Pubdate: Fri, 01 Dec 2006
Source: Baltimore Chronicle (MD)
Copyright: 2006 The Baltimore Chronicle and the Sentinel
Author:  Sheldon Richman
Note: The author is a senior fellow at The Future of Freedom 
Foundation ( and editor of The Freeman magazine.


The War in Iraq Goes On, but We Shouldn't Let It Overshadow the War 
At Home--the War on Drugs.

It is the very nature of victimless crimes that pushes the police to 
use unscrupulous tactics.

Since the buyer and seller willingly participate in the transaction, 
the only way the police can detect the criminal activity is to set it 
up themselves or encourage informants. The war in Iraq goes on, but 
we shouldn't let it overshadow the war at home--one that frequently 
takes the lives of people who don't deserve to die. It's known as the 
War on Drugs, but it's really a war on people who themselves are not 
making war against anyone.

Too often individuals minding their own business are killed by 
government officers.

In the name of decency, this war must end.

By now many people have heard that an 88-year-old Atlanta woman who 
lived alone was shot dead November 21 by police raiding her home on 
the basis of a confidential informant's claim that he had bought 
crack cocaine from a man at that location.

However, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the 
unidentified informant says the police told him after the shooting.

Kathryn Johnston, whom the newspaper said was "described by neighbors 
as feeble and afraid to open her door after dark," was killed as 
police, executing a no-knock warrant, forcibly entered her home. 
Johnston fired on the men with a rusty pistol she kept for protection 
in her rough neighborhood, wounding three police officers.

Returning the fire, the police killed Johnston. The injuries to the 
police were not life-threatening.

The police story has changed several times, raising serious 
credibility questions. For example, the police said they found 
narcotics in Johnston's home, but later they said they found only a 
small amount of marijuana, which is not regarded as a narcotic.

The FBI is investigating.

This sort of thing happens all too often.

As Radley Balko documents in the Cato Institute White Paper 
"Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America,"

"Over the last 25 years, America has seen a disturbing militarization 
of its civilian law enforcement, along with a dramatic and unsettling 
rise in the use of paramilitary police units (most commonly called 
Special Weapons and Tactics, or SWAT) for routine police work. The 
most common use of SWAT teams today is to serve narcotics warrants, 
usually with forced, unannounced entry into the home.

"These increasingly frequent raids, 40,000 per year by one estimate, 
are needlessly subjecting nonviolent drug offenders, bystanders, and 
wrongly targeted civilians to the terror of having their homes 
invaded while they're sleeping, usually by teams of heavily armed 
paramilitary units dressed not as police officers but as soldiers.

These raids bring unnecessary violence and provocation to nonviolent 
drug offenders, many of whom were guilty of only misdemeanors. The 
raids terrorize innocents when police mistakenly target the wrong residence.

And they have resulted in dozens of needless deaths and injuries, not 
only of drug offenders, but also of police officers, children, 
bystanders, and innocent suspects."

The fact is, without the War on Drugs atrocities such as the killing 
of Kathryn Johnston wouldn't be happening.

It is the very nature of victimless crimes that pushes the police to 
use unscrupulous tactics.

In a victimless crime, such as an illegal drug transaction, there is 
no complaining witness, no one with an interest in reporting the 
crime to the police.

After all, the buyer and seller willingly participate in the 
transaction. Thus, the only way the police can detect the criminal 
activity is to set it up themselves or encourage informants. But the 
opportunity for corruption in these tactics is immense.

For example, informants looking for a favor from the police have an 
incentive to provide false information. You have only to read the 
newspapers to find details of corrupt law enforcement in connection 
with drug prohibition.

In a free society adults have the right to ingest whatever they want. 
It's no business of the government. But if it makes such peaceful 
private activity its business, law enforcement will inevitably turn 
to measures that jeopardize the lives of people who have harmed no 
one else. Let's end this madness now.
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MAP posted-by: Elaine