But everything changes when the criminal and victim are supposedly the same person — as is the case with drug users during prohibition. Policing becomes less collaborative and more antagonistic. Because drug users are not going to call the police and ask them to take evidence, police must find other ways of solving and preventing this “crime.” If the user or dealer is not going to invite them in to look for evidence, they’ll just break their door down with a “no‐knock” warrant. If the user is not going to assist police in reporting the crime, then they’ll have to use various surveillance technologies to find out what the “victim” is unwilling to divulge.
More often than not, the Supreme Court has held that the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures does not prevent police from using invasive and hostile methods to search for drugs. Police can use helicopters and airplanes to surveil backyards from the air. They can bring drug‐sniffing dogs to traffic stops that seem to always magically “alert” whenever the officer has a hunch. They can even seize that car and have it forfeited to the government on the mere “say‐so” of a dog hoping to get a treat from his handler.
And, as many Americans found out during the riots in Ferguson, Missouri, our police now resemble soldiers doing street sweeps in Fallujah. That resemblance is more than coincidental. Surplus American military gear, including armored personnel carriers, heavy weaponry, and body armor, has been given to local police departments around the country for decades. Those SWAT teams are then using that gear to violently enter residences, often by using battering rams, flash grenades, and shooting the family dog. But these paramilitary police units are not usually kicking down the doors of kidnappers, murderers, or weapons traffickers. They’re usually — 62% of the time — searching for drugs.
It should come as no surprise that these heavy‐handed policing tactics tend to be disproportionately used against racial and ethnic minorities. Although it has long been known that blacks and whites use drugs at about the same rate, blacks are roughly ten times more likely to be arrested for drug crimes. In almost every interaction with police, blacks and Hispanics are more likely to be searched and harassed. The Department of Justice’s investigation of the Ferguson Police Department found that blacks were two times more likely than whites to be searched during a traffic stop but were 26% less likely to be found with contraband.
Police‐citizen interactions are now more characterized by hostility than helpfulness, particularly in minority neighborhoods. This isn’t Norman Rockwell’s America anymore. Officer Friendly has been replaced with Officer Shut the F*** Up, and that has led to immense problems with solving actual crimes — violent and property crime — again, particularly in poor, minority neighborhoods. When citizens aren’t willing to assist in police investigations, police work becomes immeasurably more difficult. America’s murder clearance rate — that is the rate at which murders are solved — was a dismal 61.6% in 2017, and some cities, such as Baltimore, Chicago, and Detroit, the clearance rate was under 30%. If the victim is black, it’s even worse. Over a 13‐year period in Los Angeles, an arrest was made in only 38% of the 2,677 killings of black male victims. Nationwide, aggravated assaults are solved only 53.4% of the time, and for other violent and property crimes, such as rape (34.5%), it’s even worse. Yet, according to one study, between 2002 and 2012, NYC police officers spent one million hours making 440,000 arrests for marijuana possession. And throughout the nation in 2016, even after marijuana legalization had begun in some states, more people were arrested for marijuana violations than all murder, rape, aggravated assault, and robbery arrests combined.
And as the backlog of murder cases builds up on the detectives’ desks, the SWAT team is gearing up to kick down the door of another suspected drug user or dealer.
Arrest and Incarceration
Incarcerating drug users is not only inhumane, it’s silly. Addicts continue to use despite losing jobs, money, loved ones, their health, and so much more. In fact, drug addiction is defined as the compulsive use of a substance despite negative consequences. Therefore, “if adding punishment worked to fight addiction,” writes addiction researcher (and former addict) Maia Szalavitz, “the condition itself couldn’t exist.” Yet we continue on with the old mantra: “Taking drugs will ruin your life, so if you take drugs we’re going to ruin your life.”