Above: Reason TV and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.
The names we give things have a great power over how we think about them. Ever since Richard Nixon declared a "War on drugs" in 1971, the United States has gone ever further down the road of applying a military solution to a public health problem.
One might have thought that Nixon, already up to his armpits in Vietnam and having declared that he would "not be the first president to lose a war," would not have launched another unwinnable conflict. But Nixon, like leaders before and since, could be more interested in appearing tough than in being wise.
Our approach to drug abuse has thus taken on the language of war. The weapons of war. The clothes, the tactics and the success measures of war. And it all makes about as much sense as sending the Pentagon to stamp out diabetes or schizophrenia.
America’s drug policy is best understood, not in military terms, but in the language of addiction. Our government is so riddled with classic symptoms of rationalization, denial and paranoia that what is called the drug war would be better understood as the anti-drug drug, a highly addictive substance that, once in your veins, never lets go.
In Ogden on the night of Jan. 4, a multi-agency group of law enforcement officers — organized, attired, armed and labeled as a "strike force" — assembled at the home of a former U.S. soldier, knocked on the door and, when their was no answer, entered in their warranted search for, as far as we now know, a little homegrown marijuana.
The ensuing exchange of fire claimed the life of Ogden Police Officer Jared Francom, a young and vibrant man with a wife and two small children, described, lovingly, and tellingly, as an "adrenaline junkie." It also left five other officers and the suspect, Matthew David Stewart, wounded.
About a week later, when the most important questions were about how the actions of trained law enforcement officers could go so tragically wrong, the local prosecutor was all over the media announcing that he would seek the death penalty for Stewart.
Maybe that’s the proper response. Maybe that’s shifting the blame for a horrible event away from public officials and on to a troubled pothead who responded to the arrival in his front room of a clutch of armed strangers as many of us would have.
One thing that America did learn from the Vietnam war was that it was wrong to blame the soldiers. Reputed incidents of anti-war protesters spitting on uniformed veterans, calling them "baby killers," explain why the peace movement still doesn’t have the widespread respect that it deserved. The failure was intensified by many of the same generation denigrating police officers, calling them "pigs" and worse.
The officers who carry out the battlefield tactics of the drug war are incredibly brave and selfless, putting their lives on the line to follow orders given them by their democratically elected governments.
Those officers want to be where the action is. They want to take on the most dangerous assignment, never leave anyone else to face danger in their stead, never fail to do anything they can do to accomplish their mission.
When we demand that our government cease its futile efforts to put an end to drug abuse in this violent manner, it must not be because we don’t honor men like Jared Francom. It must be because we do.
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