Civil Liberties, Freedom, First Casualties of Drug War

Drugs are becoming an increasingly
large national threat

And not just because of the
social costs of addiction. Alcohol and tobacco leave other drugs far behind
in their destructiveness. It isn’t because of increased drug-related crime.
Much of this crime occurs between rival drug dealers, and could be reduced
by legalization.

No, the biggest danger that
drugs pose is that some people are using the current public hysteria over
the problem to launch an assault on civil liberties.

The most manifest example
of this is the widespread use of so-called “drug-courier profiles”
and stop and frisk measures.

A drug courier profile is
a list of individual acts which by themselves are legal, but taken together
indicate that a person maybe transporting illegal drugs. People who fly
to cities like Miami and stay only a night or two, or who pay for their
plane tickets in cash can be stopped, detained and strip-searched, even
though the only crime they may have committed was looking suspicious.

A major element of such profiles
is race. Minority persons are much more likely to be considered suspects
than whites. The implicit assumption behind this seems to be that blacks,
Hispanics and others are more likely to be involved in drug trafficking.

Aside from the fact that in
a sense this makes having the wrong skin color a crime, the logic behind
it is absurd. If it is assumed that minority persons are more likely to
be transporting drugs, then more minority persons will be stopped and
arrested. This increase in arrests then “proves” the original
hypothesis to be true.

Various Supreme Court decisions
have also given police broad powers to stop and frisk just about anyone.
In cities like Boston and Los Angeles, police regularly conduct large
sweeps of certain areas. They warm down on a neighborhood and search anyone
who happens to be in the area. Usually, poverty-ridden minority areas
are subject to this sort of harassment rather than middle or upper class
suburbs.

In Los Angeles, city officials
tried to carry this one step further. They wanted people in certain areas
to carry identification proving they lived there. They also wanted to
make it illegal for people to gather in groups of more than two. Is this
the United States or South Africa?

These measures were ruled
unconstitutional, but that has not seemed to deter those who want to limit
civil liberties in order to fight drugs.

In a speech just a few weeks
ago, drug czar William Bennett suggested that the government should go
to drug-infested areas and remove all of the children. He suggested that
orphanages would be much better places for them than such neighborhoods.

In effect, Bennett would like
to penalize low income people who are forced to live in America’s ghettos
by taking away their children. If he has his way, in the future we may
see signs that say “Child Free Drug Zone.” Perhaps instead,
Bennett might consider financing drug treatment centers in such areas.

Some conservative writers
like Cal Thomas have gone even further arguing that the government needs
broad censorship powers to control the drug problem. Thomas thinks that
music groups like 2 Live Crew and N.W.A. are polluting our moral standards,
and they(along with movies and other media) should be forced to present
wholesome, decent values.

Before Thomas’ vision of America
comes to pass, we need to ask ourselves if the sacrifices we’re being
asked to make aren’t even more dangerous that the drug problem they are
designed to combat?

This column original appeared
in the Western Herald.

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