Pubdate: Wed, 01 Nov 2000
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2000 The Washington Post Company
Contact:  1150 15th Street Northwest, Washington, DC 20071
Author: Courtland Milloy


Edward M. Toatley, an undercover Maryland state trooper, was killed Monday 
night trying to help win the "war on drugs." Our community has lost yet 
another dedicated police officer as well as a loving family man. And 
because Toatley enjoyed his work and believed he was doing a public 
service, few will question whether he died in vain.

"If anybody out there dealing drugs thinks this will stop our resolve, they 
are sadly mistaken," Col. David B. Mitchell, head of the Maryland State 
Police, declared at a news conference yesterday.

But I wonder: How many more law enforcement officers will have to be 
killed, how many more civilians must die, how many more arrests must be 
made and new prisons built before we say enough of this drug war madness?

"Eighty-six years after Congress passed the 1914 Harrison Act that 
criminalized drugs, America's drug consumption thrives," Jerry Oliver, 
Richmond's chief of police, wrote in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on Oct. 
22. "Our nation's premier drug-war strategy of more police, more 
interdiction, and more incarceration is failing and the trajectory 
continues downward."

Toatley, 37, was a trooper for 16 years. Mitchell described him as a 
seasoned police officer who had made "dozens and dozens and dozens" of 
so-called "hand-to-hand" undercover drug buys. And yet, despite Toatley's 
courage and apparent successes, you have to wonder why he was repeatedly 
subjected to this kind of unreasonable danger.

 From Colombia, South America, cocaine flows into this country by the 
mega-tonnage--a raging powdered river, profitable beyond belief and so 
corrosive it threatens to topple national governments. Here, in the 
District of Columbia, a police officer gives his life making a low-level 
buy, an act that might have resulted in a "conspiracy to distribute" charge 
somewhere down the line but would have done little, if anything, to get the 
drugs off the streets.

In the aftermath of the largest drug haul in history--20 tons of cocaine 
and $10 million seized in Los Angeles a few years ago--the price of street 
cocaine actually dropped to its lowest levels ever. It was just another 
sign that we are flooded with drugs.

The only thing police are doing, in effect, is keeping the prison industry 
in business--mostly with a steady supply of poor blacks snagged off the 
streets of urban America.

This is immoral, to say nothing of ineffective.

"Former Secretary of State George Shultz said recently that any real and 
lasting change that occurs in a democratic society is done through 
education and persuasion and not through coercion and force," Oliver wrote 
in the Times-Dispatch. "Perhaps it's time to heed this sage advice and 
search for alternative approaches to our current drug-control strategies 
that will be more effective, fair and humane in reducing drug usage and 
drug dependency; that will emphasize treatment, prevention, and education; 
and that will rely on our social and health systems more than on our 
criminal justice systems."

Proponents of the war on drugs, such as William J. Bennett, drug czar under 
President George Bush, cite statistics that show a 60 percent drop in drug 
abuse during the last 20 years and credit the decline to "no-nonsense" 
police actions.

However, the FBI, in a 1997 report that raised serious questions about the 
effectiveness of the national war on drugs, found that drug arrests had 
jumped 35 percent between 1990 and 1995--with the nearly 1.5 million people 
arrested on drug charges in 1995 being the largest number ever recorded.

"Trends for overall drug arrests indicate that this social ill shows no 
signs of abating," the FBI report said.

Toatley, most importantly, was a husband and was the father of an 
18-year-old son, a 5-year-old son and an 18-month-old daughter. Charming, 
hardworking and intelligent, he also served as president of the Coalition 
of Black Maryland State Troopers.

He had value to our community that greatly outweighed the risk of 
disappearing into the dirty, double-dealing shadow world of undercover 
street dope buys, where a suspect apparently shot him in the head.

Arguably, he could have done more to stop drug abuse by simply being seen, 
in daylight, in uniform, in schools, in neighborhoods, on patrol.

And, without this dubious war on drugs, he might still be alive.
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