Editorial: Over the Limit 7/7/00

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David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected]

It's not clear who should be more surprised -- the St. Paul resident who thought she had admitted census workers to her home, only to find out they were police on a drug bust -- or the police officers, who thought they could get away with it, but instead now find themselves facing criticism and possible discipline.

It's not hard to find drug war participants testing the limits of propriety. The Office of National Drug Control Policy didn't expect the credits for TV show content component of their ad campaign to turn into a scandal (though they must have had some inkling it could, having kept it very quiet until a reporter brought it out). Nor did ONDCP expect to get flack over its use of "cookies" in the Internet portion of the ad campaign, or to have to stop using them.

More serious, however, are those police squadrons, often "SWAT" teams, who batter down doors in the middle of the night, or the early morning, because an informant of questionable reliability
-- often being paid to come up with something, anything -- said there was drug activity. Sadly, these squadrons have for the most part avoided such criticism, because the practice of "no-knock" warrants and drug war paramilitarism has become commonplace and accepted into standard police procedures.

It takes the death of an innocent, such as the Rev. Accelyne Williams in Boston, to even get the issue raised, and changes in such procedures, let alone disciplinary action for reckless tactics that endanger residents' lives, are all but unknown. The enforcers and their bosses find the element of surprise more important, evidently, than the safety or well being of the homeowners, their terrified children or their neighbors.

The heart of the problem is that the drug war is a war where the enemy can be anyone, in plain view anywhere, and is hiding everywhere. Unlike true crimes, where there is a complaining victim, this enemy has only collaborators who wish to remain hidden as well. To find their hidden targets, drug enforcers feel they must employ highly aggressive or deceptive tactics, such as breaking down doors, hiring paid informants or impersonating census workers, trying to be anywhere and everywhere themselves.

In this atmosphere of war -- no, of siege -- the ability of many enforcers to make rational and ethical decisions is damaged, and the standards of conduct in our police forces have deteriorated as a result. Combine this with the ideological zealotry promoted by drug war leaders, and the resulting "anything goes" climate tends to lead to improprieties, turning into outrages, over and over again.

That's why cops can impersonate census workers, or the national drug control office can buy TV program content, violate the privacy of Internet surfers or collaborate with China's murderous criminal justice system, without, in all likelihood, giving it a second thought, and certainly with no expectation of anyone calling foul.

We must, therefore, continue to call foul, continue to press for privacy and due process, tighten the limits on the drug police and rein in the drug war once and for all. Because only in a police state can the enforcers be everywhere as they would like, and the drug war must be stopped before it reaches that point.

-- END --
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Issue #144, 7/7/00 Follow That Story: Feds' Drug War Gets 90-Day Reprieve from Texas Border DAs, Dueling For Dollars to Continue | New Mexico's Governor Johnson Speaks Out on Drug Policy in Houston, Sets Up Drug Policy Review Commission at Home, Addressing Shadow Conventions Next Month | St. Paul Cops Pose as Census Takers | Interview with Libertarian Presidential Nominee Harry Browne | Errata: Ralph Nader and Industrial Hemp | Scottish Parliament Members Call for Dutch-Style Coffeehouses as Legalization Debate Heats Up | Nevada Legislature to Consider Marijuana Reform Bill in 2001, Judicial Commission to Call for Similar Changes | Media Scan: 20/20, Christian Science Monitor, Salon.com | AlertS: Free Speech, California, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Washington State | HEA Campaign | Event Calendar | Job Opportunity in Britain | Editorial: Over the Limit
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