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Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism

To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State. --Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution

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Location: Northwest Arkansas, United States

Friday, May 06, 2005

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)


Blogger Adam said...

The state really is undermining its legitimacy with the drug war. One of my friends recently wrote in her blog that

"I really want to like the law enforcement, much as I want to like public transportation and other things that theoretically help society operate better. Too freaking bad the ideal is often so disparate from the reality."

This friend really is a "nice girl"; she doesn't break laws and she's pretty happy with the idea of working within the establishment, yet she is feeling the brunt of the drug war. Many "respectable" white folk assume that a white person would only go to a black neighborhood to buy drugs. It's pathetic that the cops seem to share this attitude and thereby reinforce racial segregation by harassing anyone who steps outside of their "appropriate" neighborhood.

May 06, 2005 1:31 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Thanks for the link, Adam. Her experience sounds familiar. One reason I react so negatively to cops (despite the fact that my quite decent father was one) is that you hate anything that makes you afraid. Any time you see a cop in your rear-view mirror, you get paranoid that you're doing "something wrong." And if they follow you through a couple of turns, it's really nerve-wracking. Not only that, but (as Gretchen Ross regularly reports) other ordinary citizens who weren't doing anything "wrong" wound up getting tasered to death, or pepper sprayed in the eyes, because they were unlucky enough to get pulled over by a psychopath. And unless you're lucky enough to have somebody with a video camera nearby, the cop's version of events ("resisting arrest") is what a judge is almost certainly going to believe.

I strongly suspect that police work attracts a disproportionate number of authoritarian sadists who know that the sight of their uniform scares people--and enjoy the feeling. Remember Dim in A Clockwork Orange, who became a cop with absolutely no change in his thuggish behavior?

Below are my comments on her livejournal post:

I've had similar experiences myself. More times than I can count, a simple traffic stop led to questions about where I live, work, where I'm headed to/from, etc. Now, you're not legally obligated to answer any questions of this sort. But a pissed off cop can "find" a reason to haul you in, or even hold you without a reason for a little while, if he thinks you're a "troublemaker" and you rub him the wrong way.

Even worse, though, I was "profiled" several years ago (Summer 2001) because of the stickers on my car. They included an assortment of Wobbly, pro-gun, anti-government, anti-corporate, and anti-Wal-Mart stuff, along with a couple of deadhead stickers. Officer Friendly said he was pulling me over because some of the stickers were on my back window, and it was illegal to have a sticker more than 3" from the edge. Of course I couldn't even see the offending stickers in my rear-view mirror, but since when is the law supposed to make sense?

Now Officer Fife was helpful enough to volunteer the information that he'd never pulled anyone over for that before, and that most police didn't bother to enforce such minor laws. So why me? Well, one reason might be the *content* of the stickers. Along with the litany of standard "papers please, citizen" questions you describe, he asked me if I had "contraband" of any kind: "you know, like a bong or something."

About three months later 9-11 happened, and just about every state trooper I saw had a big flag decal stuck in the middle of his back window. I wonder if Officer QFL pulled *them* over.

Anyway, I've got a pickup now with plenty of sticker space on the tailgate, so I guess they'll have to find a different pretext for harassing me.

May 06, 2005 2:14 PM  
Blogger Charles Hueter said...

Imagine the fun I had when my dad, a deputy sheriff, decided to make getting the car my parents bought me (formerly "my car") re-registered and re-inspected a priority, doubly so after I explained my reasons for refusing to do so for several months.

May 06, 2005 3:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Even worse, though, I was "profiled" several years ago (Summer 2001) because of the stickers on my car. They included an assortment of Wobbly, pro-gun, anti-government, anti-corporate, and anti-Wal-Mart stuff, along with a couple of deadhead stickers."

That's why I've resisted the temptation to do the same to my car. I tend to "speed," so the last thing I need is one more reason for the bastards to pull me over.


May 06, 2005 4:43 PM  
Blogger freeman said...

I can understand pro-gun, anti-government, anti-corporate, and anti-WalMart stickers. But you had Grateful Dead stickers on your car too? Now that's ballsy! Cops just assume that anyone with a Dead sticker on their car must have some drugs inside, but that's not the case with those other stickers

It's a shame because there are a lot of cool GD stickers out there.

May 06, 2005 5:34 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Yeah, it was the skeleton with a rose garland from the cover of the "Woodcut" double LP. Way cool.

May 06, 2005 5:42 PM  

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