Topic: Law and Civil Liberties

New Botched Drug Raids in NYC

Two more botched drug raids in New York (be sure to watch the video). This is the city that is supposed to have changed its ways since the death of Alberta Spruill:

Two Bronx families said the NYPD mistakenly raided their apartments Monday morning. But the department is defending its actions.

Flexton Young said he, his wife, and their four children were asleep when police broke down the door of their apartment on the fourth floor of 974 Anderson Ave.

“They ripped through my front door, they tore off my closet door, ripped both of my kids’ rooms to pieces,” Young said. “It brought me to tears, and I just didn’t want my kids to get hurt.”

Young said police made a “big mistake” believing they’d find illegal drugs and guns in his apartment.

The raid, around six Monday morning, left the family’s apartment a shambles. Belongings were pulled off shelves and out of drawers, and tossed on the floor. Officers upended a sofa and slashed out the lining, and also dumped out box after box of dry goods in the kitchen.

Upstairs, a similar raid was made on the apartment of the Pastrana family. Police turned several rooms upside down and pepper-sprayed the family dog. Family members said one officer punched a hole in a wall, grabbed an egg beater, and started to poke around inside the wall, looking for hidden drugs and guns.

Nothing was found in the Pastrana apartment, and no one was arrested.

Downstairs, Flexton Young said police gave him a summons for marijuana possession after discovering half a joint in an ashtray.

Note the “new professionalism” on display:

“I had one officer tell me that he was sorry this happened, and everybody else just looked at me and walked away,” Young said.

A spokesman for the NYPD said police had good information they would find drugs and guns in the apartments, and the raid was justified.

If you think terrorizing two families over half a joint is an appropriate use of police tactics, then I suppose the NYPD spokesman is right.

The article ends with a sentence that’s both interesting and misleading:

According to the Civilian Complaint Review Board, more than 300 allegations of improper searches of homes and businesses have been investigated and ruled on this year. Less than five-percent of the complaints were found to be “substantiated.”

This is interesting in that it means the CCRB has confirmed 15 cases of improper drug raids in New York City alone. To my knowledge, these are the first two to have received any coverage in the media. More evidence that the raid map, alarming as it is, doesn’t even begin to tell the entire story.

But it’s likely quite a bit worse than that. As I explained in Overkill, the CCRB’s jurisdiction only extends to the actions of police officers at the scene, after they’ve served the warrant. It has no power to look into the circumstances leading up to the raid. I’ve talked to the CCRB’s spokesman several times. He has confirmed to me that this is still the case today. If a botched raid took place because of a bad tip from an informant, or because someone wrote the the wrong address on the search warrant, the CCRB is powerless to do anything about it, and won’t investigate.

Which means that the CCRB’s failure to “substantiate” claims of improper searches in those 285+ other cases in no way means that the people making the complaints were wrong, or that a “wrong door” raid didn’t take place. In fact, in most wrong door raids, the problem occurs well before the police actually force entry.

Perhaps some small percentage of those 300+ complaints are people intentionally filing a false claim of a botched search. But I have a hard time believing a large number of people would go to the trouble.

I have an op-ed pending on New York City’s use of SWAT teams, but the truth is, after promising the public after the death of Spruill that they would drastically reform the way they use SWAT teams and paramilitary police tactics, city officials have since reneged on most of those promises.

And so the mistaken raids and terrorizing of innocent people continues.

Cato Unbound - Migrating Toward National ID?

The current Cato Unbound, Mexicans in America, is the usual provocative and wide-ranging fare.  There’s no lack of issues - or passion - in the debate about immigration.

One item in the current discussion that piques my interest - indeed, concerns me - is the formative consensus that “internal enforcement” of the immigration laws is a good idea. 

University of Texas at Austin economics professor Stephen Trejo writes:

Given that most illegal immigrants come to the United States to work, why don’t we get serious about workplace enforcement? Retail stores are able to verify in a matter of seconds consumer credit cards used to make purchases. Why couldn’t a similar system be put in place to verify the Social Security numbers of employees before they are hired? …  I suspect that we could do much more to control illegal immigration by directing technology and other enforcement resources toward the workplace rather than toward our porous southern border.

Doug Massey, co-director of the Mexican Migration Project at the Office of Population Research, Princeton University, has interesting information and ideas for reform to which he would adjoin ”a simple employment verification program required of all employers to confirm the right to work.”

It does sound simple - until you step back and realize that the simple idea they’re talking about is giving the federal government the power to approve or reject every Americans’ job application.  Does anyone think that this power, once adopted - and the technology put in place to administer it - will be limited to immigration law enforcement?

To do this, all people - not just immigrants, all people - would have to be able to prove their identity to federal standards, likely using some kind of bullet-proof identity document (even more secure than current law requires).  That will soon be in place thanks to the REAL ID Act.  Once we’re all carrying a bullet-proof identity document, do you think that its use will be limited to proof of identity for new employees?

It’s easy to see how facile acceptance of internal immigration law enforcement adds weight to arguments for expanded government control and tracking of all citizens.  There are plenty of reasons to be concerned with internal enforcement, and the national ID almost certainly required to make that possible.  Many of them are discussed in my book, Identity Crisis: How Identification is Overused and Misunderstood.

Tierney Goes Dutch

John Tierney wrote his Saturday New York Times column from Amsterdam, where he found that contrary to what U.S. drug warriors would have us believe, lenient Dutch drug policy hasn’t wrought the end of Dutch society.

I do think, however, that libertarians should hesitate before citing the Dutch as a model. Last year, I attended a forum at the Dutch embassy on drug policy in the Netherlands. I was underwhelmed.

The Dutch treat drug use a little like the way the public health crazies in this country would like to treat obesity. That means there is freedom to ingest some illicit drugs, but with massive government intervention, oversight, and a panoply of PR campaigns and state-funded treatment, and very little in the way of holding users responsible for using drugs, well, responsibly.

At the forum I attended, Dutch officials were quick to correct any misunderstanding Americans might have that Dutch citizens are actually given any real freedom over what they put into their bodies. The Dutch government, they assured us, loathes and despises marijuana every bit as much as the American government. They just prefered to steer the Dutch people away from it with propaganda and heavy regulation.

That’s certainly a step up from no-knock raids, mandatory minimums, and confidential informants. But it’s still a far cry from a government that treats its citizens as adults capable of making their own decisions about intoxicants.

Seizures for SWAT

TheNewspaper.com reports that several towns in South Texas are ratcheting up money and property seizures from motorists:

In the South Texas city of San Juan, population 26,200, police have begun seizing ever greater amounts by taking both cash and vehicles from motorists. In 2005, officers collected $4400. This year, however, the force has collected $67,000. Pharr, with a population of 47,000, collected $422,000 last year. McAllen, a bigger city with 106,000 residents, collected $484,000. A federal appeals court ruling this week concluded that driving with a large amount of cash is sufficient justification for police to confiscate it, even if there is no evidence that a crime has been committed.

Guess what these towns are apparently doing with the money?

On a related note, a number of cities and towns across the country have apparently been given between $100,000 and $200,000 in Homeland Security funding to purchase armored personnel carriers for their SWAT teams. If I remember correctly, the Department of Homeland Security was supposed to be a government agency charged with fighting terrorism and responding to natural disasters.

I suppose it’s possible that places like Lake Canyon, Idaho, Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and Tuscaloosa, Alabama are high-risk terror targets. But my guess is that their new federally-funded military-grade toys will primarily be used for routine enforcement of drug laws. This quote from an official in Eau Claire seems to confirm my suspicions:

An armored truck isn’t necessary for all situations where SWAT teams are used, Matysik said.

“But because it’s available, we’ll probably use it just to be cautious,” he said.

The militarization of domestic policing continues.

More Contempt for Private Property

The New Hampshire Supreme Court has upheld yet another outrageous seizure of private property. From a editorial in the Manchester Union-Leader condemning the ruling:

The state Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that the government can keep and destroy more than 500 CDs taken from Michael Cohen, owner of Pitchfork Records in Concord, in 2003 even though the state failed to prove that a single disk was illegal.

Cohen was arrested for attempting to sell bootleg recordings. But the police case collapsed when it turned out that most of the recordings were made legally. Police dropped six of the seven charges, and Cohen went to trial on one charge. He beat it after the judge concluded that the recording was legal.

However, the police refused to return Cohen’s CDs. In the state Supreme Court’s Tuesday ruling, Chief Justice John Broderick, writing for the majority, reasoned so poorly that it appeared as if he’d made up his mind ahead of time.

[…]

The majority concedes that no crime or illegal act was proven, but allows the confiscation anyway by concluding that a crime might have been committed. The majority used words such as “apparently,” “likely” and “would have” to describe the alleged illegal activity.

It should go without saying that speculation by a few judges that a crime might have been committed is a frightening basis for taking someone’s property.

Nearly all of the outrages we write about at Cato – foreiture cases, the Kelo case, no-knock and paramilitary raids, and the smoking bans David Boaz blogged about earlier –are the result of the wholesale disintegration of respect for property rights in America. A country that truly believes in private property wouldn’t allow government agents to seize and keep it without due process. Nor would it allow government agents to break down doors to private homes in the middle of the night to enforce consensual crimes – some 40,000 times per year. Nor would it allow the state to take the property of one citizen and give it to another, for purpses of increasing the tax base. Nor would it allow the state to tell a private business owner whom he can and can’t serve, and what terms, in the interest of controlling the private behavior of his customers.

It isn’t surprising that these violations of property rights spill over into violations of personal and economic freedom. Property rights are the very foundation of our civil liberties. A government that’s quick to restrict what its citizens can do with their private property won’t hesitate to restrict, for example, free speech (see campaign finance “reform”). A government that refuses to recognize a man’s property in his own body (re: drug prohibition) won’t hesitate to those laws by confiscating actual, physical property without due process.

The founders of course understood the fundamental connection between private property and civil liberties. James Madison was particularly eloquent on the point:

This term in its particular application means “that dominion which one man claims and exercises over the external things of the world, in exclusion of every other individual.”

In its larger and juster meaning, it embraces every thing to which a man may attach a value and have a right; and which leaves to every one else the like advantage.

[…]

In a word, as a man is said to have a right to his property, he may be equally said to have a property in his rights.

Where an excess of power prevails, property of no sort is duly respected. No man is safe in his opinions, his person, his faculties, or his possessions.

[…]

If the United States mean to obtain or deserve the full praise due to wise and just governments, they will equally respect the rights of property, and the property in rights: they will rival the government that most sacredly guards the former; and by repelling its example in violating the latter, will make themselves a pattern to that and all other governments.

When government has no respect for our rights of property, we oughtn’t be surprised when, likewise, it fails to respect our property in our rights.