The events unfolding in Ferguson, MO don’t appear to be the direct result of a particular drug charge but the police behavior is partly a byproduct of our decades-long “War on Drugs.” That term isn’t just a buzzword, but a concept that was taken literally by policymakers and police at every level.
When you are at “war” you get equipped to fight a war. Our local police forces have become fully militarized as a result. Excess military equipment continues to flow to police forces large and small around the country. The number of SWAT Teams and SWAT raids has exploded over the past few decades.
When you are fighting a “war” only the rules of war apply so the niceties of constitutional rights get swept aside. After all, civil rights can be suspended during a war, even for a war without end. When you have a war mentality things like no-knock raids, the use of SWAT teams to arrest non-violent offenders, bringing tanks to a protest, detaining journalist for sitting in a McDonalds, and the stop-and-frisk of every single young African-American in selected neighborhoods without cause starts to make perverse sense. War is not about keeping the peace or protecting people from crime, it is about destroying your enemy at all cost.
Recently, the “War on Terror” has added to this war mentality justifying even violations of our rights but this domestic war thinking started with a “War on Drugs.” This idea we are fighting a domestic war has corrupted our civil society turning our law enforcement personnel from peace officers into soldiers. Ending the drug war is about more than just drug policy, it is about starting to restore sanity to how our police behave.
Jon Walker is the author of After Legalization: Understanding the future of marijuana policy
Photo from Oregon Department of Transportation under Creative Commons license