Last Week, a federal grand jury elected not to indict Marine Cpl. Clemente Banuelos in the 5/20/97 shooting death of 18 year-old high school student Esequiel Hernandez near Redford, Texas along the Mexican Border. This week, a Queens, NY grand jury elected not to indict U.S. Marshal William Cannon in the non-fatal shooting of 17 year-old high school student Andre Burgess in Laurelton, Queens. On Friday (2/27) on Sheridan Avenue in The Bronx, New York, police kicked in the door of the wrong apartment at 8:15 am, eliciting a single gunshot from the frightened resident. That shot was immediately answered by up to 30 rounds of fire by the officers. And in Brooklyn last week, a cop was shot in the lower back by another officer during a struggle with a suspect after a buy and bust operation -- which netted a single $20 bag of cocaine -- went bad.
In case you hadn't noticed -- and if you are white and middle class perhaps you haven't -- the Drug War is an actual, honest-to-God shooting war, being prosecuted by all levels of the government against the people of the United States. This is a war on poor folks, on black folks, on Latino folks, and on kids. This is a war which has turned the U.S. into the world's pre-eminent incarcerator, claimed thousands of innocent lives, turned law enforcement agencies into occupying armies, and opened up domestic fronts for our military forces, all while failing spectacularly to reduce the availability of drugs, any drugs, on our streets, any streets, from coast to coast, or anywhere in-between.
The act of war, the actual prosecution of a real live war, which is what's happening in poor communities across this country, alters the mindset of those whose job it once was to serve and protect. A door, the wrong door, is kicked in at 8:15 am by a trained narcotics squad. No thought is given to the fact that in apartments all over the country, at 8:15 in the morning, school-aged children are up and about, at kitchen tables and in hallways, in bathrooms and bedrooms. Did it occur to anyone that kicking in a door at 8:15 am might pose an unnecessary risk to innocent children in the apartment? In the apartment next door? Or directly upstairs or below? Of course not. This is war. And these communities are war zones. And the people who live in them are all suspect. Just like in Vietnam. Just ask any cop assigned to a "high intensity drug trafficking area".
The folly or believing that we will somehow create a drug-free society if we just arrest enough people, if we just arrest the right people, leads to the shooting of an officer in Brooklyn for a $20 crack bust. Is it the cop's fault that he has been deemed fodder in the war? Obviously not. But although a mayor will show up at the hospital, the cop is fodder, and nothing more. And for what? With cocaine and heroin at all-time high purity levels and all-time low prices, it is certainly not for "drug control". The only gain shown for all of the cops shot is political. Because even arresting the dealer who sold that cop $20 worth of blow, and even arresting his dealer, and his dealer's dealer, and the guy who brings the stuff into the country, and the guy who sells it to him, isn't going to reduce the availability of drugs on our streets. Never has. Never will.
One might take issue with the decisions of two separate grand juries in refusing to indict either Cpl. Banuelos or Agent Cannon. Perhaps one or both of these individuals are blameworthy. Or perhaps not. And one might question the training or the tactics of the narcotics squad that kicked in the wrong door, or the squad that got themselves into a struggle with a suspect in a narrow stairwell. But in each case, one would be missing the larger, and far more important question. That is: 'When?' When, after how many shootings, after how many busts gone bad, after how many wrong apartments, after how many dead cops, after how many shot kids, after how many prison cells, after how many communities destroyed, after how many years? When will we seek a truce? Quiet the rhetoric? Calm the hysteria? When will we end the madness that is a war, a real live shooting war, on our own citizens? In looking over the landscape and the carnage of this ruinous battlefield that was once our great nation, one has to ask: When will we ever learn?
Adam J. Smith