Fear and More War
On Tuesday, I ventured out for the first time in the full authentic orange uniform. At the first stop of my day, someone who has some connection with the local “jail scene” advised me that it was not a good idea to be wearing a real uniform around town, and that I will be picked up and taken to jail. Yes, I am naive and sometimes too trusting of what I hear, so I began for the first time to experience genuine fear. And the next person or two that I discussed the issue with didn’t make matters better when they (jokingly?) agreed that they didn’t want me getting shot! I was and am not that afraid of getting stopped or taken to jail, but I sure don’t want to get shot!
Seriously?! Seriously. This is a fear that millions of people, mostly of color, in thousands of our nation’s communities must face every day. Sure, law enforcement shootings may not happen too often, but they happen. And getting pulled over, stopped and frisked, questioned and followed, all because of the way someone looks or where they live, this stuff happens. But it has never happened to me. Until Tuesday. It changed the way I look at the world. Literally. I have found myself looking over my shoulder, glancing around as I drive, ever so watchful for any reason to fear. And this fear paralyzed me for a while. I couldn’t fully function until I found a release from the fear. Thankfully, mine came from several wise advisors who suggested that I can rest a bit easier and do some things proactively to prevent any problems. But our brothers and sisters of color and low socioeconomic means — they don’t have that luxury. And I can honestly say for the first time that I am beginning to understand how incapacitating that kind of existence can be.
In this blog, I can’t even begin to cover everything that needs to be covered about the War on Drugs. Below, I will share some resources that some of you may want to read through in order to dig deeper. But here are some startling realities to begin the stirring…
“Virtually all constitutionally protected civil liberties have been undermined by the drug war.” Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow, p. 62.
Probable cause or reasonable suspicion of criminal activity or danger are no longer required as long as you give “consent” for a search. Even if you do not feel free to leave when confronted by police or you feel threatened by the manner in which a law enforcement officer “asks” for consent, almost no one refuses. And it is legal, according to the Supreme Court. Stop and frisk practices have been in the news in recent years, especially in New York, and rightfully so. Over 4 million New Yorkers had been subject to police stops and street interrogations since 2002. 9 out of 10 of these New Yorkers were completely innocent. And on average about 55% have been black and about 32% Latino. *see NYCLU
Pretext traffic stops are another favorite weapon of the War. In 1984, the DEA launched Operation Pipeline, a federal program administered by state and local law enforcement agencies. Operation Pipeline trained law enforcement officers to use minor traffic violations (no blinker, tinted windows, etc.) as a pretext to stop someone, how to lengthen a routine traffic stop and leverage it into a search for drugs. By 2000, over 25,000 officers in 48 states had been trained by the DEA. Legal scholar Ricardo Bascuas comments, “Operation Pipeline is exactly what the Framers meant to prohibit: a federally-run general search program that targets people without cause for suspicion, particularly those who belong to disfavored groups.” *see the Bascuas paper However, 95% of the Pipeline traffic stops turn up no illegal drugs. *see Gary Webb, Driving While Black
Federal grant money and other machines of War began to pour into state and local law enforcement agencies in the late 1980s. Millions of pieces of military equipment were handed over from the Pentagon and millions more orders of Pentagon equipment were made from over 11,000 domestic police agencies in all 50 states. The lists included aircraft, Blackhawk and Huey helicopters, M-16 rifles, grenade launchers, bulletproof helmets, night-vision goggles, tanks, bazookas, virtually anything they wanted. *see Radley Balko, Overkill and Megan Twohey, SWATs Under Fire
Sounds like War to me… And we could go on and on.
** Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Colorblindness has served as a guide through many of these startling facts and provides a wealth of resources and deep challenge to our systems of War. A War waged in our own backyard. Check it out for a much deeper examination of where we find ourselves in this age.
May our eyes be opened…