I fully expect to be called “anti-police” for the lead story this week. One doesn’t have to be “anti” anything to decry stupidity, or even to call to task organizations you fully support when they do something wrong.
Here’s the story, from True’s 17 December 2006 issue:
Another Ill-Conceived War We Can’t Get Out Of
The neighborhood around 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston’s Atlanta, Ga., home went downhill around her: it’s a well-known “drug zone.” She was afraid even to open the door to friends. So when three men burst into her home without warning, she feared the worst. The men took a few extra seconds to get through the “burglar bar,” giving her time to grab her old revolver; she started shooting as they entered — and hit all three of the men. But more men were behind them, and they started shooting back, killing Johnston. The men were police officers serving a “no-knock” search warrant: an informant reported having bought cocaine from a man in the house. The shot officers all survived. “It was a very tragic and unfortunate incident,” said Assistant Police Chief Alan Dreher, adding his department didn’t think Johnston had anything to do with selling drugs. The informant later said he had lied about buying drugs at the house, and a search there found no cocaine. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution) …Whether the informant was lying then or is lying now, this is the sort of intelligence source we rely on in the “moral” crusade called the “War on Drugs.”
Who Is the Enemy?
The story, of course, is another in my series on the “war on drugs.” I’ve been fighting against that war on two fronts: I think drug abuse is simply stupid, but on the other hand I don’t think our government should be fighting a “war” against its own citizens as long as their drug use doesn’t infringe on the rights of others (e.g., by driving under the influence, which is rightfully a crime).
That the “war” has escalated into case after case of bursting into innocent people’s homes and shooting them to death is a solution that’s far worse than the problem it supposedly addresses.
In last week’s issue there was a story about a guy in court to answer robbery charges who dropped a bag of pot in front of the judge. His defense lawyer (who was also his mother) told the judge her son “is brain-damaged…. This is a boy with an IQ in triple digits. His brain is glued together with Silly Putty. He can’t think his way out of a paper bag, but he can do physics.” My tagline: “A high IQ, but can’t think his way out of a paper bag? Classic symptoms of long-term drug use.” That’s an example of the first part of my war on drugs.
But it led to a reader to rant:
Every single commission report from the 1895 British Hemp Commission to the recent one by the Canadian Senate has stated the [sic] marijuana use, including long term use, does not affect cognitive ability. Sociological studies in the late 1960s and early 1970s showed the [sic] marijuana smokers had the higher GPAs. You are an ignorant prejudiced jerk and I do not need to see anymore [sic] emails form [sic] you. You want feel sorry for someone [sic] why don’t you feel sorry for all of those people you and your ignorance help put and keep in prison for doing something that is strictly their own business. There is no difference between you and someone on the radio in 1930s Germany talking about how all Jews steal and are responsible for the fatherland’s defeat in World War I or someone in the pre-Civil War South saying that Blacks needed to be enslaved for their own good. The war on people who use certain kinds of drugs is all about a cheap and easy way for idiots like you to feel superior to other people for no valid reason. So just shut up and cash your check from the ONDCP you creep. —Keith in Maryland
Well, Keith, I didn’t say marijuana, I said “drugs,” didn’t I?
But Keith couldn’t quite comprehend that I’m more on his side than the government’s — he’s fighting his own allies (and my, isn’t that useful? Might his thought process reflect, oh, long-term drug use?)
His assertion that marijuana is totally harmless, that “every report” finds that “marijuana use, including long term use, does not affect cognitive ability,” is simply wrong. During my column research last week, I came across a report on a new study. After reading Keith’s assertion I was able to find it again. It’s from The World Today (ABC News, Australia):
A landmark study on the effects of cannabis released today explodes the myth that it’s a relatively harmless drug. The report, which was commissioned by the Mental Health Council of Australia, shows marijuana increases the risk of psychosis in the young and makes almost any mental illness worse.
The full report is a 76-page PDF and is just over 1 MB in download size from the MHCA web site.
Not knowing what the ONDCP was, I looked it up: it’s the Office of National Drug Control Policy — the U.S. agency leading the “war on drugs.” Paranoid druggies think that anyone who thinks drugs are stupid must be getting paid to say that. Not even, pal. Let me tell you a story that explains why I say it.
Drugs: a Real-Life Story
After I wrote that “long-term drug use” tagline last week, I did a shift in the emergency room of a local hospital — part of the clinical experience that I have to go through to recertify as a medic. Just as I was about to leave, I heard an ambulance dispatched to what sounded like an interesting call: a 38-year-old male in cardiac arrest. I decided to stick around — 38-year-olds don’t often go into cardiac arrest.
The paramedics called in from the scene: the patient had sucked down a big line of cocaine and his heart stopped. His wife, hearing him suddenly go silent, checked on him. She started CPR and called 911. She kept him going until the paramedics were able to get his heart going again, but in an abnormal rhythm (AV junctional). They brought him to the ER. He wasn’t breathing; I took over “bagging” him until a respiratory therapist could hook him up to a ventilator.
The nurse I was working with looked at this young, otherwise-healthy man lying before us. His eyes were open; his pupils were dilated and not reactive to light. His blood pressure, which was very low at first, was slowly rising — but only the systolic (the “upper” number) was; the diastolic (the “lower” number) was staying low. That widening “pulse pressure” is an indication of brain damage.
I put my hand on his chest: despite him being stripped, I noticed he was hot, and the nurse stuck a thermometer in him: 103.2F (39.4C) — he was burning up. His face was flushed, his jugular veins were bulging. “Kids need to see people like this,” the nurse said.
The doctor ordered an emergency CAT scan of his head so he could treat any drug-induced stroke. We pulled him off the ventilator, so I went back to breathing for him as we rolled to the scanner. Once there, the respiratory therapist took over again while they did a quick scan. No sign of a stroke — the guy’s first good news since he arrived.
Once we got him settled back in at the emergency room, they let his wife in to see him. She told us he had promised to stop doing drugs. I didn’t tell her they all say that, but few do unless given a no-compromise ultimatum. Like so many, he didn’t — whether it was a case of “couldn’t” or “wouldn’t” doesn’t matter. I went home.
The next day, another student did a shift in the ER. When we met in class that night and I told the story of this guy, the other student had more details: the guy had gotten worse overnight, and was now in a “decerebrate posture” — which indicates severe brain damage. The next student, who was there the next day, checked too: the guy had been declared brain dead, but they were leaving him on life support so his family could come say goodbye. I presume that included his two kids. Merry Christmas, kids.
This is not an unusual story — as a medic in California I saw it many times before. Seeing things like this — real people — screwed up like this again and again is why I think drugs are so stupid. Everyone thinks they can control drugs, and maybe most people can deal well with occasional use. But too often, the drugs end up controlling them. Considering how impure many street drugs are, it’s hard to tell what you’re getting, which reduces the chances that someone can control it. I’m not willing to take that chance: I value thinking too much to risk my ability to do it.
Yet even in the face of that, I do not think I (or the government “of the people”) should have the power to stop people from using drugs, as long as they don’t commit crimes under the influence — which infringes on my rights, and others’. Using drugs is their moral choice, not society’s; I simply think that morality should not be legislated.
“But what about the damage, like to those poor kids?” some readers will wail. I have a one-word answer: alcohol. If that’s legal, why isn’t cocaine? Or pot? We don’t have a war against booze, shooting down people who sip a pint in their homes. What’s the difference?
Prohibition against alcohol didn’t work (instead, it created massive organized crime); prohibition against other drugs also isn’t working (and is helping fuel continued organized crime — and terrorism, and despotic regimes).
It’s time to regulate drugs in the same way alcohol is regulated. Yes, it will still be a problem, but maybe we can get some productive use out of people who are in jail for victimless crimes (and free up the prison space for people who commit crimes under the influence). We can put the resulting tax money to use in funding clinics to treat alcohol (and other drug) addicts, and put our efforts toward educating kids on what drugs really do so they can make an intelligent decision about them. And regulate the quality to reduce the chance of overdose and bad interactions.
Last fall, I published a previous example of “kick the door in and start shooting” — the literal police execution of a minor drug user (not a dealer). I sent the URL to Keith in Maryland, but his head was too deep into his righteous indignation that he apparently didn’t even look at the page. He’s been a subscriber since 2003, so he even saw that story and the discussion! I guess his oh-so-perfectly functioning brain just forgot it. Either way, he’s so sure that I’m the “ignorant prejudiced jerk” in our conversation that he can’t grasp the concept that he’s actually screaming into a mirror.
If you agree, don’t tell me, tell your congressional representatives (U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Senate). If you don’t, then tell them what you think should be done. The status quo — shooting people to death while trying to defend their own homes — just can’t be the way to go.
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A follow-up on the story that started this page, the police murder of the 92-year-old lady.
The use of the word “murder” might raise your eyebrow, but in fact, in February 2007 Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard confirmed he would ask the grand jury for murder charges against three narcotics officers — Gregg Junnier, Jason R. Smith and Arthur Tesler — over the shooting.
“I will not rest until every person responsible for her death is held accountable,” Howard said. “When homicides occur in Fulton County, whether committed by a civilian or a law enforcement official, it is the obligation of the District Attorney’s Office to take the appropriate legal actions.” The FBI also announced it would investigate the case.
Junnier’s attorney, Rand Csehy, decried the charges as “an overbroad indictment” — and said they’re premature when the FBI is still looking into the matter. “It’s sloppy police work,” Csehy said. “It was cutting corners” — not murder.
But when the FBI finished their investigation, the U.S. Attorney brought federal charges against the three officers. The warrant the cops received to raid the house in the first place was based on lies: the informant who said he had been there and bought drugs? Didn’t happen, Junnier admitted; the officers asked the informant to lie to cover them — criminal conspiracy. Thus, everything that happened during the execution of the illegally obtained warrant became subject to criminal prosecution.
All three cops pleaded guilty to federal charges of conspiracy to violate civil rights resulting in death. In February 2009, Smith was sentenced to 10 years in prison and three years of probation. Junnier was given six years in prison plus three years supervised release. Tessler was sentenced to five years in prison plus three years supervised release. And in a stroke of genius, U.S. District Judge Julie Carnes ordered all three to pay for Johnston’s funeral costs.
“I am very sorry for my conduct and apologize to everyone for what I did,” Smith told the judge during sentencing. “There is no excuse for this conduct and I accept the sentence of this court. I pray daily for Ms. Johnston. I also pray other officers in Atlanta will have the moral fortitude I didn’t have.”
Good for Smith, but it’s a sad indictment of the Drug War — the war of the U.S. against its own citizens. It’s time for that war to end.
With the adoption of Amendment 64, in 2013 Colorado became the first state in the union to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. I voted in favor of it, even though I still have no intention of using it.
Sure enough, it is bringing in huge tax money, much of which is going to Colorado’s schools. Even better: in 2017, Colorado’s legislature earmarked $9.5 million of the revenue from the marijuana tax to create a statewide crisis response system, rather than put people who are in a mental health crisis in jail — pretty much exactly what I was proposing in this essay. Now that’s the way to win the “war” on drugs.
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