Commentary

War on Drugs Costs American Lives and Liberties

By Deroy Murdock
April 7, 2000
Patrick Dorismond is the latest casualty in the War on Drugs. The 26-year-old security guard and father of two rose to national prominence on March 16 when he and a friend stepped out of the Wakamba Bar on Manhattan’s Eighth Avenue. Dorismond apparently felt insulted after a stranger asked him where he could find marijuana. A dispute reportedly erupted. When the would-be pot buyer yelled for help, one of his associates stepped forward and allegedly shot Dorismond fatally in the chest.

Of course, the supposed drug buyers really were undercover NYPD officers. Their effort to entrap an innocent, unarmed man in a narcotics sting operation caused his violent, untimely death. Eric Adams of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement laments that Dorismond could “be killed for saying no to drugs.”

This case immediately became politicized when First Lady Hillary Clinton, Rep. Charles Rangel (D - Harlem), the Rev. Al Sharpton and other rabble rousers slammed Mayor Rudy Giuliani over the shooting. Giuliani has refuted their charges of police trigger-happiness by observing that the NYPD fatally shot 11 mainly-criminal civilians last year, versus 41 in 1990 under Democratic Mayor David Dinkins - a 73 percent reduction.

Lost among these ricocheting accusations is the fact that the War on Drugs is largely responsible for killing Dorismond as well as Mario Paz. Armed with a search warrant and overwhelming firepower, a SWAT team raided Paz’s Compton, California home last August 9. They lethally shot the retired grandfather twice in the back, then interrogated his widow - clad in a towel, panties and handcuffs - and four other residents of Paz’s home. Officials neither found drugs on Paz’s property, nor filed charges against his survivors. Mario Paz’s fatal mistake was that he occasionally received mail for Marcos Beltran Lizarraga, a former neighbor suspected of drug dealing. Oops.

Since the days of “Just Say No,” this domestic quagmire has lasted longer than the Vietnam War. It has killed, detained and bullied innocent citizens and non-violent offenders in a futile campaign to vacuum every last cannabis seed from America’s streets. This fool’s errand isn’t cheap. Between 1990 and 1999 alone, federal anti-drug law-enforcement activities have cost taxpayers $81 billion. States and cities have spent even more. Meanwhile, low-cost drugs have become even more plentiful.

The War on Drugs carried Deborah Quinn to jail in February. With one leg and no arms, she barely could get there alone. The severely deformed, 39-year-old Arizona woman was caught selling $20 worth of marijuana to a police informant. While on probation for that incident, authorities found four ounces of grass in her home. So, they sentenced her to one year in a secure unit at St. Mary’s Hospital in Tucson. Arizona taxpayers will pay $126,000 to incarcerate Quinn where she can get appropriate medical care. That sum reportedly could padlock four murderers annually.

Mohave County prosecutor Jace Zack says that if Quinn “didn’t go to prison, she’d have a free ride to deal drugs forever.”

“Deborah Lynn Quinn may have only one leg and no arms,” replies the Libertarian Party’s Steve Dasbach. “But the people who put her in jail have no heart.”

Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey, meanwhile, employs propaganda techniques inimical to a free society. As Salon.com’s Daniel Forbes recently revealed, the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy allowed the TV networks to re-sell some $25 million in ad time the Office purchased. In exchange, broadcasters inserted anti-drug messages in NBC’s “ER,” Fox’s “Beverly Hills 90210” and other shows. The Drug Czar’s office even suggested script alterations.

That’s awful, but that’s entertainment. Far worse, U.S. News & World Report, Parade, USA Weekend and three other major magazines split $4.9 million in similar federal credits for publishing anti-drug news articles. McCaffrey’s office even helped choose writers for two anti-drug pieces in The Sporting News.

Czar Barry should be toppled for his Kremlinesque effort to manipulate the news. Of course, it takes two to mazurka. The magazine executives who peddled their editorial integrity like street walkers have earned their pink slips.

The War on Drugs burns through innocent human lives, tax dollars and civil liberties more swiftly than a joint at a jazz festival. Cops certainly should prevent those on illegal drugs or legal alcohol from operating cars and heavy machinery. Beyond that, government should do little more than counsel moderation. That’s sound advice for adults who seek mind expansion, from either marijuana or martinis. As for the War on Drugs, it’s high time to hoist a white sheet up the nearest flag pole.

Deroy Murdock is a senior fellow with the Atlas Economic Research Foundation and a policy advisor for the Cato Institute.