Monday, January 19, 2009

Is the War on Drugs Worth the Fight?

Radley Balko has a comprehensive essay on how much damage the war on drugs is having from police militarization, foreign policy blunders, damage to rule of law, record incarceration rates, and hurts people who need medical treatment. (read)
In the 1980s, the “war” part of the drug war got very real. America’s long (and wise) constraint on using the military for domestic policing began to blur, as states deployed National Guard troops to search for marijuana hidden in fields and forests and, in some cases, to patrol drug-riddled inner cities. The line between cop and soldier further blurred when President Regan authorized active-duty elite military units to train with narcotics police, and then again with the exploding use of paramilitary SWAT teams in America.

Only a handful of police departments had SWAT teams in the 1970s, and they were only deployed in total a few hundred times per year. That number soared to around 4,000 per year by the early 1980s. There are around 50,000 SWAT deployments per year today in America, and they’re primarily used to serve drug
warrants.


By the late 1980s, Congress had opened up the Pentagon’s cache of surplus military equipment for civilian police departments across the country to scavenge, again driven largely by the drug war. Millions of pieces of equipment designed for use on the battlefield—including guns, tanks, armored personnel vehicles, helicopters, grenade launchers, and armor—would now be used on American streets, against American citizens. Parallel to the rise of SWAT teams was the rise of the “no-knock raid” which sent cops barreling into private homes to look for dope, a particularly aggressive and violent method of policing, that has since left behind a predictable trail of tragedy.

I have written about this issue here: A Day to Examine Drug Prohibition

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