Thursday, November 30, 2006

Wow, Isn't the "war on drugs" great.

I am sure by now you have heard about the drug raid in Atlanta that left an 88 year old woman shot to death by police. If not allow me to catch you up to speed.

Atlanta police went to a home on Neal Street in Atlanta last week to execute a search warrant. When they kicked the door in the only occupant of the home, an 88-year-old woman, started shooting. She hit all three police officers, one in the thigh, one in the arm and another in the shoulder. All police officers will be OK. The woman will not. She was shot and killed by the police.

I'm not blaming the cops here. Not at all. They had a valid search warrant, and they say they were at the right address. Shots were fired, three cops hit, and they returned fire. An 88-year-old woman who was so afraid of crime in her neighborhood that she had burglar bars on every door and window, is now dead.

The issue isn't whether or not the police should have returned fire. Of course they should have. They didn't know who was doing the shooting. They believed they were entering a house where drugs were being sold. On the other hand, Kathryn Johnson did the right thing also. Scared to death of living in that high-crime neighborhood, she had properly armed herself. She had heard of a recent rape of an elderly woman nearby. She was simply defending herself when she was killed.

Now we have an interesting twist. The informant is now saying that the police told him to lie, they told him to say that he had purchased drugs from the home. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to think that the informant is now lying to cover his behind. The problem is that the police have been caught in a few inaccuracies themselves.

The police first told us that the police officers made the drug buy in the home earlier that day. Then that story was changed to it was a paid police informant who is a highly reliable police asset in the war on drugs in Atlanta. Then come to find out the informant has a rather lengthy arrest record. We were also told that police found narcotics in the home. Later we're told they only found a small amount of marijuana .. not considered to be narcotics.

So what the hell happened here? How did this all go so wrong?

Well, who knows for sure but if I had to guess I would say it went down like this: The informant, for whatever reason, wanted the old lady gone. So, he goes to the police and says I just bought x amount of narcotics in this house. The police are pretty sure of his story, but they know a judge may not give them a warrant because of the informants long arrest record. So the police go to the judge and claim that they bought the drugs earlier that day. The judge grants the warrant and you know the rest.

Like I said, I don’t blame the police officers that kicked in the door for this. The blame lies on the idiotic way we continue to fight the war on drugs in this country. We have all the studies we need; all of the comprehensive data is in. We can do a much more effective job of reducing drug use in this country if we'll just take a portion of the money we spend for law enforcement and spend it on treatment programs.

A Rand study showed that we can reduce illicit drug usage in this country a specific amount through treatment programs at about 10% of the cost of reducing drug usage by that same amount through criminalization and law enforcement. Study after study confirms this but the American people have the need to punish those who get involved with drugs rather than treat and help.

There's just something in the American psyche that demands that drug users be punished instead of treated and rehabilitated. We think they're stupid and weak for getting mixed up with those drugs in the first place. Perhaps they are, but stupid and weak can be fixed.

We could save billions of dollars a year in law enforcement and incarceration costs if we would wise up and stop this absurd war on drugs. Identify the users and offer them treatment. Crime rate goes down. Money is saved, and we get reduced usage and dependence on drugs. Which I thought was supposed to be the goal of the war on drugs anyways.

What I'm trying to get across here is as long as we insist on wasting billions of dollars treating drugs as a law enforcement problem we're going to continue to have tragedies like Kathryn Johnson's death in cities across the countrty.

You think this is just an isolated event? Think again. Police swat teams invade the wrong house more than you might think. Check out the next post.

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