Pubdate: Thu, 1 Feb 2001
Source: High Times (US)
Copyright: 2001 Trans-High Corporation
Contact:  235 Park Ave. S., 5th Floor, New York, NY 10003
Author: Peter Gorman and Bill Weinberg


The Gentlest Ride Into Hell Americans Have Ever Experienced Recent history 
judges a President on two things: the state of the economy and foreign 
affairs. During his two terms in office President Bill Clinton presided 
over a booming stock market and managed to avoid any unseemly military 
quagmires. Thus, despite dozens of personal scandals and serious 
political-and perhaps criminal-problems, he'll probably be remembered as a 
great, if flawed, leader. But not to the millions who've fallen prey to the 
Clinton Drug War machine, the most well-oiled policing apparatus America 
has ever known.

Join us now for a retrospective tour of shame through the Clinton Drug War 

The Beginning:

The Drug War legacy of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush included 
property forfeiture, expanded police powers and a zero- tolerance policy, 
along with an expanded prison system to accommodate all those who bucked 
the law. President Bill Clinton inherited these. But when he first took 
office, many in the drug-policy-reform movement were optimistic that the 
man demonized by his right-wing opponents as an ex-hippie draft dodger 
would reverse this legacy.

Instead, doomed by his politically disastrous "I did not inhale" campaign 
line, he has cravenly allowed federal, state and local law enforcement to 
expand all the tools left to him. His record might be worse than those of 
Reagan or Bush.

In the Clinton years, police overreach in the name of the Drug War shredded 
much of what remained of the Bill of Rights. And those most frequently 
caught in its web were not the "drug kingpins" legislators claimed to be 
going after. Mothers, fathers, small-time dealers, medical-marijuana users 
and even children were caught in a criminal- justice system so overgrown no 
one is immune to the new powers Johnny Law uses to protect us from 
ourselves. And while much of the horror heaped on the American public has 
occurred at the state and local levels, the tenor of the times begins at 
the top-which places the responsibility squarely at Bill Clinton's feet.

Prison Expansion:

When Bill Clinton took office in January 1993, the violent crack epidemic 
of the late 1980s was already subsiding. Nonetheless, the galloping 
expansion of police powers and the prison system didn't skip a beat, and 
law enforcement shifted to a new emphasis on marijuana. When Clinton 
entered office, the prison population-local, state and federal-was about 
1.3 million. As he leaves, that number has ballooned to over 2 million, the 
highest rate of incarceration-as well as the highest total number behind 
bars-in a democratic state in the history of the world.

Nearly 60% of federal and 25% of state prisoners are incarcerated for 
nonviolent drug offenses. Hundreds of new prisons have been built to 
accommodate them, giving rise to a prison-industrial complex that defies 
imagination. New drug courts and judges have been added to state and 
federal rosters; 100,000 new police, with their attendant 
paraphernalia-guns, cruisers, station houses and adjunct non- uniformed 
personnel-have been hired to search out small-time drug users; tens of 
thousands of jail and prison guards have been added to state and federal 
payrolls. There has not been such a boon to public construction since the 
Works Progress Administration of the 1930s. Our military and Drug 
Enforcement Administration forces overseas have exponentially expanded as 
well, particularly in Latin America. All of this has been an enormous help 
to booming Clinton's economy. The strategy was brilliantly devised: 
Increase incarceration by three- quarters of a million, add a couple of 
million workers to create and maintain the prison infrastructure, and 
voila! Lower unemployment and a healthier economy. And to help pay for it 
all, the Feds and states used a tool that became available only a few years 
before Clinton's inauguration: forfeiture.

Forfeiture Abuses:

The forfeiture of illegally gotten goods is a tradition that dates back to 
British maritime law. But it wasn't until the passage of the 1984 Omnibus 
Crime Bill that US police agencies involved in the forfeiture of property 
were allowed to sell the assets they seized and keep the money. That 
provision of the 1984 Crime Bill, bolstered in 1986, has led to police 
abuses unheard of in the history of the United States. Tens of thousands of 
people have had their property seized for the tiniest drug-law infractions. 
On the highways, police use "drug courier profiles" to stop and search 
motorists and confiscate their vehicles if any drugs are found. At 
airports, travelers' cash is seized when it tests positive for traces of 
cocaine-despite studies showing that most of the cash in the country is 
tainted with cocaine. Local and federal officers routinely keep gardening 
shops under surveillance, checking customer records against utility bills 
to create probable cause to search residences for indoor marijuana grow 
sites-and frequently forfeiting those homes where illegal gardens are found.

Marylander Pamela Snow had her business and home confiscated when one of 
her kids received a United Parcel Service package that contained marijuana. 
Part of the official "justification" for the forfeiture was the Grateful 
Dead poster in her son's bedroom-supposed evidence that the house was a 
"narcotics-related" meeting place. Snow suspects that a police agent may 
have sent the pot package. Then there is Marsha Simmons, a black woman in 
Washington, DC who repeatedly called police to have them remove her 
crack-selling grandchildren from in front of her house-only to have the 
police respond by seizing her home because her grandchildren had sold crack 
on the property.

Corruption has been an inevitable result. Some communities, whose police 
agencies garnered big forfeiture bucks, have lowered those agencies' 
budgets, and forced them to make up the difference by seizing more 
property. Nicholas Bissell, a New Jersey prosecutor, got so addicted to the 
power and money afforded by forfeiture that he falsely set up citizens just 
to get their property. When caught and found guilty in 1996, Bissell fled 
New Jersey and killed himself in a Las Vegas hotel room.

Oops! Wrong Address:

A family in Ohio is at home singing carols on Christmas Eve when masked men 
in black wielding machine guns kick down the door and wrestle Dad to the 
ground: The agents got two digits of the address mixed up. An elderly 
Latino man in Texas is shot to death in his sleep when police raid his 
house; the informant who provided the address lied.

These are not isolated incidents. Goaded on by the promise of big 
forfeitures to beef up police budgets, antidrug forces from the inner city 
to the redneck heartland are knocking down doors first and asking questions 
later. Often they rely on paid informants who lie to get a share of the 
loot. Sometimes they just read the address wrong on the warrant. Innocent 
residents pay with their Fourth Amendment rights, the sanctity of their 
homes-and sometimes their lives.

Accelyne Williams, a Methodist minister from Boston, died of a heart attack 
in 1994 while wrestling with members of a SWAT team who had raided the 
wrong apartment. In Brooklyn, Anna and Jerry Roman and their three children 
were terrorized by a drug squad acting on an informant's bad tip. No-knock 
raids became so common in New York City that the police created a special 
unit just to replace the doors of city residents who had been terrorized by 
the drug squads.

The Sherman family of Renton, WA, were among those who at least managed to 
wrest some justice from the system when they won a $100,000 settlement from 
the South King County Narcotics Task Force. The Shermans were watching TV 
when the knock came. Their 15-year-old son answered and eight armed men 
burst in and screamed at him to get on the floor. The father, Ed Sherman, 
was handcuffed naked and denied clothes as officers questioned him about 
drugs. The task force was acting on the tip of an informant who the next 
day admitted he had lied about the Shermans' involvement in hashish 
smuggling. Ed Sherman told the press he hoped the settlement "will ensure 
others don't go through what we did." No such luck. Just a few months 
later, Clayton Root, 61, of Big Bay, MI, sustained cuts and a broken hand 
bone in a scuffle with ski-masked agents of the Upper Peninsula Substance 
Enforcement Team (UPSET) who barged into his home in a midnight raid 
without identifying themselves. "I was fighting for my life," said Root, 
who draws a disability pension from a back injury and recently had heart 
surgery. "I thought it was teenagers who had come to kill us. I saw the 
outline of a gun and pushed my wife behind me." The UPSET search warrant 
did not have an address, only a description of the property provided by an 
informant. When police realized they had the wrong place, they took Root to 
the hospital.

On the afternoon of Sept. 29, 1999, 13 SWAT team members stormed the 
upstairs apartment at 3738 High St. in Denver, looking for drugs. They were 
executing a no-knock raid, one of about 200 approved by the city police 
that year. Resident Ismael Mena, 45, worked the night shift at a Coca-Cola 
plant and slept during the day. After breaking open the front door, the 
SWAT team found the door to Mena's room latched, and kicked it in.

Police say they found him armed with a .22 revolver, standing on his bed. 
Officers claim they screamed "Police!" and "Drop the gun!" repeatedly. Mena 
started to put the gun down, asking, "Policia?" But police say when they 
then moved to disarm him, he again raised the gun. Officers opened fire. 
Mena, a father of nine, was hit by eight bullets and killed instantly. No 
drugs were found.

The next day, SWAT team officers learned they had raided the wrong 
residence-they should have gone next door, to 3742 High St. Officer Joseph 
Bini, who obtained the warrant, is facing a felony charge of first-degree 
perjury for allegedly fabricating evidence. The Justice for Mena Committee 
insists that police planted Mena's gun to cover themselves for the killing. 
Denver Police Chief Tom Sanchez, who left for a Hawaii police conference 
the day after the killing, has been forced to step down.

Police as Hit Men:

One of the peculiarities in the Clinton Drug War was the development of 
special drug task forces that combine the manpower of federal, state and 
local agencies-but frequently seem to operate without the oversight of any 
particular agency. These paramilitary police squads have racked up hundreds 
of assaults on innocent people and killed several alleged low-level dealers.

When a Kentucky drug task force came to uproot his plants in August 1993, 
pot-grower and Vietnam vet Gary Shepherd told them, "You will have to kill 
me first," took out his rifle and sat down on his front porch. That evening 
he was shot dead in front of his infant son. Despite the fact that Shepherd 
never fired a shot and his family was pleading with authorities for 
negotiations, state police sharpshooters appeared from the brush without 
warning and opened fire when he refused to drop his rifle.

In 1997, John Hirko, a 21-year-old unarmed Pennsylvania man with no prior 
offenses, was shot to death in his house by a squad of masked police 
dressed in ninja-style uniforms. They didn't even knock before tossing a 
smoke grenade through a window, setting fire to the house. Hirko, suspected 
of dealing small amounts of marijuana and cocaine, was found face down on 
his stairway, shot in the back while fleeing the fire.

Police in these instances were found legally justified in committing the 
homicides because of the "no-knock exception" to the Fourth Amendment in 
cases involving the execution of search warrants on drug suspects.

And the killing continues. In 1999, Amadou Diallo was killed by four white 
New York City plainclothes officers in a hail of 41 bullets-justified 
because the police team was in a "high profile drug area" and Diallo's 
black wallet "looked like a gun." The four were later acquitted of all charges.

Last March, a similar NYPD antidrug squad shot and killed Patrick 
Dorismond, a building watchman, after he rejected their repeated requests 
to buy marijuana from him. Dorismond, standing in front of a pub with a 
friend, was approached by the cops, who were trying to tally one more bust 
for the day. They asked where they could cop some weed. He said he didn't 
know. They asked again and he repeated that he didn't know. When they got 
aggressive he said he bought his weed in Brooklyn. Instead of leaving they 
made animal noises at him, and he reportedly pushed one of them, whereupon 
another member of the squad shot him in the chest, killing him. No 
marijuana was found, but the next day Mayor Rudolph Giuliani had 
Dorismond's sealed juvenile record-which included a bust for smoking pot in 
public years earlier-illegally released and claimed it justified the 
shooting. And these killings are just the tip of the iceberg of innocent 
blood spilled in the name of the War on Drugs.

In Houston in July 1998, Mexican immigrant Pedro Oregon, 23, reportedly 
locked himself in a bedroom after officers burst through his front door. 
The cops broke down the bedroom door and sprayed the room with gunfire. 
Thirty-three bullets later, Oregon lay dead on the floor, shot a dozen 
times, including nine times in the back. One officer, David Barrera, fired 
24 of the shots. An investigation revealed the officers had no warrant to 
enter the premises, and police found no drugs in the apartment.

Children Caught in the Middle:

The unsung victims in the War on Drugs are the children used as weapons 
against their parents by police and prosecuting agencies-something those of 
us who grew up in the Cold War were told only the Commies did. Few people 
realize how frequently children are used as leverage to secure arrests and 
admissions of guilt-often where there is none-from parents terrified their 
kids will be taken away from them if they don't cooperate with the law.

In 1993 in Vermont, teenagers Jessica and Alice Manning's parents were 
caught in a forfeiture sting and sent to jail. The girls were subsequently 
encouraged to turn against their parents in a drug sting so that the family 
property, in their names, could be forfeited to their state-appointed 

In Georgia, 8-year-old Darrin Davis told a teacher after an antidrug 
lecture that there was white powder in his parents' bedroom. They were 
arrested and incarcerated.

The Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program has produced hundreds of 
arrests using evidence initially provided by children. While the program 
purports to educate children about the dangers of drugs, the police 
officers who teach it frequently put a black box near the front of the 
classroom and encourage kids to put the names and addresses of anyone they 
know who uses drugs into it. That information is often then used to secure 
warrants against those people.

Medical-Marijuana Intransigence:

When Clinton was first elected, medical-marijuana advocates thought that he 
would at least be sympathetic. He did, after all, appoint Dr. Joycelyn 
Elders as Surgeon General, and she was outspoken in favor of debating 
medical marijuana's potential. Unfortunately, the Clinton camp quickly saw 
her as a problematic political lightning rod-she was also in favor of sex 
education, AIDS education and the rights of high-schoolers to acquire 
condoms-and got rid of her before a serious nationwide medical-marijuana 
debate could even begin.

Subsequently, the Clinton years saw a grass-roots upsurge demanding the 
right of the seriously ill to medicate themselves with marijuana. 
California, Arizona, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada and 
the District of Columbia all passed referendums or legislation to legalize 
the medicinal use of cannabis, but the Clinton Administration refuses to 
recognize these laws as legitimate. Moreover, it has instructed the Justice 
Department to go after medicinal growers and distributors in those states. 
It has told doctors that their licenses to prescribe other drugs could be 
revoked if they give patients the documentation necessary to acquire 
medical marijuana, and said that patients using medical marijuana in 
federally funded housing will be evicted. These were not empty threats. A 
suit by California's doctors challenging the prescription-license threat is 
winding its way through the courts. And B.E. Smith, a Northern California 
grower who put his state's medical-marijuana law to the test by openly 
cultivating on a friend's mountain homestead-with all the necessary 
paperwork indicating the pot was for patients-is now serving a two-year 
sentence in federal prison, denied bail while his appeal is being considered.

Perhaps the most famous case regarding medical marijuana during Clinton's 
years involved Peter McWilliams and Todd McCormick. McWilliams, a 
best-selling author who suffered from both AIDS and cancer, and McCormick, 
a cancer patient, were arrested in 1998 for cultivating marijuana in a Bel 
Air, CA, mansion. The marijuana was intended to supply buyers' cooperatives 
that serve patients in California. As part of an agreement reached with 
federal prosecutors, they pleaded guilty to conspiracy to manufacture and 
distribute marijuana. McCormick agreed to a five-year sentence, with the 
right to appeal on the grounds that he'd been denied a medical-necessity 
defense. McWilliams waived his right to appeal in exchange for avoiding a 
mandatory 10-year minimum. Barred from using marijuana to control his 
nausea, he choked on his vomit and died of a heart attack last June, while 
awaiting sentencing.

Even before this grass-roots ground-swell challenged the federal policy, 
the Clinton years saw outlandishly cruel persecution of the ill. Among the 
thousands prosecuted for use of medical marijuana is Jimmy Montgomery, an 
Oklahoma paraplegic with no criminal record. In 1995, he received a life 
sentence for possession of less than one and a half ounces of marijuana-a 
sentence later commuted to life at home when it was discovered the state 
couldn't afford to treat his condition in prison. Another Oklahoman with no 
prior arrests, arthritis sufferer Will Foster, received 93 years in 1997 
for a small medical-marijuana garden he had in his basement. (His term has 
since been reduced to 20 years.) And Tom Brown of Arkansas, busted by the 
DEA in 1995, is serving a 10-year sentence for growing marijuana for 
medical use.

Needle-Exchange Funding:

The inability of needle-using drug addicts to acquire clean needles legally 
has long been identified as a key factor in the spread of AIDS, hepatitis 
and a host of other debilitating diseases. Junkies sharing used needles are 
microbe distributors. If they have clean needles, they won't spread those 
microbes. Dozens of major studies, including several paid for by the 
federal government during Clinton's years, have confirmed that needle 
exchange not only works, but does not increase drug use. Still, the Clinton 
Administration, at the behest of Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey, refused to 
allow federal funding for needle-exchange programs, saying that (in 
McCaffrey's words) this "would send a message to our nation's children that 
doing drugs is not wrong." That intransigence in the face of science has 
caused thousands of drug addicts and their lovers to die needlessly.

Official Corruption:

There have always been cases of individual police officers being corrupt. 
But the big money generated by the black-market drug trade-either legally 
through forfeiture, or illegally through protection rackets, blackmail and 
theft of drug profits-has turned several local law-enforcement agencies 
into ruthless criminal organizations. The lure of easy cash can corrupt 
individual officers, who then corrupt associates, until entire precincts, 
and sometimes whole departments, are involved in a web of criminal activity.

The New York Police Department's scandalous "Dirty Thirty" precinct in 
upper Manhattan involved dozens of officers in stealing confiscated drug 
money, shaking down witnesses and performing warrantless paramilitary-style 
raids. At the height of the scandal, in January 1994, officers Patrick 
Brosnan and James Crowe pumped 22 bullets into the backs of Anthony Rosario 
and Hilton Vega while they lay face down on an apartment floor.

New York is not alone: In Philadelphia, city narcotics officers have 
planted drugs on innocent people to justify warrantless searches, and 
robbed many of their victims. An ongoing investigation has resulted in 160 
Philadelphia drug convictions being overturned-including that of a Baptist 
minister held in a maximum-security prison for three years-and the 
imprisonment of six narcotics officers. Several other officers are awaiting 
trial, and an additional 1,800 convictions are under review.

Most recently, the Los Angeles Police Department faced revelations of 
institutionalized corruption and brutality from a former officer testifying 
in exchange for a reduced sentence for stealing eight pounds of cocaine 
from evidence-storage facilities.

Officer Rafael A. Perez, formerly of Rampart Division's elite antigang 
unit, Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums (CRASH), cooperated with 
investigators as part of a plea bargain in which he received a five-year 
prison term. Perez described how he and fellow CRASH officers beat suspects 
in interrogations and framed "gang members," winning convictions against 
them for crimes they did not commit. Authorities are now looking into 
hundreds of cases suspected of being tainted.

Perez said that after Javier Francisco Ovando was shot in the head and 
paralyzed for life in 1996, Perez and his partner, Officer Nino Durden, 
framed him on charges of threatening the officers with a gun. Ovando had 
been unarmed. Following Perez's new testimony, Ovando was released after 
serving two and a half years of a 23-year sentence. As of early 2000, a 
dozen officers had been suspended or fired in the scandal.

Police Stings The traditional use of police stings has been greatly 
expanded during the 30-year War on Drugs, and never more than during 
Clinton's tenure. Where once undercover police simply pretended to offer 
their services to criminals in order to catch them in illegal acts, it has 
become routine for police in the Drug War to encourage illegal activity in 
order to trap otherwise innocent people.

In some cases police have gone so far as to operate garden centers aimed at 
catching marijuana-growers. In one particularly onerous case, Scott Jones, 
the owner of a garden center in Pennsylvania, was threatened with 70 years 
for cultivating marijuana, but allowed to remain free if he would help 
incarcerate other growers. Over the next several years, Jones not only 
encouraged gardeners to grow pot, but actually provided plants and set up 
indoor gardens in return for a share of the profits, all with police 
approval. Before it was exposed by HIGH TIMES in 1997, the sting produced 
more than 10 arrests and the forfeiture of several homes.

Goodbye, Posse Comitatus:

The Posse Comitatus Act prohibits the use of the military in domestic law 
enforcement, but once again our nation's War on Drugs has perverted both 
the spirit and the letter of the law, permitting the military to operate in 
several regions of the country. In the lush woodlands of Northern 
California, epicenter of outdoor marijuana cultivation in America, 
multijurisdictional teams of county, state and federal officers survey the 
mountains and forests for pot plants every fall as part of a coordinated 
effort called CAMP-the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting, which uses US 
military helicopters and other equipment illegally.

In Hawaii, the Pentagon-backed eradication effort against pot-growing has 
been waged for more than 10 years. Pesticide-spraying choppers patrol the 
jungle in what authorities openly view as a test program for eventual 
export to the mainland. On the Big Island, Air Force RF-4C Phantom 
reconnaissance jets survey the ground for crops-followed by police choppers 
with specially designed pesticide spray-guns. The spray poisons groundwater 
supplies and edible crops, and has caused hundreds of physical ailments and 
several deaths.

And on the Mexican border, for the past several years, quietly and with 
little media coverage, elite Pentagon troops have been moved into position 
along the Rio Grande and the southern deserts of Arizona and California to 
back up Border Patrol and state police in antidrug operations. In 1996 a 
camouflaged Marine fatally shot an 18-year-old Mexican-American goat herder 
named Ezequiel Hernandez near Big Bend, Texas, bringing the program before 
the public eye-and throwing it into question before Congress.


Even as elements at every level of government-from local precincts and 
sheriff's departments to the Pentagon and Central Intelligence Agency-are 
ensconced in the drug trade, the media have successfully demonized drug 
users to the extent that dissent against the frightening wave of 
constitutional violations and police overreach has become almost verboten.

And while he leaves office with the economy strong, Clinton's economic 
gains have at least partly been fueled by a vicious war against small-time 
drug users and dealers. He also leaves setting the stage for another 
Vietnam in Colombia that may well spill over into Venezuela, Ecuador and 
Brazil-all in the name of fighting drugs. But the millions of man-years 
lost to prison, the families and communities ravaged, the billions spent to 
wipe out drugs at their point of origin-all have been futile at ending, or 
even lowering, drug use. Teen use of drugs is substantially higher than it 
was when he entered office. Heroin and cocaine are cheaper and purer than 
they've been since they were outlawed in 1914. And Clinton has overseen it 
all with a smile.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom