You think I mean the war in Iraq, right? No, it’s not that. You have no real power over the wars our government wages against penniless peasants thousands of miles away. I mean the war here at home, the nasty war that destroys the lives of thousands of Americans each year.
Key West last week was the scene of another squalid ambush in that unwinnable war. Drug warriors hitched up fifty more mules to the War on Drugs Gravy Train, on which they and the entire Drug War Industry ride to righteous, cushy, tax and seizure funded retirement. They ended the drug trade for good again in the Keys, just as they do every few years.
Mocking the locals with “Operation Cracked Conch” a multi-agency task force of bagmen, con artists, and snitches swept up more than fifty Keys residents after gaining their trust with out-of-town informers. The Key West Citizen reported that local lawmen worked with a special team of feds “that generally focuses on violent drug-trafficking organizations.” Apparently the special team made an exception in this case to bust the more typical nonviolent traffickers here in the Keys.
Special Agent Kilmer, the leader of the DEA team, declined comment on the violent tendencies of his prisoners. But he did venture upon this self-serving and wildly inaccurate observation: “People that are in the drug trafficking business, by and large, are people that are into violent crime.”
Special Agent Kilmer surely knows, after arresting hundreds, maybe thousands of druggies, that the small time drug traffickers “by and large” are peaceful businesspeople, casual users and addicts. They are no more likely to be violent criminals than anyone else. It simply eases his conscience to believe they are dangerous felons.
It’s also easy for the rest of us to think of drug users as hardened criminals. They’re not. They are our friends and neighbors. The have jobs and families. The great majority of them are not addicted to drugs. They just have a bad habit. If we put everyone with a bad habit in jail, there wouldn’t be enough of us left to lock the cells.
Despite the ordinariness of the perps the warriors were proud as puppies of the sheer number of people they arrested. They couldn’t point with much pride to the haul of illicit drugs. In four months they confiscated a half kilo of crack and a quarter kilo of cocaine. No mention was made of how much they had brought to the party as bait. The special DEA team could pool their naval lint and come up with more coke than that. There wasn’t even enough to generate the customary astronomical estimate of “street value.” Understandable since the whole stash would fit in a Sponge Bob lunch box.
Never the less, some of the people busted in this raid face life in prison. Murderers do less time.
It’s time to do something about this sordid war against our communities. And I’m not talking about handing out a few jobs at the Housing Authority when the victims come back from “college.” I’m talking about rescuing otherwise law abiding citizens from the stupid, wasteful, unjust War on Drugs before their lives are ruined.
Each and every one of us has the power to stop the War on Drugs. Any of us can dispense justice in a system unconcerned with justice. We can do it by serving on a jury. We can refuse to convict nonviolent drug offenders. It won’t take many of us. The strategy has worked against unjust laws many times in the past.
Judges and prosecutors tell jurors they can judge only the facts, not the law. That’s not true. Juries have the power and have always had the power to judge the law. History is full of examples of juries doing the right thing when the right thing was illegal. Juries freed editors who violated the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1799. Juries during the Civil War era refused to convict those who helped run away slaves. In the 20’s and 30’s in defiance of alcohol prohibition juries regularly set bootleggers free. The right thing to do now is end the War on Drugs.
The catch is, in today’s repressive courtroom, if you want to exercise your right as a juror you can’t admit you know of it. Defense attorneys are forbidden to tell you. You won’t be told what sentence the defendant faces because prosecutors don’t want you to consider the massive injustice of “zero tolerance” “mandatory minimums” or “three strikes” policies. Through a process called “voir dire,” a French term meaning “jury tampering,” prosecutors try to assemble juries who will obey orders. Prosecutors and judges routinely misinform jurors about what they call “jury nullification.” They will not allow you to sit on a jury if they know you are aware of your right to judge the law.
Don’t tell them. Prosecutors usually won’t ask about jury nullification because they don’t want you to know about it. There’s no obligation to volunteer answers to unasked questions. You will be given your orders and expected to obey them. Jurors cannot be punished for their decisions. A single member of any jury is enough to prevent an unjust conviction. Jurors need only the knowledge of their rights and the courage to use them.
Drugs are a medical problem stuck in a political quagmire. We don’t have to wreck lives and families in the hopeless pursuit of a drug free society. Do the right thing. Serve on a jury. Vote your conscience. Stop the waste, destruction, misery and injustice of the War on Drugs.