Pubdate: Tue, 21 Sep 1999
Source: Investors Business Daily (US)
Copyright: 1999 Investors Business Daily, Inc.
Contact: Unknown
Note: We seldom post an item without a LTE contact. But not having one, and
knowing that the webmaster at the website probably is not appropriate for
LTEs, we are posting this anyway. We hope a reader will send the
appropriate contact info to TYRANNY AND THE WAR ON DRUGS 

In the name of establishing a drug-free society, overzealous police have
too often failed to notice the difference between the innocent and the
guilty. As a result, the war on drugs has gone beyond keeping the peace.
It's become a threat to liberty.

From asset forfeitures to home invasions to military involvement, the war
on drugs has taken disturbing turns.

Among the more recent incidents, a SWAT team broke into a Compton, Calif.,
home at about 11 p.m. on Aug. 9. They killed a retired grandfather by
shooting him twice in the back. His widow - handcuffed and wearing only a
towel and panties, according to the Los Angeles Times - and six others were
taken into custody. All were questioned. None was charged.

The charges should have been filed against the police. They weren't
deputies from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, which contracts
with some metro cities for police protection. They were from El Monte,
Calif., nearly 20 miles away. Yes, they had a warrant. Police thought a
member of a drug ring used the house as a mail drop.

The warrant didn't name anyone in the house, though.

By the way - no drugs were found on the property. But one life was ended
and others changed forever because those officers were waging a war on drugs.

The Compton incident is not isolated. In the summer of 1998, Houston police
shot to death Pedro Oregon Navarro during a drug raid.

The problem: Navarro was not a drug dealer. But police wanted to believe he
was. A man arrested for public drunkenness told officers he would give them
the name and address of a drug dealer if they let him go. They agreed.

Without corroboration - and without a warrant - six officers stormed the
home of a sleeping Navarro and shot him 12 times. Self-defense, they said;
Navarro was going for a gun.

Well, who wouldn't grab a gun if they were awakened at 1:40 in the morning
by what amounts to a military raid?

Navarro died because in the blind pursuit of drug traffickers, officers
were too willing to believe a drunken man who had every reason to lie. He
was on probation and would have been sent back to jail if police had not
dropped the public-intoxication charges.

These dramatic, tragic deaths make the front pages and lead the newscasts.
But there's another ugly side of the war on drugs that doesn't get as much
media attention. It doesn't kill people; it just ruins their lives.

Asset forfeiture has become standard procedure for many police departments.
Cash, cars, homes and other property are routinely seized during drug
searches and never returned. It happens even if drugs are never found. And
it happens when the items belong to someone who had no part in the crime.

Police departments use the seized property to supplement their budgets -
giving the cops more resources to go out and seize even more property.

All police need is probable cause that the property was involved in a
crime. Talk about unreasonable search and seizure.

Getting back seized property is a problem. Innocent owners must prove that
a crime did not take place. Many simply forget it. They weigh the legal
costs against the slim chance of recovering their property and find that
it's not worth it.

A bill written by Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., that would at least check asset
forfeiture abuses was passed 376-48 in the House. The Senate has yet to
craft a companion bill. But at least Washington is acting.

Perhaps the most famous case of the drug war gone overboard is a big news
item recently. Many Americans believe the government said the Branch
Davidians were involved in drug trafficking from their Waco, Texas,
complex. Fewer know that there was no evidence the Davidians were making

Fewer still know that the government made up the drug accusation. Why? So
it could call in the military for the 51-day siege that ended when the
Davidian complex burned in April 1993.

By calling the enforcement of drug laws a ''war on drugs,'' the government
has instilled a military attitude among police. State and local departments
spent nearly $16 billion in 1991 to wage the war. Police and deputies dress
in combat uniforms, wear masks, carry assault weapons and use explosives
when they raid homes. The public now faces the frightening militarization
of the police.

Drug abuse is a problem in the U.S. The laws should be enforced, but not at
the expense of individual liberty.
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