Drug War Fail

A little while ago, the video of a drug raid in Columbia Missouri was released on YouTube. The video shows a SWAT team barging into a citizen’s house late a night and immediately opening fire, shooting the family dogs and putting a small child at risk. The result? A $300 fine for the possession of drug paraphernalia. That’s right: a SWAT team terrorized a family, killed their pets, and risked the life of a child to bust someone for owning a pipe.

The video in question:

To make matters worse, the police apparently lies about the details of the raid in order to save face. And, as Reason Magazine points out, the only thing unusual about this particular raid was that it was caught on video.

But despite all the anger the raid has inspired, the only thing unusual thing here is that the raid was captured on video, and that the video was subsequently released to the press. Everything else was routine. Save for the outrage coming from Columbia residents themselves, therefore, the mass anger directed at the Columbia Police Department over the last week is misdirected. Raids just like the one captured in the video happen 100-150 times every day in America. Those angered by that video should probably look to their own communities. Odds are pretty good that your local police department is doing the same thing.

First, some background on the raid depicted in the video: On February 11, the Columbia, Missouri, police department’s SWAT team served a drug warrant at the home of Jonathan Whitworth and Brittany Montgomery. Police say that eight days earlier they had received a tip from a confidential informant that Whitworth had a large supply of marijuana in his home. They say they first conducted a trash pull, and found marijuana residue in the family’s garbage. During the raid, police shot and killed the family’s pit bull. At least one bullet ricocheted, injuring the family’s pet corgi. Whitworth, Montgomery, and their 7-year-old son were at home at the time. The incident was written up in the Columbia Daily Tribune, noted on a few blogs that cover drug policy (including a post I put up here at Reason), and then largely forgotten for several weeks.

On April 28, I received an email from Montgomery. She had seen my post at Reason and read an account of some of my reporting on SWAT teams published in Reader’s Digest. She said she was reading to her son in his bedroom at the time of the raid. Her husband had just returned home from work. Police fired on their pets within seconds of entering the home.

“I’ve never felt so violated or more victimized in my life,” Montgomery wrote. “It’s absolutely the most helpless and hopeless feeling I could ever imagine. I can’t sleep right … and I am constantly paranoid. It’s a horrible feeling … to lose the safety and security I thought I was entitled to in my own home. Nobody protected us that night, my son and I were locked in the back of a police car for nearly four hours on a school night while they destroyed my home.”

(Read the whole thing here — it’s worth the time.)

I have some personal interest in this story. My ex-wife was the subject of a violent police raid not long ago. Her sister was staying with her, and was on parole for drug charges. Her name was given by an informant who was trying to avoid her own jail time for drug use. It was alleged that there was a wanted drug dealer staying at my ex-wife’s house, so the police launched a raid. They charged in, setting off flash bangs to subdue the danger posed by three children and their legally-blind grandmother. My ex’s sister didn’t even know the person they were looking for, and her drug test came up clean. The most they had to go one was a jar of a “suspicious powder” that was a sand-painting one of the kids had made for his grandmother. They had no evidence and moved on the word of an untrustworthy witness motivated by getting a deal, and they put innocent children’s lives in danger.

Well, the AP is finally catching on to a very simple and obvious fact: the Drug War is a farce.

After 40 years, the United States’ war on drugs has cost $1 trillion and hundreds of thousands of lives, and for what? Drug use is rampant and violence even more brutal and widespread.

Even U.S. drug czar Gil Kerlikowske concedes the strategy hasn’t worked.

“In the grand scheme, it has not been successful,” Kerlikowske told The Associated Press. “Forty years later, the concern about drugs and drug problems is, if anything, magnified, intensified.”

This week President Obama promised to “reduce drug use and the great damage it causes” with a new national policy that he said treats drug use more as a public health issue and focuses on prevention and treatment.

Nevertheless, his administration has increased spending on interdiction and law enforcement to record levels both in dollars and in percentage terms; this year, they account for $10 billion of his $15.5 billion drug-control budget.

These buffoons need to read up on the history of alcohol prohibition and the crime it caused, and what happened to that crime once prohibition ended.

Bottom line is that the war on drugs is an utter failure, and the victims of it are the American people who are having their rights violated and their homes and lives destroyed by over-zealous law enforcement agencies that are using more and more aggressive tactics with less and less evidence for smaller collars. This should worry everyone.

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