The never-ending evil of the war on drugs

What does it take to have a SWAT team come and raid you and terrorize your family in the middle of the night?  How about some tea leaves in your trash that test positive on a field drug test that is proven unreliable and the fact that you shop at garden stores.  Seriously.  And this was even middle class white people (former CIA employees, even) to boot!  And this is all good with a federal judge, because… drugs.  Ugh!  I swear the depravity of our war on drugs just knows no bounds.  Read the whole Radley Balko piece if you can stomach it.  Some day in the future (I hope) we look back on our horribly misguided war on drugs and just shake our heads and wonder whether people of the time werer suffering from some mass delusion (in a sense, we are).  Of course drugs cause harm, but at this point I would have to say the evidence seems pretty damn clear that the damage we are doing to our society through the “war on drugs” is far worse than the damage from actual drug use.  Balko:

In April 2012, a Kansas SWAT team raided the home of Robert and Addie Harte, their 7-year-old daughter and their 13-year-old son. The couple, both former CIA analysts, awoke to pounding at the door. When Robert Harte answered, SWAT agents flooded the home. He was told to lie on the floor. When Addie Harte came out to see what was going on, she saw her husband on his stomach as SWAT cop stood over him with a gun. The family was then held at gunpoint for more than two hours while the police searched their home. Though they claimed to be looking for evidence of a major marijuana growing operation, they later stated that they knew within about 20 minutes that they wouldn’t find any such operation. So they switched to search for evidence of  “personal use.” They found no evidence of any criminal activity.

The investigation leading to the raid began at least seven months earlier, when Robert Harte and his son went to a gardening store to purchase supplies to grow hydroponic tomatoes for a school project. A state trooper had been positioned in the store parking lot to collect the license plate numbers of customers, compile them into a spreadsheet, then send the spreadsheets to local sheriff’s departments for further investigation. Yes,merely shopping at a gardening store could make you the target of a criminaldrug investigation…

The deputies repeatedly found “saturated plant material” that they thought could possibly be marijuana. On two occasions, a drug testing field kit inexplicably indicated the presence of THC, the active drug in marijuana. It was on the basis of those tests and Harte’s patronage of a gardening store that the police obtained the warrant for the SWAT raid.

But, of course, they found nothing. Lab tests would later reveal that the “saturated plant material” was actually loose-leaf tea, which Addie Harte drinks on a regular basis. Why did the field tests come up positive for pot?  As I wrote back in February, it’s almost as if these tests come up positive whenever the police need them to. A partial list of substances that the tests have mistaken for illegal drugs would include sage, chocolate chip cookies, motor oil, spearmint, soap, tortilla dough, deodorant, billiard’s chalk, patchouli, flour, eucalyptus, breath mints, Jolly Ranchers and vitamins.

Even worse.  The response of our legal system:

Once they had been cleared of any wrongdoing, the Hartes wanted to know what happened. Why had they been raided? What possible probable cause could the police have had for sending a SWAT team into their home first thing in the morning? But even that information would prove difficult to obtain. Under Kansas law, the sheriff’s department wasn’t obligated to turn over any information related to the raid — not to the Hartes, not to the media, not to anyone. The couple eventually had to hire an attorney to get a judge to order the sheriff to release the information. They spent more than $25,000 in legal fees just to learn why the sheriff had sent a SWAT team into their home. Once they finally had that information, the Hartes filed a lawsuit.

Last week, U.S. District Court Judge John W. Lungstrum dismissed every one of the Hartes’s claims. Harte found that sending a SWAT team into a home first thing in the morning based on no more than a positive field test and spotting a suspect at a gardening store was not a violation of the Fourth Amendment. He found that the police had probable cause for the search, and that the way the search was conducted did not constitute excessive force. He found that the Hartes had not been defamed by the raid or by the publicity surrounding it. He also ruled that the police were under no obligation to know that drug testing field kits are inaccurate, nor were they obligated to wait for the more accurate lab tests before conducting the SWAT raid. The only way they’d have a claim would be if they could show that the police lied about the results, deliberately manipulated the tests or showed a reckless disregard for the truth — and he ruled that the Hartes had failed to do so.

And stuff like this just happens all the time.  And because it happens all the time, most of us (Thank God for Radley Balko), just don’t even pay any attention.  If news covered stuff that actually mattered, we’d have stuff like this and the abomination that is civil forfeiture on there all the time and a lot less mayhem and gossip.  But, in the end, this is our war on drugs until we force the politicians to change it or change the politicians in power over this.

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: