Who's Winning The War On Drugs?
Adam B. Clausen
Professor Tony Gaskew, Ph.D.
September 20, 2012
Abstract: This paper explores the effects of the United States' 30 year War On Drugs. Included herein is a brief analysis of "search and seizure" laws that have enabled law enforcement to arrest over 31 million people on drug related charges. Discussion of how these laws may have been manipulated is brief but poignant and extends beyond the nation's borders. The author's conclusion is that no one is actually winning this war.
The War On Drugs is responsible for reshaping the entire modern criminal justice system in America. Since the War began back in October 1982, state and federal prison populations have exploded, law enforcement budgets here ballooned and poor inner city communities have been let decimated. It's extremely difficult to accurately gauge the progress of this war, especially when the rate of drug possession and usage has remained steady throughout the country despite an incredible number of arrests. Current estimates put the number of casualties of the War On Drugs in excess of 31 million Americans. Few people can claim not to have been touched by the ongoing battle in some direct or attenuated manner. The media certainly has done its part to ensure that the public sees the heroics of law enforcement played out on the nightly news, providing that the war is at least being hard fought, if not won.
Since everyone seems to know about the War On Drugs, why then do the casualties continue to mount? One theory is that poor people believe the potential rewards of the drug trade simply outweigh the risk of getting caught and going to prison. Another theory is that those individuals who decide to enter into the drug trade don't understand the current and highly relevant "Rules Of The Game." Few motorists on the road today can tell you anything about "search and seizure" laws. All those individuals already in "the game" that are out on the roads with drugs in their possession should know their legal rights but likely do not. If they did, they would know the Supreme Court decided Terry v. Ohio back in 1968 and has since allowed law enforcement officers the right to "stop and frisk" but NOT the right to search without "consent." Individuals who are not involved in any sort of illegal activity might not appreciate the inconvenience of a "Terry" stop, but most view the encounter as just that, an inconvenience.
Once an officer explains to any law-abiding citizen that the search is to ensure the officer's personal safety, they generally understand and comply. The more frequently these encounters occur, the more acceptable the practice becomes amongst the masses. Since 9/11 the general public has become more and more desensitized to the regularity with which personal rights violations do occur in most public spaces. Each video or photo shown by the media of yet another criminal being lead away in handcuffs only reinforces the public's need to give up their personal rights in order to remain "safe."
Interstate and intrastate roadways have long been the key "pipelines" of concentration for law enforcement officers hoping to engage the enemy in the War On Drugs. Throughout the mid to late 1990's New Jersey State Prisons were overflowing with men whom had been arrested with drugs while traveling along the NJ Turnpike. Many of those men were from out of state and traveling back from New York City to their homes in other states. Law enforcement officers were frequently accused of racial profiling in those days, but nearly everyone of the accusations made against them came from motorists whom had been stopped, searched and found to be in possession of drugs. Despite the fact that the search itself may have been a violation of personal rights, the law abiding public remained relatively unmoved by the accusations due to the presumption of guilt placed on the motorist. The media's portrayal of these events strongly sided with state law enforcement, so public support continued for the War and prions remained overcrowded with drug offenders.
In her book, "The New Jim Crow," Michelle Alexander addresses not only the illegality of many pipeline case searches but also claims that certain sweeping search procedures often used are illegal and ineffective as well ("The New Jim Crow," Michelle Alexander, 2012. p.64). One of the Supreme Court cases she cites is Florida v. Bostick. The Court affirmed a cocaine trafficking conviction because they believed that the defendant had "consented" to the search while on board a Greyhound Bus. Obviously, defendant Bostick was unaware of certain "Rules Of The Game" that applied to him at the time and likewise should not have been sleeping while on the job. Alexander's claim that these sweeping search procedures (of buses) yielded few arrests simply is not true. To support her claim she gives the example of one case where "a sweep of one hundreds buses resulted in only seven arrests." However, that 7/10 arrests converts to a greater that one arrest out of every twenty buses that are searched. So if an officer is working an eight hour shift, and searches little more than two buses an hour then he or she is going to make at least one arrest during every, single working day. That equates to 20 arrests a month or 240 arrests each year. That officer could become solely responsible for the occupants of an entire prison within just a few short years. Those numbers are far from meager and inconsequential.
While attempting to discern who, if anyone, is really winning this War On Drugs it's imperative to consider the full magnitude and scope of the war. It is being waged well beyond our borders and has affected literally millions of lives worldwide. Our military has been enlisted to fight this war in distant countries throughout the Middle East such as Afghanistan by destroying poppy crops inside that country that could have eventually produced heroin, which was later transported to and sold within the United States, as a means to finance extremist Islamic terrorists intent on waging holy war against this country. The drug trade continues to thrive worldwide and that is largely the result of our consumption of illegal narcotics right here in the United States. We are the greatest consumers of these drugs and therefore must accept responsibility for many of the collateral adverse affects of the drug trade felt worldwide. Javier Sicilia's son was murdered i Mexico by hit men from the Gulf Cartel ("A Father's plea: End the war on drugs," Javier Sicilia, September 2012, CNN.com). Although this father laments the loss of his son, he is merely on of more than 60,000 people that have been killed siince Mexican President Felipe Calderone joined the Unites Sates War On Drugs six years ago. Sicilia claims that these deaths would not have occurred had Mexico and the United Sates pursued a bilateral agenda to decriminalize drugs and regulate tehir use. It's impossible to know what might have been, but it's indisputable at this stage of the game to discount the heavy casualties which have resulted on account of the War On Drugs. No on ecan claim to be "winning" this War On Drugs which has now be raging fo
I'm definitely NOT just your average guy that's doin' time...According to the Federal Bureau Of Prisons I still owe them a couple more centuries before they'll let me outta here. Despite my current predicament I've decided to fully embrace the immortal words of my man, the O.G. of Cool, Mr. James Dean who said to "Dream as if you'll live forever and live as if you'll die today". I may be stuck physically here in prison but I sure as hell ain't dead yet...in fact I figure that I'm still about 60 to 70 years away from my final day but that won't make me change the way I'm living today. This blog is my window out into the world and while I'm looking out you may just catch a glimpse inside mine. Let me know if you like what you see... and if you don't, feel free to disagree and let me know what's really on your mind.