Source: The Oregonian
Section: Reader Forum
Author: Lee R. Martin
Pubdate: Thursday, 5 Feb 1998


Officer Colleen Waibel Is Latest Victim Of What Has Become Truly A War On

The untimely death of Officer Colleen Waibel is tragic - particularly
tragic.  I am old-fashioned enough to believe, because she was a woman, her
killer deserves the most severe punishment our judicial system is capable
of dispensing, and perhaps a good deal worse.

But it obscene and ludicrous that the burning of some marijuana leaves
figured prominently in the chain of causation that led to this tragedy.  It
is simply wrong that the police are required to routinely resort to extreme
force to combat essentially private acts, such as growing, smoking or
burning marijuana. If we know anything about human nature, we should expect
that when such force is brought to bear in such circumstances, uncivil and
irrational behavior, inexcusable in itself, is likely to result.

Besides the burning of marijuana leaves, the posturing of politicians and
the negligence of the electorate -- and perhaps also the commercially
motivated interference of the news media  also figure prominently in the
chain of causation that led to this tragedy.  

Government should encourage civil behavior and deter uncivil behavior, and
should not be concerned with strictly private behavior, such as the use of
drugs or sexual acts between consenting adults.To make all forms of
unwholesome behavior illegal - as government is increasingly being employed
to do - is to create the kind of legal and social catastrophe we find
ourselves trying to cope with today. To use commercial, scientific or
religious rationalizations to support the progressive curtailment of
private behavior, as we are doing today, is to engage in the gradual
imposition of a totalitarianism of unprecedented scope.

Such pillars of the establishment as George Shultz and Milton Friedman
publicly acknowledge the failure of the war on drugs and advocate the
decriminalization of drug use.

Because of our government's inflexible drug policies - principally
determined, I believe, by defunct traditionalism, irrelevant moralism,
economic interests and inertia - the United States is losing a border war
with Mexico, and communities throughout the United States are contaminated
by a law enforcement regime that has begun to rival the paranoid excesses
of Stalin and the surrealism of Franz Kafka. Because of these policies
Colleen Waibel lost her life.

I do not use illegal drugs, although I did many years ago and understand
their effect. If marijuana were legal, I might use it occasionally, or I
might not. Surely breathing a little marijuana smoke is no more unwholesome
than breathing the diesel fumes that pollute the Portland Transit Mall; no
more dangerous than driving a car through the Terwilliger curves or living
next door to Steven Dens. I do not use illegal drugs, primarily because to
do so would involve de facto support of the corrupt commerce in illegal
drugs -- that is, I would be an accessory to the bribery, murder, evasion
of tax laws and so on that this commerce entails.

There is an important distinction between private behavior and civil
behavior, and I believe we should be vigilant to maintain that distinction.
Fundamentally, civil behavior involves the formal relationship between the
individual and society. Civil virtues include tolerance, cooperation,
courtesy, protection of the weak by the strong, participation in democratic
institutions and conscientious obedience of the law, or conscientious
resistance to bad laws.

A civil society is one in which we fundamentally trust one another,
understanding and fulfilling the responsibilities of civil behavior,
without fear that our private behavior will be made the object of public
censure. Today the basis of such trust is being attacked on all sides, but
the most pernicious attacks are perpetrated by institutions such as the
news media and government itself.

These questions remain: Shall we clothe our police in more impenetrable
armor, equip them with more powerful weapons, provide them with ever more
pervasive means of spying on citizens, authorize further curtailment of
civil rights and waste more resources and more lives on a misconceived
conflict that cannot be won?

Common sense whispers "no." 

Lee R. Martin lives in Northeast Portland