Drug policy reformers have been talking about the dangers of corrupt government over-reach and the intrusion of the federal government on individual rights and freedom for some time. And this isn’t just coming from a theoretical libertarian principles perspective. It is a practical understanding on the part of people from varied political backgrounds based on witnessing the destruction first-hand.
So pardon us for being a little bit frustrated that people are taking so long to learn the lessons.
When the Abu Ghraib prison torture scandal broke and the world was shocked, we already knew about the everyday prison torture here in the United States (disturbing video).
When the world finally realized that Guantanamo was filled in part with people held indefinitely for no particular reason, we already knew of similar cases in the war on drugs (such as Isidro Aviles, who was intimidated into accepting a 23-year sentence based on possession of $52 cash and ended up dying in prison — his mother still doesn’t know the cause).
As each new and expanded instance of government spying on American citizens in the name of the war on terror is revealed and serious people start discussing whether it should be of concern that the government is perhaps weakening the fourth amendment, our jaws drop and we wonder if the country has slept through the devastation of the 4th Amendment in the name of the war on drugs. This was done with no demonstrable benefit (and, in fact, seriously increased dangers) to American citizens. And yet we discuss the “merits” of government intrusion in the name of the war on terror as if there was no historical perspective.
We hear about innocent people killed by our soldiers in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some people are outraged; others are saddened but philosophical — after all, some collateral damage is expected in war. And yet we’ve seen the loss of innocent lives for years right here in this country, when military tactics are used domestically in the war on drugs.
And now, in the war on immigration, it is expected that President Bush, in his Monday evening speech, will call for the deployment of thousands of troops within the United States to protect the border. But you see, if this is true, we already know what will happen. We’ve been there before.
On May 20, 1997, Esequiel Hernandez, Jr. (pictured left) was herding his family’s goats 100 yards from his home on the US-Mexican border in Redford, Texas, as he did every day. Six days before, he had turned 18 years old.
Unknown to Esequiel or any of the other residents of Redford, a group of four Marines led by 22-year old Corporal Clemente Banuelos had been encamped just outside the small village along the Rio Grande River for three days. After watering his small flock of goats in the river, Esequiel started on his way back home when the Marines began stalking him from a distance of 200 yards.
The four camouflaged Marines were outfitted with state-of-the-art surveillance equipment and weapons. Esequiel carried an antique .22 caliber rifle — a pre-World War I, single shot rifle to keep wild dogs and rattlesnakes away from his goats. The autopsy showed that Esequiel was facing away from the Marines when he was shot. He probably never knew the Marines were watching him from 200 yards away.
Thus it was that a 22 year-old United States Marine shot and killed an innocent 18 year-old boy tending his family’s goats. This outrageous act was the inevitable consequence of a drug prohibition policy gone mad. Esequiel Hernandez was killed not by drugs but by military officers of the United States government.
If only people could learn from the drug war. We’ve tried to teach, but they won’t listen.
- They snicker uncomfortably because we said the word “drugs” or “marijuana.”
- They dismiss us and our information because they assume we are part of the “long-haired, maggot-infested, dope-smoking crowd.”
- They ignore the whole issue because it’s only about criminals, right? And why should we care about them?
- They shuffle back and forth uncomfortably and say “I agree with you, but we really can’t afford to make the drug war a political issue right now.”
But the really scary people are the ones who say: “We haven’t won the war on drugs/terror/immigration/_____ (fill in the blank) because we’ve made the government obey the law. We need to give them more tools to fight these wars, even at the expense of individual rights. After all, 911/meth/crack/super-pot has changed everything.”
These are the ones who are willing to give up their prize possession — a free country with a government of, by and for the people — for a handful of “magic” beans.