Select Page

This is a reprint of an article I wrote in Key West the Newspaper in 2004. Nothing much has changed except the number of mules in harness is higher than ever.

A recent Key West Police Department (KWPD) SWAT team incident is the inspiration for today’s musing on man’s proclivity for destructive silliness in pursuit of noble ends.

The most heavily armed of Key West’s Finest recently had the job of “taking down” victims of a KWPD “reverse sting.” The operation took place in the usual neighborhood for that curious “law enforcement” activity, Bahama Village. I know this not because it was reported anywhere, but because I know an unlucky victim of the operation.

In case you are not familiar with the “reverse sting,” here’s how it goes: a young officer dressed in civilian clothes hangs around on a street corner, almost always in a poor neighborhood. When an unsuspecting citizen approaches the undercover officer, the officer will offer a friendly greeting and ask if the mark needs anything. Should the mark show an interest in buying contraband, the officer takes the mark’s money and gives him something that looks like what he wanted but is really more than he bargained for.

As the mark leaves, the SWAT team swings into action (why a SWAT team is necessary for this job is a mystery, but the KWPD uses one. Perhaps dressing up as a Ninja Warrior relieves the tedium of waiting in the bushes to arrest people). They arrest the mark for possession of the fake illegal drugs, in this case, in the now nationally-famous KWPD style, dragging the harmless, unarmed mark off his bicycle and throwing him to the ground like he was Hulk Hogan on PCP.

Although he has no illegal drugs, he goes to jail. He enters the maw of the court and counseling system. His crime is intent to possess a banned substance, an Orwellian thought-crime if ever there was one. He pleads guilty.

His real intent was to buy $100 worth of fun. Instead, he joins the shuffling herd of drug sheep. He buys and pleads his way out of jail, but to stay out, he must agree to a regular shearing by lawyers, probation officers, counselors and shrinks. He must also register as a felon.

The participants in this shabby fraud divide the loot. The police department keeps the money taken from the sucker. They can also sometimes get a car or a scooter or other valuables through confiscation. Bicycles generally go unconfiscated. The police have some standards, after all.

It costs the luckless victim over a thousand to get out of jail. He spends a few thousand for an attorney and a few hundred a month for probation and pee tests. To determine if he needs counseling, he must see counselors, who, not surprisingly, recommend counseling. They are paid to counsel, after all. He pays his counselors $50 per hour.

On the bright side, the compulsory AA meetings are cheap at a dollar a throw and the drunks, nonjudgmental. Never mind that this particular sheep has a steady job, is not addicted to drugs and only rarely uses them. Confession of his thought-crimes, a properly humble attitude, and quiet submission to continued shearing will greatly shorten his servitude. If he pretends to be an addict instead of a resentful mule pulling the gravy train, he won’t spend as long in the harness.

Though each mule eventually gets out of harness and each sheep out of the corral, the system is dependent on a constant, fresh supply of sheep and mules. The SWAT team stays busy rounding them up. Law enforcement for fun and profit.

The War on Drugs has developed a successful business model, creating criminals like a business produces widgets. Drug warriors don’t even need a supply of banned drugs to generate new offenders. Newly made “criminals” pay for their own “rehabilitation,” like Blockbuster customers paying for video rentals. The main difference is that Blockbuster won’t rip you off, then hold you at gunpoint and make you pay to watch Dr. Phil call you a video junkie.

There are troubling moral implications in holding people at gunpoint supposedly for their own good, entirely at their own expense, and in reality for the benefit of the gunmen. And make no mistake, the primary beneficiaries of the Drug War are the Drug Warriors and the Drug War industry, not the public. Drug warriors have an interest in justifying their actions despite generations of failure to reduce drug abuse. Those of us who are the supposed beneficiaries of the Drug War, the taxpayers and citizens, are really nothing more than potential sheep ready for shearing. We should examine the system closely to determine who the real winners and losers are in the war.

Also worth a little thought are the political dangers and social pathology of a self-sustaining, morally questionable campaign against otherwise law-abiding citizens.