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September 2005
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Zero Tolerance

So here’s the outline:

  • 14-year veteran New York Firefighter spends day after day at ground zero pulling out pieces of people — a face, a scalp with hair, an arm…
  • Nightmares plague him and he turns to drugs
  • Caught once in a random drug test, he’s slated to be fired, losing his pension

This is part of the department’s zero tolerance policy, which doesn’t allow for such silly little niceties such as, oh, I don’t know… maybe helping a brave firefighter who’s been traumatized by a terrorist attack?

Zero tolerance works, officials say, because it is a bracing deterrent to those who do not take the prohibition seriously.

That’s such a load of crap.
Zero tolerance, whether it’s part of this move to fire a firefighter or whether it’s in our schools, is actually a policy that says that it’s OK to toss away the lives of individuals (regardless of the situation) in the pursuit of the “goal” of prohibition.
Zero tolerance also says that we, as a society, are not capable of, or willing to use judgement in evaluating situations.
It’s ugly.
It’s also a betrayal of the entire concept of justice.

Justice: the quality of being just or fair
Just: 1: used especially of what is legally or ethically right or proper or fitting;… 2: implying justice dictated by reason, conscience, and a natural sense of what is fair to all

Unfortunately, the Zero Tolerance philosophy is ubiquitous. For example:

  • Drug Testing is a form of Zero Tolerance. It says that we do not need to evaluate whether an employee is able to do their job. We’ll let it all ride on an often irrelevant drug test.
  • Zero Tolerance drugged driving laws have nothing to do with safety
  • Mandatory minimums in court are also a form of zero tolerance, leaving no room for evaluating individual circumstances
  • The HEA financial aid drug provisions are a form of zero tolerance

There are plenty of other examples.
Zero Tolerance: The Policy Choice for those with Zero Intelligence

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