Drug War: Test Run for Fascism
The war on drugs was the first major test by the country's elite to see if Americans would willingly surrender their constitutional rights. It turned out that they would and so for the past twenty years invasions of civil liberties increased, America threw more and more of its young people into prison, while exploding drug war budgets did nothing to stem the growth of the drug industry. Further, the drug war was a useful testing ground for repressive measures instituted following September 11....
The war on drugs will undoubtedly be regarded by historians as a crucial precursor of the end of the First American Republic. It tested the waters of repression and found Americans willing to accept it. Even liberals outside of strong civil liberties advocates proved disastrously indifferent to what was going on.
And remember that USA PATRIOT's apologists never tire of reminding us that "it's just using the tools law enforcement already has available to fight drugs, to fight terrorism." Once the precedent exists for violating constitutional rights for one purpose, mission creep follows as a matter of course. A good many of the techniques used in the drug war, including civil forfeiture, are actually just the latest milestone in prerogative law's Long March throughout the administrative state, starting in this country with revenue and admiralty law.
The change in law enforcement culture over the past thirty years or so, largely as a result of the drug war, is horrifying. Police culture has become increasingly militarized, with the mushroom-like proliferation of SWAT teams and joint training with the military. Inner city police forces see themselves as an occupying force in a hostile country, a "band of brothers" surrounded by potential enemies who need to be cowed with frequent displays of force. And God help us when all the civilian cops who are serving as MPs in the Guard and reserves come back from Iraq, with all the useful new job skills they learned at Abu Ghraib. Anyone who wants examples of the new police culture in action should subscribe to Fred Woodworth's excellent anarchist journal The Match!,** and read the regular "Who the Police Beat" feature. You should also check out Gretchen Ross' regularly featured stories on taser abuse and other forms of jackbooted assault on small children, the aged and handicapped, and people who "resist arrest" by going into epileptic seizures or diabetic comas. Also: does anyone remember the days before local police forces adopted black uniforms, when the friendly policeman on the corner didn't feel the need to dress like an SS stormtrooper?
I am convinced that procedural issues are far more important to liberty than the substance of the law. We could have drug laws as draconian as Turkey's or Singapore's, but they'd be a virtual dead letter if their judicial application were governed by an absolutist version of the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments. Without no-knock warrants, roving wiretaps, civil forfeiture, "Know Your Customer" laws, roadblocks, and all the "reasonable expectation of privacy" lacunae that have been carved from our search and seizure protections, the drug laws would be unenforceable.
** P.O. Box 3012
Tucson, AZ 85702
(sub is free, but a $5 donation helps)