring back to a related topic I've addressed from time to time -- coordinated drug busts as taxpayer-funded lobbying by law enforcement agencies, large numbers of raids conducted together as part of statewide operations, intended to garner publicity for a funding program known as the Byrne Grants and thereby avoid Congressional budget cuts. California and Kentucky
were among the guilty parties last year, though I suspect they were not the only ones.
Kentucky is at again, according to libertarian SWAT-critic Radley Balko of Reason
magazine, writing last week for FoxNews.com
Last month, police in Kentucy went on a 24-hour drug raid blitz. According to local media accounts, the raids uncovered 23 methamphetamine labs, seized more than 2,400 pounds of marijuana, identified 16 drug-endangered children and arrested 565 people for illegal drug use.
"During 'Operation Byrne Blitz,'" a local television station reported, "state police and highway patrol agencies, local police and sheriff's departments, and drug task forces throughout the country conducted undercover investigations, marijuana eradication efforts and drug interdiction activities. The collaborative effort, named for the federal grant program which funds many of the anti-drug efforts, underscored the impact that cuts to this funding could have on local and statewide drug enforcement."
Perhaps because they often are tied to drug arrest statistics, it was task funded by the Byrne grants that perpetrated the racist scandals in Tulia and Hearne
, in which large numbers of minorities were rounded up and prosecuted, only for it all to turn out to be fabrication. In the Overkill
report, Balko has identified the grants as one of the reasons for the overwhelming increase in the use of SWAT teams for minor drug enforcement.
The Bush administration, surprisingly, has taken the lead in trying to slash Byrne funding
, while Democrats have led efforts to restore it, such as NY Sen. Chuck Schumer
at a press conference late last month. A letter signed by 51 senators
asked the chairman and ranking member of the Committee on Appropriations to restore cut Byrne funding, among them presidential contenders Clinton and Obama.
To be fair to the candidates, some of our favorite senators unfortunately are on there too, such as Chris Dodd (D=CT), sponsor of the first Senate bill taking on the Higher Education Act drug penalty; Dick Durbin (D-IL); the justice-reform-minded Jim Webb (D-VA), others who've done some good things from time to time. Democrats clearly relish the support of national law enforcement unions, and it must be hard for any politician to resist getting to stand up next to law enforcement leaders at a press conference and call for more money for them. The Byrne grants fund other things besides arrests too, and the reasons for opposing the program may seem like harder sells from the point of view of a member of the "establishment" than it does for us out here. Also to be fair to the Democrats, those 51 signatories included 15 Republicans. A conservative commentator from the Heritage Foundation, Cully Stimson, also commented on FoxNews.com, but making the case for the grants, in Don't Burn the Byrne Grants
, back in February.
Still, if George Bush can get it right, I think it's lame for Democrats not to, especially when one of the results of this program is what happened in Tulia and Hearne, about as close to overt race-based persecution by government as can be found. I say, do burn the Byrne Grants, in fact please
burn them. The fact that law enforcement groups quite transparently lobby for them by conducting massive numbers of drug busts to get attention ought to set off warning bells. Any good things the grants might also support can be funded through other channels. This program is badly structured and misdirected, and it should go.