Pubdate: Thu, 30 Sep 1999
Source: Collegiate Times (VA)
Copyright: 1999 Collegiate Times
Contact:  363 Squires Student Center, Blacksburg, VA 24061
Fax: (540)231-5057
Author: John Small


I would like to respond to the Sept. 23 article, "Police state is not an
American dream" and the Sept. 24 article "Drug sentences are unjust." This
response is in total agreement with the points made.

First of all, I voted for Gov. Jim Gilmore, and I have agreed with most of
his policies so far. His announcement of mandatory minimums of up to 20
years for non-violent drug offenders really disappointed me, as I thought
he had more sense than that.

I guess I was wrong.

To many Republicans, the drug war seems to represent a party dogma that
must be toughened, no matter how little thought has been put into the
various proposals or how little they have worked, or can work.

Surely it would make more sense to solve and prevent more of the murders
that have plagued cities like Richmond in the past than to push a social
engineering agenda that cannot work. Whenever I am in Richmond, I
constantly hear news reports of murders with no suspect or motive, and now
Gilmore wants to create a new 210 member police division to deal with drug
offenses only?

Let's worry about priorities, such as enforcing laws against violent crime.
Let's continue on the path of denying parole for violent offenders, in
addition to increasing sentences for such people.

His proposal is clearly an emotional, politically driven proposal that is
designed to get more Republicans elected in November. This trick will not
work on me.

I have written against the drug war in the past, as I have read too many
stories of people being killed by police during raids that many times
produce no drug findings, of deaths due to turf wars that duplicate those
during the Prohibition Era between competing liquor dealers, etc. There are
also many cases of violent convicts getting a short sentence or being
released too early due to irrational mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug
offenders. This is due to overcrowding in prison. While the politicians who
propose minimums get elected, society suffers. This is unjust.

Why should it be possible for violent predators to be allowed to roam the
streets in order to imprison people who merely possess the wrong kind of
substance? One can possess as much alcohol or other legal drug as one
wants, but others drugs are not allowed. This is clearly inconsistent.

I think people should not use drugs, but I don't think our current approach
to the problem can work. Treatment is a better option.

Another insane proposal to advance the drug war includes a proposal to take
away financial aid such as in-state tuition from those convicted of a drug
offense, which I disagree with on the grounds that the penalty would do
more harm than good. At this point in history, we should have learned that
education is the best way to advance society, and this is a step backwards.

Denying financial aid for such a ridiculous charge would make society's
problems worse in the long run. Most times drug use is just a phase that
eventually passes.

The politicians who propose this seem to be in their own little world and
apparently are unaffected by such possibilities.

The writers allegations that the Drug War results in civil liberties
violations needs to be explained more as well. Let me give you a case study.

A Sept. 6 Washington Post article entitled, "FBI Probes Fatal Drug Raid in
California" reports that on Aug. 9 in El Monte, CA, police shot and killed
Mario Paz, a 64 year old grandfather, when executing a warrant for
marijuana, paraphernalia, money, and/or guns. They found three handguns, a
0.22 caliber rifle and $10,000 cash.

The guns were there for protection in their high crime neighborhood and the
money was their life savings. The officers, for whatever reason, broke in
when the family was asleep and made a lot of noise, as they shot the locks
off the door and threw in a flash-bang grenade. Mario thought they were
burglars and reached for his gun. This is certainly what I would do in a
situation like this, and I don't expect anyone else to wait around until
they get shot just to see if a burglar is really a police officer.

Such tactics seem to be excessive use of force, but the problem is that
this is not an isolated incident. There are many cases of innocent people
being shot or scared to death during drug raids by such cowboy police that
crave bloodshed.

I also find it ironic that Republicans, who are generally concerned by the
government violence at Waco, don't seem to care about violence in drug raids.

The two are not unrelated scenarios.

The bigger problem in the El Monte case is the fact that they had an

"aggressive anti-drug program" which makes such violence inevitable. So
this is the reason why, in my view, this war violates civil liberties.

In closing, I would like to point out that it took one event, the St.
Valentine's Day Massacre, to provide the catalyst that ended Prohibition.

When will we see the light about the drug war?

John Small
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