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Shut Up, Citizen

Radley Balko has been running a series of “Raid of the Day” articles over at HuffPo as preparation for the publication of his “Rise of the Warrior Cop” book (which I’ve pre-ordered). Today‘s should turn your stomach:

On Monday, the Miami Herald posted an article about rising support for legalized medical marijuana in the state of Florida. The article mentioned an pro-pot activist named Cathy Jordan, who uses the drug to mitigate the symptoms of Lou Gehrig’s disease. The article mentioned Sen. Jeff Clemens (D-Lake worth), who is sponsoring a bill to legalize the drug. That bill is named after Jordan.

The Bradeton Herald now reports that just hours after that article ran, a team of ski-mask-clad deputies from the Manatee County Sheriff’s Department staged a guns-drawn raid on Robert and Cathy Jordan’s home. According to Robert Jordan, the cops seized 23 marijuana plants, including the two mature plants his wife uses to treat her illness. They made no arrests.

The raid is a stark example of the troubling trend of using paramilitary police tactics to send a political message. Set aside for a moment the sheer cruelty of sending government agents to separate a suffering, terminally ill woman from the medication that gives her some relief. (And yes, that’s a major thing to set aside.) Why ski masks? Why come in with guns drawn? Did the Manatee County Sheriff’s Department really think that wheelchair-bound Cathy Jordan and her 64-year-old husband were a threat?

No, of course they didn’t. This was about making an example of someone. Cathy Jordan’s name is on a bill to legalize medical pot in Florida. So it was up to Florida law enforcement to bring the boot down upon Cathy Jordan’s neck.

Medical marijuana is not legal in Florida and Jordan was breaking the law. I’m not going to disagree with that. But as Balko points out, you have to question the priorities here. Even if we say that busting a terminally ill senior citizen was a wise use of limited police resources, why in the blue fuck would you have a violent raid? These raids are usually justified — often flimsily — by the potential for violent resistance. Ignoring, for the moment, that the threat can be mitigated by grabbing people at work or at their cars during the day, were they expecting this sufferer of Lou Gehrig’s disease to whip out a bazooka?

The cops claim they were tipped off by a real estate agent who saw marijuana plants through the window. I would not be surprised at all if it turns out these plants could not be seen through a window (a common three of the “raids of the day” is bad and bogus tips). I find it difficult to believe that a raid was launched by pure coincidence on the person Florida’s medical marijuana proposal is named after. And given that the cops didn’t arrest anyone and it’s still not clear that they’ll bring charges, I have to think the point was to send a message.

We need to remember something in the debate over legalizing medical and/or recreational marijuana. There are legions of people whose livelihoods and careers depend on the War on Drugs. Prosecutors who can get convictions; prison unions and private prisons who can jail the convicted; politicians who get to grandstand. And police and their unions, who see a reason for more hires and often directly benefit from asset forfeiture. Check out this article about the fierce police union opposition to even token reform of Georgia’s asset forfeiture laws.

But returning to the political point — Balko again:

Here is the point: If we’ve reached the point where we’re okay with — or at best complacent about — the government using violence to make an example of someone because of their political activism, then we’ve lost our grip on the principles that make free societies free. That these excessive, militarized raids on medical marijuana grows, clinics, and activists have been going on since the 1990s is a strong — and sad — indication that we let go of those values a long time ago.

Exactly. I keep thinking of Siobhan Reynolds, who advocated for people who need large opiate prescriptions to deal with chronic pain. She was relentlessly harassed and intimidated by federal agents and prosecutors. They even used grand jury privacy laws against her to keep their investigations secret (grand jury proceeding are supposed to be confidential to protect the accused. Using them to conceal government actions is an abuse of the process. And federal prosecutors have shown little interest in grand jury confidentiality in high-profile cases like Barry Bonds).

The Drug Warriors are losing. They are losing the War on Drugs and they are losing the political fight over it. The American people are slowly growing sick of this absurdity and slowly realizing that harm mitigation and treatment are a far better cure for our nation’s drug problem than guns and prisons. But they Drug Warriors will not go down without a fight. And, in this case, the fight is quite literal.

7 comments

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  1. Section8 says:

    Even if we say that busting a terminally ill senior citizen was a wise use of limited police resources, why in the blue fuck would you have a violent raid?

    Never underestimate the power of The Clapper. The commercials may depict it as harmless, but…

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  2. CM says:

    Never underestimate the power of The Clapper. The commercials may depict it as harmless, but…

    That’s brilliant. Love it.

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  3. Tool says:

    Hal, I really expected you to post articles which are measured and not simple emotional rants, filled with baseless accusations.

    The Bradeton Herald now reports that just hours after that article ran, a team of ski-mask-clad deputies from the Manatee County Sheriff’s Department staged a guns-drawn raid on Robert and Cathy Jordan’s home. According to Robert Jordan, the cops seized 23 marijuana plants, including the two mature plants his wife uses to treat her illness. They made no arrests.

    Since when does wearing a balaclava and carrying a pistol out of its holster become “paramilitary police tactics.” It is called clearing a house. How would any of you conduct a search warrant on a house with copious quantities of drugs? I have asked this question before, and only received nauseating ideological drivel from people on this website, none of whom actually answered the question, because besides Rich everyone here seems to be virulently anti-law enforcement.

    Why ski masks? Why come in with guns drawn?

    Who cares if you wear a ski mask, those officers all had uniforms on plastered with the word POLICE. Does wearing a boonie cap also become “paramilitary”. Also, apparently police officers should go serve search warrants in grow houses without their guns drawn. Clearly this article was authored by somebody with no experience or knowledge in police tactics whatsoever.

    Did the Manatee County Sheriff’s Department really think that wheelchair-bound Cathy Jordan and her 64-year-old husband were a threat?

    Wow, only a complete dumb ass would say something this asinine. I suppose old men are completely harmless and should never be considered capable of injuring or killing a police officer.

    Don’t let the graphic murder of Texas DPS Officer Randall Vetter (who was killed by a 72 year old gunman) interrupt this heart wrenching narrative of unjustified police tactics. You can view the video below, since it was captured on the Officer’s Dash cam.

    http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=326271a274

    I guess the Balko can console Vetter’s family with the knowledge that all seniors are non-threatening.

    This Balko post simply emotionally based drivel, nothing more. Please try to post some objective articles to represent and reinforce your opinions Hal.

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  4. Hal_10000 says:

    Tool, you need to keep up with Balko’s writing. There are times when these sort of tactics might be justified. But this happens *constantly* in situations were it is completely uncalled for. In most states we only have estimates of how often it happens because the police do not keep track of the raids. There have been numerous incidents were people have been shot and killed because had no idea that the guys with guns and masks busting down their door in the middle of the night were cops. Imagine being woken out of your bed by someone yelling at the door, then hearing the door crash in.

    “Wearing a balaclava and carrying a pistol” are not standard police tactics. When I was a kid, we called police to my house after it was robbed. They had no idea if the guy was still there but they did not show up in ski masks with guns drawn. My mom recently had an intruder in her house. In that case, they had their guns drawn but did not wear ski masks. Masks and weapons drawn are the tactics of SWAT teams, not routine drug arrests. And SWAT tactics are becoming standard operating procedure in many cases.

    There are two options here. Either they knew who they were dealing with — a 64 y/o invalid and her husband with no history of violence growing pot for medical purposes. Or they didn’t in which they didn’t bother to do any surveillance, didn’t bother to find out who they were dealing with, didn’t bother to find out what the situation was. They just went in with an intimidating paramilitary raid. This is precisely the problem, that these raids are conducted by default, without any attempt to figure out the situation. Innocent people have died because of this. Cops have died because of this.

    Don’t let the graphic murder of Texas DPS Officer Randall Vetter (who was killed by a 72 year old gunman) interrupt this heart wrenching narrative of unjustified police tactics. You can view the video below, since it was captured on the Officer’s Dash cam.

    Violence against police is down, way down. For all the talk about the “War on Cops”, 2012 saw the fewest fatalities ever. This is also a completely ludicrous comparison. Should cops draw their guns in routine stops? Should they pull everyone from their car and throw them to the ground? Just in case? is that the kind of country you want to live in?

    No one is going to sit here and pretend that policing isn’t a dangerous job. Or pretend that paramilitary style raids are sometimes necessary. But why should they be the default? And why should not question when they are used against someone making the establishment unhappy?

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  5. Tool says:

    Tool, you need to keep up with Balko’s writing.

    I have read this blog consistently since 2003, and I previously read Balko before his unfounded and blatantly ignorant rants regarding police tactics repulsed me.

    because the police do not keep track of the raids.

    Sure the police do, the “raids” are called search warrants, since they have to be authorized by a judge, or based on exigent circumstances (in which case it usually becomes an arrest). Entry into private residence cannot just occur at the whim of a police officer, otherwise it becomes illegal entry and any evidence gathered is excludable. Either way the search warrants are absolutely tracked, especially ones where shooting incidents result. I cannot think of a single federal state or local agency that doesn’t track shooting incidents. Many agencies track all use of force incidents, not just shootings.

    “Wearing a balaclava and carrying a pistol” are not standard police tactics. When I was a kid, we called police to my house after it was robbed. They had no idea if the guy was still there but they did not show up in ski masks with guns drawn. My mom recently had an intruder in her house. In that case, they had their guns drawn but did not wear ski masks. Masks and weapons drawn are the tactics of SWAT teams, not routine drug arrests. And SWAT tactics are becoming standard operating procedure in many cases.

    So you are refuting my statement on relatively common police tactics with an anecdotal experience of horribly unsound police tactics which occured decades ago? I have seen a significant amount of police training regarding clearing rooms during the execution of search warrants for drugs, all of which involved police officers clearing rooms with guns drawn. If the police officers cleared your robbed home without their firearms drawn, that was their own suicidal prerogative. Did it ever occur to you that as police tactics become more stringent and militarized, police fatalities have plummeted. While the change in tactics may not be a guaranteed causation, it certainly has a strong correlation

    Violence against police is down, way down. For all the talk about the “War on Cops”, 2012 saw the fewest fatalities ever. This is also a completely ludicrous comparison. Should cops draw their guns in routine stops? Should they pull everyone from their car and throw them to the ground? Just in case? is that the kind of country you want to live in?

    How is my comparison ludicrous. Balko bloviated about a man being harmless because of his advanced age, that is a bizarre line of reasoning. Old men can shoot firearms and kill police officers regardless of age, that was the point of my video, nothing else. The only lesson from that video to learn is the police officer should have shot and killed the gun wielding senior instead of trying to reason with him and getting murdered.

    Just in case? is that the kind of country you want to live in?

    I want to live in a country where people don’t call search warrants “raids” and vilify police officers for being concerned about their own safety. I have seen too many older videos of “nicer” police officers being murdered because they were too squeamish to draw their firearm or use force. I am perfectly fine in living in a society where we do not expect police officers to employ suicidal tactics to assuage people terrified of firearms.

    But why should they be the default? And why should not question when they are used against someone making the establishment unhappy?

    Making the establishment unhappy? Marijuana is still illegal federally, regardless of whatever state laws have been passed. If you deliberately flaunt federal law and grow 23 weed plants to “make the establishment unhappy,” arrests and prosecutions typically occur. Just ask any tax protestor, who i am sure you would empathize with significantly less.

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  6. mrblume says:

    Who cares if you wear a ski mask, those officers all had uniforms on plastered with the word POLICE.

    Are they wearing id or name badges? Because they should.

    So you are refuting my statement on relatively common police tactics with an anecdotal experience of horribly unsound police tactics which occured decades ago?

    It’s relatively meaningless to argue that these are standard police practices; that would only make it worse. The point being argued is that these shouldn’t be the practices being used.

    Yes, in this case, as portrayed by Hal, I would kindly ask the officers in question to take a “knock on the door, how are you sir” approach, and the very minor risk that entails, or chose another career, no hard feelings. As their ultimate employer, I believe that is within my rights. That should be the job, and there are people willing to do it.

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  7. Hal_10000 says:

    I have seen a significant amount of police training regarding clearing rooms during the execution of search warrants for drugs, all of which involved police officers clearing rooms with guns drawn.

    Thank you for illustrating the point.

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