Dressed in camouflage and bristling with high-powered weapons, a police SWAT team, looking for illegal drugs, broke into an apartment in Columbia, Missouri. The family dog got up from his spot on the rug and began to bark. They shot him dead. While the man, his wife, and small son watched, the police shot a second dog, then ripped the apartment to shreds. All they found was a small amount of marijuana.
The story, carried in our local newspaper a few days ago, is not an unusual one. This kind of thing is happening every day, all over America.
It was Ronald Reagan who said drugs “were menacing our society,” and that we needed more “militant policies” to deal with this “threat.” He signed a bill in 1986 that budgeted $1.7 billion to fund his “War on Drugs.” The bill called for mandatory sentences for drug offenses. It filled our prisons with blacks who were an easy target for the new “militants” patrolling our streets, yet it did little to reduce the availability of drugs.
Twenty-four years and billions of dollars later, I ask the question: Did we really need a “war” on drugs. To call it a “war” is to give police the right to act like they’re soldiers in enemy territory. They can kick down doors, aim guns at innocent civilians, kill dogs while the owners stand helplessly by. To call it a “war” gives them license to seize property, to assume guilt where none may exist, to abuse law-abiding citizens, to shoot first and ask questions later. The role of the policeman moves from being protector to that of enforcer.
If you want to smoke some marijuana or do whatever you do with cocaine, is that so bad? Should we declare war on these people? Should we bring out the big guns, the tanks, the predator drones? Should we devote all these resources to fight this “war?” And should we trample on peoples’ rights along the way? Kill their dogs? Terrorize their children?
Isn’t it a bit like prohibition where we turned millions of people into law-breakers, just because they wanted to have a few drinks at the end of the day?
There was a time in this country when cocaine was available at any drugstore. If a person became addicted, it was a family matter, something the family had to deal with. No one went to jail for selling or for taking cocaine. Except for the odd person who become addicted, and for his family who cared for him, it just wasn’t a problem.
Is the possession and/or use of recreational drugs such a serious thing? So serious that we have to declare “war” in order to eliminate it? Clearly, it must be more serious than rape, murder, armed robbery, environmental crimes, Wall Street thievery, extortion.
We’ve declared war on none of these things. I wonder why.