Countless drug war tragedies transpire every day across our country. One from the most unfortunate variety was reported in San Jose this week, the sad case of Rudy Cardenas, 43-year old father of five, unarmed but gunned down by a narcotics officer looking for another man.
As usual, the police and their allies have quickly trotted out their mouthpieces to slander the dead. They should be ashamed of themselves. It's true that even in situations such as this one, the killer by law must be considered innocent until proven guilty. But that doesn't justify the heaping of grave insult on top of deadly injury. An attorney general's spokesman bizarrely claimed that Cardenas "wasn't the wrong man" -- even though police weren't looking for him -- and justified the shooting by saying that Cardenas was running away.
I don't consider running away from police officers to be a justification for the use by the police of deadly force, at least not in and of itself. Running away is a natural and time honored response to danger, and Cardenas was quite correct in his perception that the police officers approaching did represent danger. They killed him, after all; it doesn't get much more dangerous than that. Cardenas' death suggests that running away from police may be an inadvisable strategy. But people don't always think clearly when confronted with threats to life and limb. To blame an unarmed man for his own death by firearm, because he was running away from the person who moments later would end his life, and to cast such blame in the media no less, is morally repugnant.
One of the strongest critics of the drug war is a former police chief of Cardenas' own city, Dr. Joseph McNamara, now of Stanford University's Hoover Institution. McNamara blames these kinds of killings on drug policies, and he doesn't mince words. In a 2000 article on police killings published in this newsletter (http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/156/policeshootings.shtml), McNamara opined, "This is a real ethical issue, and evidence of the kind of callousness abroad in the land. It results from the emotionalism surrounding drugs and the whole war mentality that goes along with it. Things happen in war that we would not excuse in a civilized society."
He also predicted more fatalities, one of the reasons being the nature of the underground drug trade created by prohibition. "These shootings are inevitable," McNamara said. "Police are doing military operations in drug raids, not because dealers are anxious to shoot it out, but because dealers are armed to avoid being robbed."
If the past is any guide, Cardenas and his family are unlikely to get justice, at least not in a criminal court. But that's not a reason not to try. Nor, however, should the desire to hold his killers accountable and have their possible culpability examined by an impartial court of law, be allowed to distract from discussion of the root causes: the political and law enforcement leaders who've encouraged the paramilitarization of policing, and the system itself -- drug prohibition -- that creates such conflicts in the first place.