Skirmishes in the War on Drugs
This is True's 4 September 2005 issue had a line-up of several stories about druggies doing incredibly stupid things. It's a fairly common theme in True, in fact: drug and alcohol abuse very often makes people do stupid things. In this case, though, it was a bit of a setup: the final story in the group had quite a twist:
Anthony A. Diotaiuto, 23, was sitting in his Sunrise, Fla., home when suddenly someone broke down the door without any warning and rushed in. Diotaiuto, who has a gun permit, grabbed his gun to defend himself -- and was shot about 10 times by police doing a drug raid. He was killed. Friends say Diotaiuto was a "casual" pot smoker who did not sell drugs. A search of the home found just two ounces of marijuana. Officers identified themselves as police when they "walked" into the home and ordered him to "freeze," said police spokesman Lt. Robert Voss. "It was his choice not to follow orders." (Miami Herald) ...When the "war on drugs" means the government vs. its own people, it's not surprising to learn that simple possession can become a death penalty offense.
I of course expected that this story would raise some eyebrows. That was its intent. And indeed I got some interesting feedback.
Weekly Weird News
But the "cons" are quite a bit more interesting, so I'll concentrate on those.
It took a bit of back and forth for me to fully understand David's question. Who was the source of the "victim's side of the story"? The police! The simple facts are, the police had a warrant and broke in without notice, the startled homeowner grabbed his licensed gun, and in response he was shot to death. End of story from their point of view. "The victim's side" essentially is not reported. Being dead, he wasn't really able to tell "his side." That it's this bad when it's the police telling the story is fairly telling, isn't it?
Greg remembers correctly: I was a sheriff's deputy in northern California (and I do volunteer work now for the local sheriff and EMS agency). So how likely is it that I have an "anti-police bias"? Not very. Some back and forth with Greg revealed something interesting to me: Greg, presumably a long-time cop, has never heard of a no-knock warrant; they don't have them in Tennessee. Since I was assigned to search and rescue, I never served a warrant when I was a deputy, but I was certainly aware of no-knock warrants in California, and from the wording of the story it's fairly apparent to me that they have them in Florida. (A "no-knock" warrant allows them to do just that: break in without knocking -- without announcing who they are -- in order to take the house by surprise. Greg replied, "A no-knock warrant? Must be something they use in FL, but not here. I don't know that the benefits of an unannounced entry outweigh the potential costs involved (i.e. encountering an armed individual who thinks he is being robbed). Probably not the best method to use.") Well yeah: that's part of the point; that's clearly what happened here! But now I understand why he was confused, since there's no such concept where he works. I had wrongly assumed they had such an option in every state.
I've never used drugs. Ever. Not one toke of pot, not one sniff of coke, not one hit of any illegal drug. Why not? They're stupid. I value my common sense, my ability to think, my self control (or simply "my brain") way to much to risk screwing it up. As a medic especially, I saw drugs ruin many, many lives. Anyone who has read True for awhile has gotten a pretty good idea of what I think of drug and alcohol abuse.
So if I'm not "anti-police" and I am indeed truly "anti-drug", what's the story really about? It's an example of the failure of prohibition, and a telling one at that. Alcohol prohibition not only didn't work in the U.S., it facilitated an immense organized crime structure. Drug prohibition, despite hundreds of billions of dollars spent and countless lives ruined, isn't working either, and is helping to perpetuate the organized crime infrastructure. And, as Canadian reader Dave points out, our "war" on drugs may have "caused more misery, suffering, and deaths than the drugs themselves ever have." Yet despite that obvious failure, the "War on Drugs" is escalating, and simple users, not just dealers, are being shot down in their own homes in that escalation. And this says nothing of completely innocent civilians who are the victims of mistaken identity, address errors, or wanton misinformation supplied by informants, many of whom are drug dealers themselves.
Now that you understand what I think about drugs, you should know I'm not about to tell you what to do with your life. You want to waste it away on drugs? I think you should be able to, just like you're allowed to waste it away on booze. That is, as long as you don't infringe on my rights. That means using them in private or at home, the same place Mr. Diotaiuto was when he was shot to death by the police. But if people go out and drive impaired, or get violent and assault someone, or commit any other crime due to drugs' influence, then indeed they should be dealt with harshly -- just like we're doing with people who commit crimes while impaired by alcohol.
One important thing to remember in the Diotaiuto case: the police didn't do anything "wrong" -- I doubt very much that there will be any criminal charges against the officers involved. Indeed, as Greg pointed out, once they were confronted by a man with a gun, they pretty much had no choice; they "had" to shoot. Remember that in their justified-by-the-law arrogance, they blamed the victim ("It was his choice not to follow orders.") Greg asked what I think should have happened once they were confronted by a man with a gun while in a residence with a legal search warrant? But that's the wrong question! The question society needs to ask is, Should they have been there in the first place? Or, more widely, should society continue down this "War on Drugs" path, which pits the Government Of The People against ...its own people? Or even more widely, should the government really be trying to force moral issues into the legal arena?
I definitely think it's part of True's function to raise such questions to prompt public dialogue on important issues. They're questions we need to raise among ourselves and, of course, our legislators. If you agree (or if you don't), don't write me; write them -- they're the ones who can do something about it.
Letters on the editorial are here.
Related: War on Drugs in my blog.
I found a writeup on the case dated 2013 that noted police kept changing their story. They said Diotaiuto pointed his gun at officers, then backed off, saying it was found next to his body. Then they went back to the pointing story. The 2 oz of pot got dropped to 1 oz, then later to 16 g.
Diotaiuto didn't need a concealed carry permit to have the gun in his house, but he had one -- which means he went through, and passed, a background check. Police used this fact -- that he went through the legal process and took a safety class -- as an indication Diotaiuto was "potentially dangerous"(!) Criminals don't go through all that and buy their guns legally, only law-abiding folks do that.
Neighbors who were awake during the raid say they didn't hear any "Police! Open up!" type of announcement -- just quiet, and then shooting.
"What in the hell were they doing with a SWAT team?" asks Eleanor Shockett. "To break into someone's home at six in the morning, possibly awaken someone from a deep sleep, someone who has a concealed weapons permit? What did they expect to happen?"
Who is Eleanor Shockett? A retired Miami-Dade circuit judge. But she was apparently the only reasonable judge in the area. As expected, Diotaiuto's family filed a federal lawsuit over the raid. It was dismissed in federal circuit court via summary judgment, and that decision was unanimously upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in September 2010. The clear message: it's just fine for a SWAT team to raid a man's house in the early morning, and shoot him to death if he resists, if the police think he just might have a tiny amount of marijuana.
And that's exactly what you can expect from a "war" on drugs, fought by a militarized police force against the citizens they're paid to protect.
(Update source: Huffington Post)
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