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December 2005
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The Drug War Inevitably Feeds Violence

We see the violence and corruption of the drug war everywhere we look these days. Here’s Rio.

As they ducked for cover, fruit vendors and taxi drivers seemed more spooked by the cops than the criminals.

“Surely, someone will start shooting,” said Alexandre Mello as he watched the hostilities unfold outside his Internet cafÚ. “In the crossfire, some innocent kid will wind up dead.”

In their crusade against brutal cocaine and marijuana dealers who control many of Rio’s shantytowns, or favelas, police often move in with guns blazing.

The operations have failed to dislodge the drug gangs or, analysts say, make the city safer. But the shock-and-awe tactics have produced a massive body count.

According to human rights organizations and government statistics, police in Rio and its suburbs — home to a population of 11 million — have taken the lives of more than 4,000 people in the past five years. In the first 10 months of this year, more than 900 died at the hands of police.

Can someone remind me again what’s so dangerous about drugs that it justifies this?

In Rio, many of the victims of police violence have been hapless bystanders. Others have undoubtedly been dope dealers who, human rights group say, never saw the inside of a jail cell because of rogue cops who sometimes act as judge, jury and firing squad.

“A lot of these killings are quasi-executions, with shots to the head and the heart,” said Sandra Carvalho of Global Justice, a Brazilian human rights group that monitors the police.

Lashing back, suspected drug runners killed 52 Rio police on the job last year. Dozens of other officers were slain while off duty.

Violence feeds violence.

In the worst massacre in Rio’s history, police officers gunned down 29 men, women and children on the night of March 31.

According to Rio state officials, the rampage began in the crime-infested barrio of Queimados, where police randomly shot and killed residents hanging out at a park and a car wash. Next, they moved on to the Novo Iguacu neighborhood and unloaded their weapons into a cantina.

“My son wasn’t into drugs,” said a distraught Dulcinea Sipriano, whose 15-year-old son, Marco, was among the victims. “He was a high school student. Everyone liked him. They had no reason to kill him.”

Throughout the world, we see the active prosecution of the drug war resulting in death, corruption, prison, destruction of family and society, and the waste of resources. What sane person can weigh all that against some unknown potential for the increased voluntary use of certain drugs if they were legal, and say that the drug war is worth fighting?
Some of the drug war abuses are not even so much about drugs. They are the result of forces using the drug war as an excuse to further some other agenda (racism, political/judicial/budgetary power, etc.). That doesn’t excuse the drug war in those cases — it only makes the justification for the drug war more craven and despicable.
We must hold every drug war apologist’s feet to the fire and ask them “Is this what you really want?”