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Family of Woman Killed in Botched Drug Raid to Receive $4.9 Million

Location: 
Atlanta, GA
United States
The city of Atlanta will pay $4.9 million to the family of Kathryn Johnston, a 92-year-old woman killed in a botched November 2006 drug raid. Johnston was shot to death by narcotics officers conducting a "no-knock" warrant. Investigators determined the raid was based on falsified paperwork stating that illegal drugs were present in the home.
Publication/Source: 
CNN (US)
URL: 
http://www.cnn.com/2010/CRIME/08/16/georgia.botched.raid/

Five Ways the Drug War Hurts Kids

This Reason.tv interview with LEAP Executive Director Neill Franklin makes a number of strong points:


I'm particularly interested in Neill's argument regarding the dramatic drop in clearance rates for homicides over the past few decades. Of course, it would be difficult to prove empirically that increased drug prosecutions make it harder to solve murders. Still, it's certainly an unflattering portrait of modern law enforcement priorities that we get better and better at arresting people for petty marijuana possession, while more and more people are literally getting away with murder.

It makes less sense the more you think about it. Forensic science has advanced by leaps and bounds since the 1960's. We have fancy cameras and computers and a million other nifty gadgets at our disposal to help us piece together events and get to the bottom of the story when a terrible crime is committed. Technology for solving murders has advanced far more than the typical means of committing them. So why are police solving fewer murders? I can't say for sure, but my first guess would be the same factor that's driven up our murder rates in the first place: the war on drugs.

But don't take it from me. Neill Franklin was in law enforcement for over 30 years. He witnessed first-hand the seismic shift in police priorities that occurred during the vast drug war expansion. No one is more qualified to address these questions, and everyone who hates murder should be interested in what he has to say.

Cops: Crack, heroin dealt from senior homes

Location: 
Detroit, MI
United States
Drug prohibition skews typical market forces -- including real estate options for selling products -- often resulting in danger. In Detroit, drug dealers targeted senior buildings because the high traffic that comes with drug sales wouldn't draw as much attention from law enforcement at multi-unit complexes as it would in individual residences, and because the senior citizens who lived there were easy to bully into keeping quiet.
Publication/Source: 
Detroit Free Press (MI)
URL: 
http://www.freep.com/article/20100803/NEWS01/8030315/1322/Cops-Crack-heroin-dealt-from-senior-homes

"Murder City," by Border Cognoscenti Charles Bowden (BOOK REVIEW)

"Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy's New Killing Fields," by Charles Bowden (2010, Nation Books, 320 pp., $27.50 HB)

by Phillip S. Smith, Writer/Editor

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/murdercity.jpg
Last Saturday, Ciudad Juarez, across the Rio Grande River from El Paso, marked a grim milestone: its 6,000th murder victim since the beginning of 2008. The discovery of 10 bodies that day pushed the beleaguered city past that marker, but the week -- still only half-done as I write these words -- held more gore. On Wednesday, two headless bodies appeared propped up against the wall of building. The heads sat atop upended ice chests in front of them. Writing on the ice chests claimed that one of the men was a carjacker and the other a kidnapper and extortionist, and that both were members of the Aztecas, a street gang that peddles dope and acts as neighborhood enforcers for the Juarez Cartel.

Gruesome photographs of the death scene ran in the Mexican press -- there is a longstanding tabloid press there that positively revels in full-color photos of murder victims, car accident fatalities, burned bodies -- but, according to Charles Bowden, it is almost a certainty that we will never hear another word about them, that we will never know why they had to die so horribly, that no one will ever be arrested for their deaths, that we will never even learn their names.

And Charles Bowden should know. He's probably forgotten more about Ciudad Juarez than most journalists writing about the city ever knew. The poet laureate of the American Southwest, Bowden has been living and writing about the border for decades, and with "Murder City" he is at the peak of his powers.

"Murder City" is beautiful and horrifying, not just for the exemplary violence it chronicles, but even more so for the portrait it paints of Juarez as a community stunned and staggering, hit hard by the vicissitudes of the global economy, the corruption of the Mexican state, and the wealth and violence generated by the trade in prohibited drugs.  It is non-fiction, but reads like a surrealist fever dream.

We learn of Miss Sinaloa, an achingly gorgeous, white-skinned beauty queen, who turns up raving mad at "the crazy place," a desert shelter for the mentally ill, the homeless, the glue- or paint-destroyed kids. Turns out she had come to the city and been invited to a weeklong, whiskey- and cocaine-fueled party at a motel where she was gang-raped for days by eight Juarez policemen. Miss Sinaloa weighs on Bowden, a witness to the city's violence and depredations, its ugly degradation. She's gone now, taken back home by her Sinaloa family, but there's always another one, he writes.

We learn of reporters killed by the military. We learn about other reporters' poor salaries and about how their real pay comes in envelopes from shadowy men, and they know it means they will not write about certain things. We learn of one reporter who inadvertently crossed the military in 2005 and had to flee to the US border for his life when the military came looking for him three years later. He sought political asylum. What he got was imprisoned for seven months until a Tucson civil rights lawyer managed to spring him.

As Bowden notes:

"It is possible to see his imprisonment as simply the normal by-product of bureaucratic blindness and indifference. But I don't think that is true. No Mexican reporter has ever been given political asylum, because if the US government honestly faced facts, it would have to admit that Mexico is not a society that respects human rights. Just as the United States would be hard-pressed, if it faced facts, to explain to its own citizens how it can justify giving the Mexican army $1.4 billion under Plan Merida, a piece of black humor that is supposed to fight the war on drugs. But then the American press is the chorus in this comedy since it continues to report that the Mexican army is in a war to the death with the drug cartels. There are two errors in these accounts. One is simple: The war in Mexico is for drugs and the enormous money to be made by supplying American habits, a torrent of cash that the army, the police, the government, and the cartels all lust for. Second, the Mexican army is a government-financed criminal organization, a fact most Mexicans learn as children."

Bowden writes about a Ciudad Juarez policewoman taken away by the military and raped for three days. Bowden writes about the military patrol sitting yards away from a drug treatment center where armed assailants shoot the place up for 15 minutes, leaving eight dead. Bowden writes about how the press describes convoys of killers as "armed commandos" dressed in uniforms and says that's code for military death squads.

Remember those two headless gentlemen in the first paragraph? This is why we will never learn anything more about them. The reporters are scared for their lives. Bowden writes about the "narco-tombs," safe houses where victims are tortured and killed, then buried on the grounds. The exhumation of the bodies takes place with great fanfare, but the forensic scientist doesn't want her name used or her face shown, and then the bodies just vanish. Poof! They are never identified, no one knows where they went, no one knows why they died, no one knows who killed them.

Bowden writes about El Sicario, the former state policeman/cartel assassin, who talks with professional pride about kidnapping, torturing, and killing hundreds of people. Now, El Sicario is afraid. The killers are after him, and he has fled his former hunting grounds. And what is even more disturbing for the reader is El Sicario's statement that he doesn't even know which cartel he was working for. In the cell-like structure in which he operated, he knew only his boss, not the boss's boss, or even who the boss's boss was. El Sicario killed for phantoms.

But what is really terrifying is that El Sicario is being chased by "a death machine with no apparent driver," a web of hidden complicities where the cartels are the military are the police are the government, nobody knows who anybody really is, and the dead become evil by virtue of having been killed.

We can blame the cartels (or, obversely, drug prohibition), we can blame street gangs, mass poverty, uprooted families migrating to the city for jobs that have now vanished, corrupt cops, corrupt governments, but the violence may now have escaped any good explanation, Bowden writes. As the Mexican state fails to suppress the violence (at least in part because it is committing a great part of it, the killings are establishing "not a new structure but rather a pattern, and this pattern functionally has no top or bottom, no center or edge, no boss or obedient servant. Think of something like the ocean, a fluid thing without king and court, boss and cartel... Violence courses through Juarez like a ceaseless wind, and we insist it is a battle between cartels, or between the state and the drug world, or between the army and the forces of darkness. But consider this possibility: Violence is now woven into the very fabric of the community, and has no single cause and no single motive and no on-off button."

Absolutely chilling stuff, and absolutely brilliant. Bowden turns prose into poetry, and he provides an understanding of Juarez and its woes that hits you at the visceral level. "Murder City" will give you nightmares, but it's worth it.

Plan Colombia: Ten Years Later

The United States has been trying to suppress Colombian coca production and cocaine trafficking since at least the time of Ronald Reagan, but the contemporary phase of US intervention in Colombia in the name of the war on drugs celebrated its 10th anniversary this week. As Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) security analyst Adam Isaacson pointed out Wednesday in a cogent essay, "Colombia: Don't Call It A Model," it was on July 13, 2000, that President Bill Clinton signed into law a $1.3 billion package of mainly military assistance known as Plan Colombia.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/eradication.jpg
Plan Colombia coca eradication scene
Plan Colombia was supposed to cut Colombian cocaine production in half by mid-decade, and while total US expenditures on it have now risen to $7.3 billion, that goal was clearly not met. But, a decade down the road, there has been some "progress." The leftist peasant guerrillas of the FARC have been seriously weakened and are operating at half the strength they were 10 years ago. Violence has steadily decreased, as has criminality. The Colombian state has been strengthened -- especially its military, which has nearly doubled in size.

Still, as Isaacson notes, those gains have come at a tremendous cost. Thousands have been killed at the hands of rightist paramilitary groups aligned with powerful landowners and political elites, and while those paramilitaries officially disbanded several years ago, they appear to be reconstituting themselves. The seemingly endless "parapolitics" scandals linking the paramilitaries to high government actors demonstrate that the price of "progress" in Colombia has been corruption, impunity and human rights abuses.

And the war continues, albeit at a lower level. Some 21,000 fighters from all sides and an estimated 14,000 civilians died in the fighting this decade, and all the while, peasants were planting and harvesting coca crops, and traffickers were turning it into cocaine and exporting it to the insatiable North American and, increasingly, European markets.

While Colombian and US policy-makers have hailed Plan Colombia as a "success," neither Isaacson nor other analysts who spoke to the Chronicle this week were willing to make such unvarnished claims. "'Success' has come at a high cost," wrote Isaacson. "Colombia's security gains are partial, possibly reversible, and weighed down by 'collateral damage,'" including mass killings, other human rights abuses, and the weakening of democratic institutions."

"Success has eluded efforts to achieve Plan Colombia's main goal: reducing Colombian cocaine supplies," wrote Isaacson. Despite years of aerial eradication, coca remains stubbornly entrenched in the Colombian countryside, showing a significant decline only last year, after Colombia switched its eradication emphasis from spraying to manual eradication. "This strategic shift appears to be reducing coca cultivation, for now at least. In 2009 -- a year in which both aerial and manual eradication dropped sharply -- the UNODC found a significant drop in Colombian coca-growing, to 68,000 hectares."

But, as Isaacson and others note, that decline has been offset by increases in cultivation in Peru and Bolivia. In fact, total coca cultivation in the region has remained remarkably consistent since 2003, at about 150,000 hectares per year.

"If you look at it from point of aiding the Colombian government to fight against the FARC and other insurgents, it has worked," said Juan Carlos Hidalgo, Latin American analyst for the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute. "A decade ago, Colombia was close to being a failed state, with the FARC controlling large swathes of territory and threatening major cities. Today they are terribly weak and on the run, and much of their leadership has been killed," he noted.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/coca-seedlings.jpg
coca seedlings
"Due to the widespread use of helicopters and the fact that guerrillas don't have that kind of mobility, the Colombians and Americans have been successful in shrinking the area of operation available to the guerrillas, and that has hurt the guerrillas' ability to recruit," said Larry Birns, director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. "A few years ago, there were maybe 16,000 FARC operating in six or seven major theaters, and now it's about half that. But that doesn't necessarily mean the FARC is finished; we haven't seen any sign of that. Their options are fewer, but they are far from disappeared. Plan Colombia has been successful in empowering the Colombian military, but not so much in solving the problem of the FARC insurrection."

"On the military side, the counterinsurgency, there has been definite progress," agreed Vanda Felbab-Brown, a drugs and counterinsurgency expert at the Brookings Institution. "The situation in the late 1990s was very bad. The FARC was in the hills above Bogotá, and the paramilitaries were highly organized. Today, the FARC is much weaker, land travel is more possible, and other security indicators also show progress. That said, the FARC is still around in substantial numbers and can jeopardize security and economic development in particular areas. And the paramilitaries are back, even if the Colombian government insists they are not the paramilitaries. They are, for all intents and purposes, just like the paramilitaries of the 1980s and 1990s."

"The idea was that if they suppressed the coca, the capabilities of the FARC, the ELN, and the paramilitaries would be substantially weakened," said Felbab-Brown. "They said that if you eliminated coca in Colombia, the conflict would end, but I don't think you can bankrupt the belligerents through eradication. That didn't pan out. In some places, the government was able to diminish at least temporarily economic flows to particular elements of the FARC, but that was the result of military operations, not eradication," she argued.

"A lot of people say the FARC have lost their political agenda, that they are just traffickers, but I don't subscribe to that view," said Felbab-Brown. "If someone wants to conduct a rebellion, they have to have a way to finance it. I don't think the FARC is any different. One of the big accomplishments of the US and the Colombian military was taking out a lot of top FARC leaders," she continued. "Their current leaders have been out in the jungle so long, they suffer from a lack of intellectual imagination. But the FARC are peasant guerrillas, with a few intellectuals and students, and they were never strong ideologically. There is no equivalent of Comrade Gonzalo [of Peru's Shining Path] or Mullah Omar or Bin Laden for the FARC. And I think they've run out of ideas. Times have changed, and the ideological story they want to tell the world and their members is crumbling, but it's not the case they are just interested in money. They still want power, they still believe in narratives of war and conquest, but they don't have anything to frame it with anymore."

"They are about more than just criminality," agreed Isaacson. "They're raising drug money to buy guns and those guns are for something. While their ideology may be pretty stunted at this point, they are driven by a desire to take power -- unlike, say, the Sinaloa cartel, which is driven by a desire to sell drugs. They hate Colombia's political class, and they represent that small percentage of peasants on the fringe. Those boomtowns on the frontier, that's where the FARC's base is. Wherever there is no government and people are on their own, the FARC claims to protect them. They are not bandits -- they are more dangerous than bandits."

The paramilitaries continue to wreak havoc, too, said Felbab-Brown. "They assassinate community leaders and human rights organizers," she said. "In some areas, they collude with the FARC; in others, they fight the FARC over cocaine routes and access to coca production. They are still a real menace, and it is very discouraging that they have come back so quickly. That shows the failure of the Colombian government to address the real underlying causes of the problems."

That has been a serious flaw from the beginning, the Brookings Institution analyst said. "At first Plan Colombia was aimed at root causes of conflict and coca production, but that was dropped, and in the Bush administration it morphed into a counternarcotics and counterinsurgency project. Economic development was a minor component of the plan, and the US never tried to pressure Uribe to take on economic redistribution and the distribution of political power, nor has the US been very vocal about human rights and civil liberties issues."

"When Plan Colombia was first conceived, it was primarily a domestic program aimed at drawing in the Colombian population, which at that time had become totally disaffected from the state," recalled Birns. "It was to emphasize economic development, nutrition, and education. It was the Clinton administration that militarized Plan Colombia and made it into a security doctrine rather than an economic development formula."

That only deepened in the wake of 9/11, said Birns. "Increasingly, Plan Colombia morphed first into a counternarcotics program than again into an anti-terrorist vehicle. The US began to define the FARC, which never had any international aspect, as terrorists. It was a convenience for the US policy of intervention to emphasize the terrorism aspect."

But at root, Plan Colombia was first and foremost about reducing Colombian coca and cocaine production. "It wasn't sold here in the US as a counterinsurgency effort, but as an effort to reduce the supply of cocaine to the US market," Cato's Hidalgo pointed out. "If you look at the acreage of coca planted in Colombia, it has decreased, but the production of coca remains the same, and coca production is increasingly dramatically in Peru and Bolivia. Once again, we see the balloon effect at work."

"As the reduction took place in Colombia, it simply moved back to Peru, whence it originally came," concurred COHA's Birns. "Peruvian cocaine production is now half the regional total, so total cocaine production remains essentially the same, even though there has been a reduction in the role Colombia plays."

"One of the best measures to see if the supply of cocaine has decreased is to look at price, but what that tells us is that cocaine was 23% cheaper in 2007 than it was in 1998 when Plan Colombia was launched," said Hidalgo. "It is clear that Plan Colombia has failed in its main goal, which was to reduce the supply of cocaine to the US market."

"We've tried everything," said Hidalgo. "Aggressive aerial spraying of fields, manual eradication, as well as softer measures to entice producers to adopt other crops, and it's all failed. As long as the price of cocaine remains inflated by prohibition, there is big profit and a big incentive for producers and traffickers to grow the plant and export the product to the US and elsewhere. The only way to curtail this is by legalizing cocaine. Other than that, I don't see this as a battle that can be won."

Felbab-Brown called the coca and cocaine production estimates "extraordinarily squishy," but added it was clear that Plan Colombia had failed to achieve its goals there. "The plan was supposed to halve production in six years, and that clearly was not accomplished," she said. "It would be false to deny there has been some progress, but it has not been sufficient. I think it was bound not to work because it was so heavily focused on eradication in the context of violence and underemphasized the need for economic programs to address why people cultivate coca. And the larger reality is even if you succeeded in Colombia, production would have moved elsewhere."

Counternarcotics cannot solve Colombia's problems, said Felbab-Brown, because coca is not at the root of those problems. "There is only so much that counternarcotics programs can do given the basic economic and political situation in Colombia," said Felbab-Brown. "You have a set-up where labor is heavily taxed and capital and land are lightly taxed, so even when you get economic growth, it doesn't generate jobs, it only concentrates money in the hands of the rich. The Colombian government has been unwilling to address these issues, and inequality continues to grow. You can only do so much if you can't generate legal jobs. You have to take on entrenched elites, the bases of political power in Colombia, and Uribe's people are not interested in doing that."

But Uribe will be gone next month, replaced by his elected successor, Juan Manuel Santos. That could mean change, said Isaacson. "He's not as ideologically to the right as Uribe, some of his appointments indicate people who actually have an interest in governance, and he is the principle author of the program they're carrying out in the countryside to get the state and not just the military out there," he said. "He could also be more open to the idea of peace negotiations than Uribe was."

That may or may not be the case, but Plan Colombia under whatever president is not going to solve Colombia's drug problem -- nor America's, said Isaacson. "At home, we need to reduce demand through treatment and other options," he said. "In Colombia, as long as you have parts of the country ungoverned and as long as members of the government have nothing to fear if they abuse the population, there will always be drugs. Colombia needs to build the state and do it without impunity. We built up the Colombian military, but there was no money for teachers, doctors, or any public good besides security."

Drug Raids: Las Vegas Narc on Marijuana Hunt Kills Father-to-Be in Home

A 21-year-old father-to-be was killed last Friday night by a Las Vegas Police Department narcotics officer serving a search warrant for marijuana. Trevon Cole was shot once in the bathroom of his apartment after he made what police described as "a furtive movement."

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/trevoncole2.jpg
Trevon Cole with fiance Sequoia Pearce (photo from Sequoia Pearce via the Las Vegas Review-Journal
Police have said Cole was not armed. Police said Monday they recovered an unspecified amount of marijuana and a set of digital scales. A person identifying herself as Cole's fiance, Sequoia Pearce, in the comments section in the article linked to above said no drugs were found.

Pearce, who is nine months pregnant, shared the apartment with Cole and was present during the raid. "I was coming out, and they told me to get on the floor. I heard a gunshot and was trying to see what was happening and where they had shot him," Pearce told KTNV-TV.

According to police, they arrived at about 9:00pm Friday evening at the Mirabella Apartments on East Bonanza Road, and detectives knocked and announced their presence. Receiving no response, detectives knocked the door down and entered the apartment. They found Pearce hiding in a bedroom closet and took her into custody. They then tried to enter a bathroom where Cole was hiding. He made "a furtive movement" toward a detective, who fired a single shot, killing Cole.

"It was during the course of a warrant and as you all know, narcotics warrants are all high-risk warrants," Capt. Patrick Neville of Metro's Robbery-Homicide Bureau said Friday night.

Actually, narcotics warrants are fairly low-risk for police, if the numbers are a guide. With 1.5 million drug arrests per year, an average of just four police officers per year lost their lives conducting them during the past decade. Last year, no police officers were killed during drug raids.

A person identifying himself as Pearce's brother, who said he had spoken with his sister, had a different version of events from the police: "The police bust in the door, with guns drawn to my little sister and her now deceased boyfriend," he wrote. "My sister is 8 1/2 months pregnant, two weeks until the due date. But they bust in the door, irritated they didn't find any weapons or drugs, drag this young man into the restroom to interrogate him and two minutes later my sister hears a shot. They shot him with a shotgun, no weapon. For what? My sister is a baby, this young man is a baby, now my sister is at his house telling his mom her son is dead, and he is barely 21."

Pearce herself told the Las Vegas Review-Journal Monday that police forced her to kneel at gunpoint in the bedroom and that she could see Cole in the bathroom from the reflection of a mirror. According to Pearce, police ordered Cole to get on the ground, he raised his hands and said "Alright, alright," and a shot rang out.

According to Pearce and family members, Cole had no criminal record, had achieved an Associate of Arts degree, and was working as an insurance adjustor while working on a political science degree at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. He was not a drug dealer, Pearce said.

"Trevon was a recreational smoker. He smoked weed, marijuana. That's what he did," she told KTNV-TV. "They didn't have to kill him. We were supposed to get married next year, plan a black and white affair," she said. "He was all I ever knew, we were gonna make it."

LVPD Monday identified the police shooter as narcotics detective Bryan Yant, a 10-year veteran of the force. This is the third time Yant has controversially used his police firearm. In 2002, he shot and killed a robbery suspect, claiming the suspect, who was on the ground, aimed a weapon at him. But although the suspect's gun was found 35 feet away, coroner's inquest took only half an hour to find the shooting justified.

The following year, he shot and wounded a man armed with a knife and a baseball ball who had been hired to kill a dog that had killed another neighborhood dog. Yants claimed the man attacked him and that he mistook the bat for a shotgun, but the man said he was running away from Yants when Yants fired repeatedly, striking him once in the hip. Because there was no death in that case, no inquest was held, but the department's use of force board exonerated Yants.

By Wednesday, anonymous law enforcement "sources" were feeding derogatory information about Cole to at least one local media outlet, KTVN-TV, which was happy to repeat it. "Sources" told the TV station Coles' "furtive movement" was "threatening enough detective Yant fired his AR-15 rifle once, hitting Cole, who had been flushing marijuana down the toilet." "Sources" added that the undercover officers had bought pot from Cole four times, although there was no name on the search warrant. (Coles and Pearce had only moved into the apartment a month earlier.) "Sources" also told the TV station police were extra cautious because undercover officers "were investigating another possible deal with Cole, involving cocaine and guns."

Time will tell if there is a scintilla of fact in anything these "sources" are selling. In the meanwhile, Yants is on paid administrative leave while the department investigates, and the family has hired an attorney to pursue a civil action. And another American has apparently been killed for no good reason in the name of the war on drugs.

Cops Kill Father-to-Be in Botched Marijuana Raid

Drug Raids: Las Vegas Narc Serving Marijuana Search Warrant Kills Father-to-Be In His Own Bathroom A 21-year-old father-to-be was killed last Friday night by a Las Vegas Police Department narcotics officer serving a search warrant for marijuana. Trevon Cole was shot once in the bathroom of his apartment after he made what police described as "a furtive movement." Police have said Cole was not armed. Police said Monday they recovered an unspecified amount of marijuana and a set of digital scales. A person identifying herself as Cole's fiancée, Sequoia Pearce, in the comments section in the article linked to above said no drugs were found. Pearce, who is nine months pregnant, shared the apartment with Cole and was present during the raid. "I was coming out, and they told me to get on the floor. I heard a gunshot and was trying to see what was happening and where they had shot him," Pearce told KTNV-TV. According to police, they arrived at about 9 p.m. Friday evening at the Mirabella Apartments on East Bonanza Road, and detectives knocked and announced their presence. Receiving no response, detectives knocked the door down and entered the apartment. They found Pearce hiding in a bedroom closet and took her into custody. They then tried to enter a bathroom where Cole was hiding. He made "a furtive movement" toward a detective, who fired a single shot, killing Cole. "It was during the course of a warrant and as you all know, narcotics warrants are all high-risk warrants," Capt. Patrick Neville of Metro's Robbery-Homicide Bureau said Friday night. But a person identifying himself as Pearce's brother, who said he had spoken with his sister, had a different version of events: "The police bust in the door, with guns drawn to my little sister and her now deceased boyfriend," he wrote. "My sister is 8 ½ months pregnant, two weeks until the due date. But they bust in the door, irritated they didn't find any weapons or drugs, drag this young man into the restroom to interrogate him and two minutes later my sister hears a shot. They shot him with a shotgun, no weapon. For what? My sister is a baby, this young man is a baby, now my sister is at his house telling his mom her son is dead, and he is barely 21." Pearce herself told the Las Vegas Review-Journal Monday that police forced her to kneel at gunpoint in the bedroom and that she could see Cole in the bathroom from the reflection of a mirror. According to Cole, police ordered Cole to get on the ground, he raised his hands and said "Alright, alright," and a shot rang out. According to Pearce and family members, Cole had no criminal record, had achieved an Associate of Arts degree, and was working as an insurance adjustor while working on a political science degree at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. He was not a drug dealer, Pearce said. "Trevon was a recreational smoker. He smoked weed, marijuana. That’s what he did," she told KTNV-TV. "They didn't have to kill him. We were supposed to get married next year, plan a black and white affair,” she said. "He was all I ever knew, we were gonna make it." LVPD Monday identified the police shooter as narcotics detective Bryan Yant, a 10-year veteran of the force. This is the third time Yant has controversially used his police firearm. In 2002, he shot and killed a robbery suspect, claiming the suspect, who was on the ground, aimed a weapon at him. But although the suspect's gun was found 35 feet away, a jury took only half an hour to find the shooting justified. The following year, he shot and wounded a man armed with a knife and a baseball ball who had been hired to kill a dog that had killed another neighborhood dog. Yants claimed the man attacked him and that he mistook the bat for a shotgun, but the man said he was running away from Yants when Yants fired repeatedly, striking him once in the hip. Because there was no death in that case, no inquest was held, but the department's use of force board exonerated Yants. Yants is on paid administrative leave while the department investigates. The family has hired an attorney to pursue a civil action. And another American has apparently been killed for no good reason in the name of the war on drugs. "Narcotics warrants are high risk warrants," said Capt. Neville. The question is for whom, and the answer is obvious: The people on the receiving end of them. The police? Not so much, as we have shown in our annual surveys of police casualties in the drug war.
Location: 
Las Vegas, NV
United States

If the Drug War Worked, Cartels Wouldn't be Killing Politicians

Another sign that the Mexican drug war isn't going very well:

Drug hitmen have forced a string of candidates out of municipal races in two states on the U.S. border and killed at least one mayoral hopeful, using terror to try to dictate who will run cities and towns along key smuggling routes into the United States.

The violence is an alarming sign of the power drug traffickers still wield, despite an all-out war with security forces and President Felipe Calderon's vow to weaken the cartels. [Reuters]

Well, if the cartels are out there killing politicians who won't cooperate, what does that say about the public officials who haven't been targeted? Hint: they might not be very trustworthy.

No one knows for sure how many Mexican politicians have been bought out by the cartels, but it's something to think about before handing over millions of American tax dollars to the Mexican government to fund their war on drugs. It's bad enough that we're funding endless bloodshed and disorder, but if that money is just going into the pockets of the drug lords and their corrupt political operatives, well, I wouldn’t even know where to begin.

Law Enforcement: Dog-Killing SWAT Raid Continues to Reverberate in Missouri College Town

The February SWAT team raid on Columbia, Missouri, resident Jonathan Whitworth and his family didn't start causing political tremors until video of the raid, in which one of the family's dogs was killed and another wounded, went viral on YouTube last month. But now, even after the Columbia Police Department has reined in SWAT with new policies, outrage and concern over the raid and the way the SWAT team has been used continues to reverberate.

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That was evident at a city council meeting Monday night, where a citizens' group whose formation was inspired by the SWAT raid, CoMoCitizens, urged the council to go a step further and act to make permanent the reforms announced by Police Chief Ken Burton. According to its web site, the group opposes the use of SWAT and the use of search warrants in nonviolent cases, including drug possession and distribution.

"It goes without saying that it is policy that needs to be changed," Warren said in remarks reported by the University of Missouri newspaper The Maneater and the Columbia Missourian. "Chief Burton has made significant policy changes and I've come here to ask you to make these policy changes permanent. I would also like to request that you consider enacting a policy that prohibits execution of search warrants which are inherently violent for nonviolent offenses," said Warren. "This would ensure the public that there is at least less of a risk of an incident such as the February 11 SWAT raid occurring in our community."

Making the restrictions on SWAT and the execution of search warrants binding would reassure the public and keep law enforcement officers safer, Warren said. "The raid itself is what escalates the situation to out-of-control mode," he told the council before reading from Radley Balko's Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Policing in America. "These raids bring unnecessary violence and provocation to nonviolent drug offenders, many of whom were guilty of only misdemeanors," Warren quoted Balko.

The council did not act on CoMoCitizens' requests, but the emergence of the group is yet another indicator that the February SWAT raid has roused Columbia's citizenry. And that is precisely what it will take to make police law enforcement rein in its aggressive tactics against the citizenry. Maybe something good is coming out of that misbegotten raid after all.

Feature: Jamaica Rocked As Kingston Drug Gangs Fight Police and Army -- At Least 73 Dead

The capital of Jamaica, Kingston, is still smoldering -- literally -- after four days of violent conflict between Jamaican security forces and a fugitive drug "don" (as the heads of gangs are called there) and his supporters left at least 73 people dead by official count. The fighting took on much of the form of an urban insurrection, with gunmen attacking police and soldiers and assaulting at least 18 police stations, one of which burned to the ground. Three policemen were killed in the first day of fighting.

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Prime Minister Bruce Golding
The fighting pitted followers of Christopher "Dudus" Coke, an alleged major gang leader and drug and weapons trafficker wanted by the US, against a government they felt had betrayed him -- and them. Last week, after months of trying to block an American extradition request, the government of Prime Minister Bruce Golding gave in to mounting political pressure and ordered him sent to the US, setting off mass demonstrations by his followers centered in the tough Kingston neighborhood of Tivoli Gardens.

Dudus' supporters put up street barricades of wrecked vehicles and other debris and armed young men strolled the streets amid reports that members of other Jamaican drug gangs, or posses, were streaming into to Kingston to join the fight. Golding announced a state of emergency Sunday night after the first attacks on police stations, but it took until Thursday for the police and the army to exert control over Tivoli.

Although the violence has died down, many issues remain unresolved. Dudus is still a free man, having eluded the authorities' assault on his stronghold in Tivoli Gardens, the prime minister's relationship with Dudus is being closely scrutinized, and now, complaints about unjustified killings by security forces this week are once again raising serious concerns about Jamaica's human rights record.

And while the violence has died down, it hasn't ended. Police stormed a house in the middle class community of Kirkland Heights Thursday after hearing that Dudus may have holed up there, setting off a two-hour firefight. Among the casualties there was the brother of former Minister of Industry and Commerce Claude Clark, who was killed by security personnel in the crossfire.

The confrontation in Kingston is shining the spotlight on long-acknowledged but usually quietly ignored connections between Jamaica's two main political parties, the ruling Labor Party and the opposition People's National Party, and tough Kingston slum gangs. Ever since violent election campaigns in the 1960s and 1970s, when leaders of both parties recruited neighborhood toughs, the "rude boys" of reggae lyrics, in Kingston slums like Tivoli or Trenchtown to act as their deniable armed wings, the parties have relied on these neighborhood gangs not only for fighting when necessary, but also to deliver the vote. In return, they turn a blind eye to some of the gang's more nefarious activities.

Dudus, as leader of the Tivoli Gardens posse, which was affiliated with Labor, had long been an ally of Prime Minister Golden. The neighborhood is even part of Golden's constituency -- thus the anger against the government by residents who had benefited from Dudus' largesse amid poverty and neglect from the government.

Like Pablo Escobar in Colombia, who gained popular support by building schools and soccer stadiums, or the contemporary Mexican drug cartels, who do the same sort of public-minded philanthropy for the same mix of genuine and public relations purposes, Dudus provides services -- as well as security -- for Tivoli Gardens and its residents. In doing so, he came to be viewed by many as a sort of Robin Hood figure.

"Coke was the standard 'Teflon don,'" said Larry Birns, head of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, whose associate, Katherine Haas, this week published in a most timely fashion, Jamaica: Different Drug War, Different Strategy, a critique of US drug policy on the island. "For a relatively small percentage of the swag, he saw to it that there was a tremendous amount of goodwill in the neighborhood for his candidates. For Coke, it was always Labor, the Republicans of Jamaica."

Prime Minister Golding did his part by stalling for nine months the extradition order against Dudus after he was indicted on drug trafficking and weapons smuggling charges by a federal grand jury in New York. He even went as far as hiring a Washington, DC, public relations firm to attempt to lobby the indictment away, but when that became public knowledge, Golding's support for Dudus was not longer politically tenable.

"Coke was working for the JLP and Golding stalled as long as he possibly could to get the extradition going, but his ability to sustain his position vanished, so they had to go after Coke," Birns said. "But Coke had developed a cordon sanitiare of affection and appreciation because of what he has done for his neighborhood."

"They do have popular support because of the numbers of beneficiaries, and the financial support they provide to the communities," agreed Jamaican marijuana legalization activist Paul Chang.

US drug policy toward Jamaica hasn't helped, said Birns, whose organization has become increasingly critical of drug prohibition in recent years. American efforts to ameliorate some of the negative results of that policy are too little, too late, he said.

"US drug policy plays a role in this because the administration has announced a new program that will emphasize institution-building all the drug-infected countries in the region and emphasize the demand side, but we've heard all that before," he said. "Administration after administration has hurled rhetoric at the problem, but the existence of the drug cartels shines a laser-light like on the results of these policies. Anyway, although none of these islands has a viable economy, they want to give the paltry sum of $100 million to the Caribbean and Central America under Plan Merida. Guatemala alone could consume all that," he said.

"When it comes to Jamaica, you have the confluence of inadequate Latin America policy-making fused to a misconceived drug policy, and that becomes a very explosive mixture, and the ensuing violence we see in Jamaica is just the result," Birns summed up.

As of this writing, Dudus is still on the lam, Tivoli Gardens is still smoldering, Amnesty International is calling for an investigation of alleged street executions by security forces, and Prime Minister Golding is still holding on to power. But the violent challenge to the state's monopoly on the use of force has rocked Jamaica and revealed the dark webs of power linking politics and the underworld. The reverberations from this week will be felt in Jamaica for a long time to come.

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