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.