Editorial: War On Us All 3/31/00

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Adam J. Smith, Associate Director, [email protected]

Patrick Dorismond, a 26 year-old father of two, was shot to death by an undercover New York City police officer last week in Midtown Manhattan. Dorismond and a friend, who were unarmed and doing nothing illegal, were apparently singled out for an attempted "buy and bust" simply because they were two young black guys standing in front of a bar.

New York's mayor and Senatorial candidate Rudolph Giuliani has received plenty of attention for his nearly incomprehensible handling of the situation -- failing to express sympathy to the family, unsealing Dorismond's juvenile records (one arrest at age 13) and generally blaming the victim despite a total lack of evidence of any wrongdoing on Dorismond's part. But the furor over the mayor's response, as well as the growing sense of outrage at the New York City police in general has tended to overshadow the fact that incidents like this are almost unavoidable as we attempt to enforce an unenforceable prohibition.

Protesters took to the streets in Denver recently after a 65 year-old grandfather of nine was shot and killed in his home during a "no-knock" drug raid on the wrong house. In Houston, Pedro Oregon Navarro, age 22, was killed in a similar incident. 18 year-old Esequiel Hernandez was shot and killed while herding his family's goats on the US-Mexican border when he was mistaken for a smuggler by United States Marines on a four-day surveillance mission.

Corruption is another unavoidable cost of prohibition. In Los Angeles, the city is putting off all new spending priorities. Rather they are saving the money to pay civil damages to victims of the biggest corruption scandal in the city's history. Other cities and towns, including Philadelphia, Chicago and Denver have also recently learned that lesson.

And what is the upside? That's difficult to say. Last week, upon the release of yet another annual "Drug Strategy" seeking yet another increase in drug war funding, Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey told the nation that we are "winning the war." But the fine print in that document revealed that today, illicit drugs on our streets are less expensive, more pure and move available than they have ever been.

Strict enforcement of the drug laws has forced the trade indoors, or, in some instances, just further into the shadows. If police are to continue to log arrests, they must increasingly rely on no-knock warrants secured with information garnered from informants -- or resort to buy and bust operations -- or even sell and bust operations. These practices are dangerous, and not only for innocent civilians like Patrick Dorismond, but also for the police.

But even these tactics, it seems, are having no impact in making drugs less available on our streets and, the black market being unregulated, to our kids.

In the end, we can protest all we want. And we can convene grand juries to hear evidence against police who, in the line of this fruitless duty, make tragic errors. And we can keep reading about police corruption scandals, and we can build bigger and better internal affairs divisions. But we're only fooling ourselves. Because unless and until we are willing to face reality, we will continue to bury innocents, and we will continue to find corruption. And we will continue to hear chipper bureaucrats like Barry McCaffrey talk about "progress" while the drug trade rages on, out of control, within easy reach of our kids.

It is time to face that reality. It is time to dispense with the rhetoric and to take a hard look at the very premise of our "drug control" strategy. It is time for a responsible society to take control of these substances and to bring them back under the rule of law. Before the rule of law, through violence and corruption, can no longer be distinguished. And before we bury the next Patrick Dorismond, and the next, and the next...

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Issue #131, 3/31/00 ON CAMPUS: HEA Reform Campaign Gains Support | Colombia Package Passes House Through Opposition, Moves to Senate | Interview with Sylvester Salcedo | Senate Passes Civil Forfeiture Reform Bill Unanimously | New York City Update | Amherst Voters Approve Referendum to Deprioritize Marijuana Enforcement | UK: Police Foundation Report Calls for Marijuana Decrim, Lower Penalties for Other Drugs | Newsbriefs | Salon.com on Maine Medical Marijuana, Netherlands Drug Policy | Editorial: War On Us All
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