Vice Squad
Thursday, January 22, 2004
Drugs and Police Corruption: Latest Variation on a Sad Theme

In today's Chicago Tribune (registration required), we learn that...

"A former Chicago police officer pleaded guilty Wednesday to stealing 220 pounds of marijuana and more than $10,000 in cash from a drug dealer while he was on the force in 2001." Now he faces, it seems, at least 18 years in prison.

Just the most recent example of how our drug prohibition presents constant integrity tests for the police, just as it tests the mettle of poor young men in inner cities. (Please forgive this latest recounting of an all-too-frequent Vice Squad theme.) When someone fails the test, we are ready to show them the jailhouse door, more fodder for our voracious prison complex. We rarely ask (certainly our politicians don't seem to ask) if these constant tests are a good idea. How many of us could say with certainty that, if we were officers, we would consistently resist the temptation to make thousands of dollars by looking the other way, or by "informally fining" a drug dealer who is not yet in prison, or by some other rather easy route -- a route that either has no direct victims or victimizes only those (drug dealers) whom we have been taught to revile. What a trap we set for our officers and for inner city poor! Surely such a set-up can be justified only by dire necessity, only if it serves the most pressing social need. But what is our purpose for designing "attractive nuisances" for cops and inner city poor? To make it a little bit more difficult for some of our friends and neighbors to consume a substance that they want to consume.

It is hard to be hopeful, but maybe there is some hope anyway. Here is the description that leads off the Drug Reform Coordination Network's web page entitled "Cops Against the Drug War": "The items posted here describe the growing disillusionment with the War on Drugs in the law enforcement community, the growing support for reform, and some of the ways in which the Drug War corrupts police forces and encourages a war mentality that is at odds with a police officer's intended role as an officer of the peace."

Update, January 23: This week's Drug War Chronicle provides the latest on Detroit's drugs and police corruption scandal.

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