By: Fermon Brown
Edited By: Jacob Dawson-Brown
Since the beginning of the 20th century America has gradually and increasingly embraced law enforcement as the manner by which we’ll “solve” the problem of illicit drug use. Since Nixon’s “War on Drugs” our reliance on this law and order approach has perniciously grown in strength as our nations drug problem has grown intractably out of control. To many of us, old enough to have witnessed these events, it is becoming ever more clear that this policy is failing to accomplish the desired effect while at the same time producing unintended results that are even more frightening to contemplate than the original malady.
I use the term “frightening to contemplate” because those who have directly experienced our legal system in action don’t need to contemplate it’s deleterious effects. Through experience we’ve been shocked into a realization that our deepest fears have become a nightmare of incredible intensity. But this nightmare is only experienced by some of us while our neighbors remain untouched and blissfully unaware of the pernicious and insidious loss of freedom and security that we once believed was guaranteed to all Americans.
America, the “Beacon of Freedom”, where the accused were automatically presumed innocent until proven otherwise. America, where we were guaranteed security in our homes free from illegal search and seizure and when search warrants were served they weren’t a mere formality that mocked the battering rams which preceded them. Homeowners who would have freely cooperated with the police aren’t given the chance after the battering rams and lethal weapons are drawn against these unarmed offenders. They are tackled, put in headlocks, demeaned in the presence of their families while their wives and children are terrorized and traumatized.
This all might sound like exaggeration and hyperbole but for many of us it’s just a reality – a nightmare reality for us while our neighbors remain blissfully unaware of how tenuous their own freedoms and securities have become. To experience this reality, one has merely to be turned in by their neighbor, co-worker, wife, or even child. Put this way, it sounds like the classic “Police State” in action. “1984” has come and passed and appears incredibly prescient, but only to those of us who have lived it.
This is just the beginning. The police used to knock and politely serve search warrants with their guns holstered. When was this magical time? Maybe it existed just in my mind, with all those other childhood securities. But I personally remember this experience prior to President Nixon’s “War on Drugs”. You may blame illicit drug use for this change in our society, but, drug use didn’t automatically engender these changes in our lives. Our reaction to uncontrolled drug use was a choice we made as a reaction to a phenomena we didn’t understand, and certainly didn’t understand how to treat. Just as one who has not used a drug cannot truly understand the reality of the experience – one who has not experienced a “drug raid” cannot truly understand the significance of this experience.
The War on Drugs is a choice we as a society have made. An ill-advised choice, made out of ignorance and fear, and as is often the case, encouraged by cynical politicians hungry for votes. There has never been a “war on drugs”! This is now, and has always been, a war on people – namely our fellow American citizens, who deserve so much more. These drug addicted victims deserve our help rather than the demonization and demoralization that we have visited upon them. It’s always easier to hate than help. We recognize drug addiction as an illness and yet, rather than provide addicts with help, we punish them for their sad self-destructive illness. By now, most of us are aware of the shameful fact that more of our fellow citizens are in our jails than any other country on the planet. We hypocritically claim to be the shining example of freedom to the rest of the world, while simultaneously incarcerating more of our fellow country men and women than Russia, China, North Korea and a host of lesser totalitarian states throughout the world. How horribly do we fear the unknown? In this case represented by drugs and drug use, to the average American, who thankfully have not experienced this as a reality in their lives. How far are we willing to go in this war on the wretched among us? Are we so in fear of drugs and drug use that we see no ultimate end to how many people we are willing to hide behind prison walls rather than to face these fears that are literally represented by these ultimate victims of our misguided and inhumane policies.
I’ve actually heard popular TV personalities and politicians speak admiringly of countries that have made drug use a capital crime. How far are we willing to go? Does this speculation sound paranoid or unreasonable? How many of us would’ve ever predicted our present run away incarceration figures in 1970 when Nixon first declared the “war on drugs” or should I say this war on the wretched amongst us?
Of course the obvious argument that will inevitably be advanced against my characterization of drug offenders as sick, victims, and ultimately sad and miserable people whose lives are our of control… the argument is: are you crazy, a liar, or just a bleeding heart liberal? The narrative is supposed to be that the people we want to arrest, incarcerate, and punish are victimizers not victims. We all know who they are. They are the evil greedy, violent miscreants that we’ve given the name of pusher.
People such as this deserve nothing from us other than our anger and revulsion. These “pushers” represent the sub human enemy of society – we all know who they are. They have existed in every war throughout time. In WWII they were the Kraut and the Jap – in Vietnam they were the Gook. Whatever happened to this crop of vile miscreants? The Kraut became a German, the Gook became a Vietnamese, and the Jap became another of our great allies and trading partners. And how was this great transformation performed? Actually it was easy enough. In the case of Germany there was Dresden, in Japan we were introduced to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and in Vietnam we tried a completely new and different strategy. In Vietnam we finally just threw up our hands and (after 50 thousand dead Americans) we said “You know, why don’t we just quit this shit!?” When you start to engage in war against someone, you must always engage in this process of demonization of the enemy and you can damn well bet they will (through their abhorrent behavior) contribute to this process. But the question once again is this: How far are we willing to go? And what kind of a country do we want to live in? How much of our resources do we want to waste? And how many of our precious freedoms are we willing to sacrifice in a futile endeavor that year after year produces no positive results only more pain and suffering?
To say we are willing to “do whatever it takes” represents neither bravado nor altruism, but rather the cruel ignorance of one who would treat our fellow Americans as if they were equal to the vile Krauts and Japs of WWII. Those who experience the reality of drugs in their lives know that every pusher is ultimately an addict and every addict is also a pusher. As much as we would like to differentiate these roles and demonize these individuals we can only do so in the cruel comfort of our ignorance.
The more enlightened approach than to “Do whatever it takes” (as in the example of WWII) would be represented by the example of Vietnam. Whether one was in sympathy with the war or against it. We gradually realized this approach is futile and is therefore a terribly misadvised waste of lives and resources and it’s tearing our country apart. “This shit isn’t working!”
Maybe it’s time we tried something different. This is where treatment of drug abuse can follow a medical model rather than a law enforcement approach. When we realize that drug addiction is ultimately a disease then the obviously indicated approach is through hospitalization and treatment, rather than punishment. Studies have long shown that money spent on treatment yields far greater results than money spent or law enforcement. When one looks at the phenomenal amount of money and resources spent on law enforcement the figures are staggering (but certainly not “sobering”). For a moment let’s look at the resources allocated to this law enforcement approach. Money spent on beefed up law enforcement focused on catching drug offenders. Money spent on State provided and constitutionally guaranteed defense attorneys and on prosecutors, judges, and jails and/or probation and parole officers. Border patrolling and interdiction in some cases even involving our military. Programs focused on cessation of production in foreign countries and aid to those friendly countries as they become politically destabilized and at war with revolutionaries whose insurgencies are financed by drug profits. The list of wasted financial resources is an ever greater tragedy when we consider the tremendous good that could be accomplished if this money was spent wisely.
When contemplating wasted resources the real tragedy is to be calculated in wasted lives and needless suffering by addicts and their families. We often hear about the broken families and the negative effect of drug use on the families of addicts. This is so true! Illicit drug use is painful and destructive to families but the real destroyers of families are our jails!
The justice system and the penal system can destroy a family so mercilessly and effectively that simple drug use cannot begin to compete in destructive effects. But when these two bullies (addiction and incarceration) conspire to destroy a family, the results are heart rending. A dysfunctional family can struggle together as a family for years with the effects of drug abuse. It’s the rarest of families that can survive the incarceration of a husband or wife and remain intact. Prisons are littered with broken hearts and broken families – Inmates often call their institution “Heartbreak Hotel”. The entire system is filled with story after story of heart break and lost opportunities. But then what kind of outcome could we reasonably expect when we decided to declare war on our fellow American citizens?
In the year 2000 the federal drug control budget was quoted by the national office as 19.2 billion. That figure doesn’t take into account all the additional state and federal budgets and a myriad of other programs. I’m not sure anyone knows or can truly know the total amount of what we spend but the number is vast! Keep in mind this is not money being spent wisely on a worthy cause. This is a shocking waste of resources being spent to destabilize our constitutional guarantees of freedom, which affects us all regardless of drugs. Equally frightening is that this money is also being spent to terrorize those in need of a helping hand rather than a fist. Far more minnows are being caught in this net than sharks. Can you honestly believe that the average drug offender in our prison system is a “big fish”. Although law enforcement tries to represent every offender as a “major player” the truth does not bear this out.. The average offender is just another unfortunate schmuck that got caught up in something beyond their control – “a minnow”.
In the latter half of my 50’s I was awakened from my slumber of blissful ignorance. Like so many others of my generation I had grown up believing in the promise of freedom and security inherent in our justice system.
For much of my life our constitution held firm in it’s guarantee of our personal rights and freedoms. There was a sense of security in what it meant to be an American. But gradually, one by one, our constitutionally guaranteed rights are being sacrificed unto our fear of the unknown. What will happen if people are allowed to exercise these same freedoms, in this case the freedom to choose what to ingest in our own bodies. The fear of how others will handle freedom is always behind efforts to limit their freedoms. Why is it so hard to understand this most basic truth – a truth our founding fathers so profoundly understood when creating our constitution? This basic truth understood by our forefathers, is that when we allow the freedom of one man to be abridged, it puts everyone’s freedom in jeopardy.
One of the first incursions against our basic freedoms was with the institution of the “no knock” law. We watch TV with swat team/storm trooper style raids on the homes of the poor and unfortunate from the comfort of our own living rooms satisfied that this could never happen to us. Part of our sense of security is evinced in the oft quoted truism that one gets the justice they can afford. Being from the more fortunate upper and upper middle class, this of course could never happen to us. Do we hear what we are truly saying? The hypocrisy is rivaled only by the apathy. And the only sense of security one can have is a false one.
Loopholes are no longer the exception when used routinely to justify warrantless searches of our homes, persons, and cars. Anyone who has experienced such a search of their home could honestly equate the level of destruction to a manmade earthquake. Many of these events aren’t searches at all, they are intentionally malevolent injuries. What do these developments say about the health of the fourth amendment. It may not be dead, but it’s feeling mighty sick. The entrapment defense has become a thing of the past. Illegal surveillance and illegal searches have become quite legal in many cases with a simple nod and a wink to probable cause, “To hell with privacy.”
Mandatory sentencing promotes excesses and injustices, rendering judges powerless in the process. Our inheritance is being squandered! How can we stand idly by or even worse, participate in the process of dismantling our bill of rights. The incredible foresight of our founding fathers has been replaced by a logical mosh pit. Witness the plethora of legislation and judicial decisions that have effectively dismantled the fourth amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. All of this culminating with private property forfeiture which attacks one of our most fundamental rights. The right to ownership of private property, once sacrosanct, is now as precarious as is our claim to freedom. A prominent feature of communist systems is the provisional nature of private property and personal freedoms.
Another insidious development is the reclassification of drug sales more properly referred to as the “transfer of a controlled substance” to the status of a violent crime. This could be a drug sale or something as innocuous as giving a friend a pill. This reclassification completely eviscerates the eighth amendment, prohibition against excessive bonds. Essentially a person can be arrested and incarcerated on multi-million dollar bonds, or even worse, held in jail with no bond available whatsoever. Keep in mind these people have been convicted of nothing – merely accused and arrested often on the accusation and testimony of one person.
All of this may sound extreme, but I personally was arrested and held on a one million dollar bond for allegedly giving one pill to one person who was released from custody on another matter in exchange for his uncorroborated testimony. And this happened not once but twice. Yes, I was arrested and jailed on a one million dollar bond twice in less than a year and all of this based upon the same incident. Whatever happened to the principal that one is considered innocent until proven guilty. Not to mention double jeopardy, yes double jeopardy has also become the victim of double talk. Practically all of our most basic constitutional protections have become victims to our fear of drugs. A mighty powerful thing are those drugs. But not nearly as powerful as a government run amuck. And what do we call that? Oh yes, a police state! Does that sound extreme? Believe me, that is just exactly what it is when it happens to you. America, land of the free… has become a police state but only for some, their neighbors are still doing just fine. The problem is when our principals become selective they are no longer principals. In that case, what are they? What do we call them? What have they become? Don’t ask me! Because I will tell you. And you’ve already demonstrated you don’t want to hear the uncomfortable truth. Stay away from us, the victims of truth. The truth is contagious. You need merely to be exposed. But, by then, it’s too late. By then you too will be a victim. And you will never be the same again. So while your neighbors – your fellow American’s, are experiencing an unthinkable nightmare. The death of a dream sacrificed to our fear of drugs. You can continue to sleep in peace and dream those beautiful dreams of justice!
“Dreams of peace and justice, and the gentle
gentle children in the slaughterhouse.”
“The truth only hurts when you’ve been living a lie.”
Copyright 2019 © Fermon Brown
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