The Video Where America’s Drug War Reached Peak Fascism
Of course it came from Florida
America loves a good war and none has exhausted it quite like the war on drugs. Pres. Richard Nixon declared war on substance abuse and abusers way back in 1971, which makes the ideological struggle almost 50 years old.
Almost half a century fighting back vice and what does America have to show for it? A private prison system that disproportionately punishes minorities, eroded trust in the government due to incompetent and unkind laws, militarized police and dirt cheap drugs.
Drugs are kicking America’s ass. Fascism has crept into this country since we helped Europe and Russia defeat it during World War II. It rumbled through our churches, frothed in the mouths of our politicians and marched hand in hand with our police.
The marriage of authoritarian power and U.S. police reached a crescendo on April 7, 2016 when a Florida sheriff’s department released a video that looked like something Islamic State might produce.
Florida’s Lake County sheriff’s department released the video to Facebook and got an immediate reaction from across the country. It’s easy to see why. The short commercial police abuse opens on the puffed up chest and angry eyes of Sheriff Peyton Grinnell. Geared up deputies in ski masks and dark sunglasses stood to either side of him.
Grinnell tells the viewer that his people have complained about a recent spate of heroin overdoses and he has heard them. He tells the poison dealers that he’s coming for them, he’s just waiting for the warrants to finalize.
“Enjoy trying to sleep tonight, wondering if tonight’s the night our SWAT team blows your front door off the hinges,” the sheriff says. “We are coming for you. If our agents can show the nexus between you, the pusher of poison, and the person that overdoses and dies, we will charge you with murder. We are coming for you. Run.”
It’s an off putting video that reminded critics and observers of Al Qaeda recruitment videos. “It makes the Lake County Sheriff’s Department look like they’re about to go to battle in Fallujah,” Ezekiel Edwards, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Criminal Law Reform Project told The New York Times. “That video suggested that they are using SWAT inappropriately, and in a way that is going to escalate violence and danger to all involved.”
In 1980, U.S. police forces conducted around 3,000 SWAT raids every year. Now it’s 80,000. Most of those raids are part of narcotics cases and 40 percent turn up no drugs whatsoever. Worse, SWATing is increasingly common — a horrible prank where assholes call in false tips on friends and rivals because they know a SWAT team will show up.
This is what happens when you declare an unwinnable war. Law enforcement looks less and less like public servants and more and more like soldiers. Drug abuse continues, the black market makes money and cops and drugs keep hurting people.
The New York Times pointed out that Lake County’s residents are mostly happy with the sheriff’s tough talk. “When I see this video, it’s kind of like the sheriff’s office declaring war on the drug addiction and the criminals. I love it, and I hope it continues to go viral,” resident Nicole Boone told The Times. “Instead of arresting these people for the drug use, how about enacting some type of system that helps these people get clean and reintroduces these people to society?”
And here Boone hits at the crux of the problem. Heroin use has spiked in Lake County but it’s mostly due to a crackdown on prescription drug use. Florida ran doctor feelgoods out of the county a few years ago and opioid addicts used to popping pills turned to heroin. If America treated drug abuse as a public health issue instead of a law enforcement issue — as Boone suggested above — then it’s possible those drug addicts would never have turned to heroin.
The video and the coming SWAT crackdown on Lake County is also disproportional. Despite the community’s perception that heroin is a major problem the numbers tell a different story. Lake County’s population is just over 300,000 people. In 2015 — the most recent year with full numbers — only eight people died from heroin. Ten died from mega-opioid replacement fentanyl.
The full numbers for 2016 aren’t out yet, but a local news article revealed the department reported 32 such deaths that year. To be sure, that’s an increase but it hardly reaches pandemic levels and it doesn’t call for a violent response from local law enforcement. Thirty-two deaths represents less than a quarter of a quarter of a one percent of the total population.
If anything, what’s happened in Lake County is proof that you can’t legislate away drug addiction and declare war on addicts and pushers to end a vice. It just doesn’t work. The county wouldn’t have the heroin problem it does now if it hadn’t created demand by shutting down all the pseudo legal pill mills in the area.
That’s not to say America should allow doctor feelgoods to dole out oxycontin to anyone off the street. We need strict controls over who gets these powerful drugs but we must also accept that a certain percentage of the population will become addicts. We need to be ready to deal with those addicts, treat them in a public health facility and help them get clean. If we don’t, it doesn’t matter how illegal the drugs are and how violent the cops become.
Where there’s a need, a market will rise to service it. The magical thinking and denial of the war on drugs hasn’t done shit to eliminate either the need or the market. All its done is sown misery, fostered fascism and made U.S. citizens distrust the police. It’s led to a world where a local sheriff thinks threatening pushers on Facebook while flanked by masked thugs is appropriate and not obscene.
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