Drug Policy

More on Isaac Singletary

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Police are now conceding that Singletary was completely innocent. The Jacksonville sheriff describes him in this article as an "honest citizen trying to do good."

Which means that two undercover officers trespassed onto Singletary's property. They then invited criminals onto his property to engage in criminal activity with them. Mr. Singletary, recognizing the trespassers as drug dealers, then properly demanded they leave. He brought a gun along to defend himself, not an unreasonable action, given the circumstances. For this, he was shot to death.

Florida Governor Charlie Crist visited Jacksonville yesterday , and when asked about Singletary's death, referred to the "challenges" of keeping a community safe.

No, governor. Singletary's death isn't a "challenge." It's the inevitable, predictable result of a stupid policy whereby politicians attempt to control people's lives. With guns.

In my previous post on Singletary's death, commenter "John" suggested that while Singletary's death was wrong and unnecessary, it wasn't directly related to the drug war. I couldn't disagree more. It is inextricably tied to the drug war. The police in Jacksonville were doing exactly what they were supposed to be doing (save perhaps for the trespassing). They were arranging undercover buys, one of really only two ways to police consensual crimes like drug distribution (the other being the use of informants). They were confronted by a man with a weapon. They fired to defend themselves.

Barring further information that these officers fired too quickly or didn't attempt to announce themselves, this wasn't a case of police misconduct or excessive use of force. It was the direct result of government attempting to enforce a policy it has no business enforcing, and that it can't capably enforce without effecting tragedies like this one.

But Governor Crist is wrong, too. This wasn't a "challenge." Let's call Isaac Singletary's death what it is: collateral damage. Like collateral damage victims of military wars overseas, Singletary's a victim of living in close proximity to the government's intended target. In this case, drug dealers.

And like the civilian casualties of military wars, his death won't do a thing to cause the people who run this war to rethink their methods. Because for them, the ultimate goal is more important than the innocent lives they may take along the way. Like Governor Crist said, Singletary's death is really little more than a "challenge" on the way to a drug-free Florida. A few innocent bodies are the sacrifice we pay for the privilege of allowing the government to stop us from smoking pot.

The difference between a foreign war and the drug war, of course, is that in a foreign war, the goal is (usually) to defeat a foreign aggressor that poses a threat to U.S. security. In the drug war, it's to stop people from getting high.

His death itself is tragic enough. More depressing is that it doesn't appear to have made any newspaper outside the state of Florida (though it does appear to have made cable news). Which suggests that this kind of thing isn't even much of an outrage anymore. It's nearly routine.

NEXT: I Think It's Somewhere in Article I

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  1. Well, you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few chefs.

  2. I’m a criminal justice professor who is always heartened by Mr. Balko’s excellent work policing the police. There is no better use for the press in my opinion, Mr. Balko is a fine example of what the press should be doing…

  3. Radley

    Not to disagree, but I think “collateral damage” is far too generous a term for what happened here.

    A closer analogy would be the death of a bank teller during a robbery – which counts as first-degree murder in most jurisdictions.

  4. because for them, the ultimate goal is more important than the innocent lives they may take along the way.

    Well said Radley. And gospel, keeping junkies away from the needle and the spoon is more important than this guy’s life. But it’s ever so much more insidious than this, the drug warriors place a much higher premium on the so-called drug addict’s life than yours, mine, or Singletary’s.

  5. I don’t think John’s argument was so much that Singletary’s death wasn’t related to the drug war. Rather, I think John’s argument was that the bigger issue in Singletary’s death is not its relation to the drug war but rather a specific police tactic. That is, appropriating (even if temporarily) private property without notifying the property owner and defending that appropriation (even against said owner) with lethal force.

    In any case, I think both John and Balko are correct. If there was no drug war or the police sought Singletary’s permission to use his property, Singletary probably wouldn’t have been put in that situation and thus he’d probably still be alive.

  6. As Aresen suggests, this is little different than the police inviting some suspected bankrobbers along on a heist, then facing an overly zealous guard. Why is the guard’s or citizen’s right to enforce plain law less important than the police feeling threatened – in a situation of their own making, and which they had to know would be dangerous? If they weren’t police this would be felony-murder.

    I know the arguments, I just think the issue needs to be dragged out into the sunlight more often.

  7. Can you believe the chutzpah of these assholes? “‘You don’t expect people to come point a gun at you,’ [Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Chief of Investigations Dwain] Senterfitt said. ‘At that point, it became about officer safety.'”

    IOW, you can act like a drug dealer, trespassing on a homeowner’s properly, and shouldn’t expect the homeowner to point a gun at you. But if they do, the fact that you’ve been acting like a criminal is totally irrelevant, and the homeowner needs to die?

    Cops who believe this deserve to be mistaken for bad guys and mowed down by a fusillade of friendly-fire police bullets.

  8. I agree 100%, Mr Balko.

    This stuff is really sickening and maddening.

  9. “Getting things done means that you have to have as many people as possible to help us move the ball down the field and that’s why we wanted to be in Jacksonville,” said Governor Crist.

    Christ, what is it with southern politicians and football analogies? Usually it’s just annoying but in this case it’s downright disrespectful.

  10. “We will not turn our backs on the good citizens, the law abiding citizens, who live in these neighborhoods that are most adversely affected by the street level drug dealers and gun carrying thugs.” Sheriff John Rutherford

    I guess not turning your back on them includes shooting them. Pardon me, but who are the gun carrying thugs in this case?

  11. IOW, you can act like a drug dealer, trespassing on a homeowner’s properly, and shouldn’t expect the homeowner to point a gun at you. But if they do, the fact that you’ve been acting like a criminal is totally irrelevant, and the homeowner needs to die?

    Cops who believe this deserve to be mistaken for bad guys and mowed down by a fusillade of friendly-fire police bullets.

    Unfortunately, cops are usually pretty good about crossing i’s and dotting t’s when it comes to making sure other cops know what they’re up to. Innocent citizens? Not so much.

  12. OTTO muses: Christ, what is it with southern politicians and football analogies?

    SH: lol…Exactly my thought upon first reading Christ’s quotes.

    “Mr. Singletary looked to fire a pass into the flat but mistook the opponent’s uniform color. No one likes to see an interception thrown inside your own 20 yard line.”

  13. Wow I didn’t know I commanded that attention. Ryo was right, that was my point, the problem is the tactics. Yes, I suppose if you legalized drugs tommorow that there would be fewer undercover cops and this kind of thing would happen less but that doesn’t satisify me at all. I don’t care that they were trying to get an undercover buy of drugs. They could have been trying to buy illegal sawed off shotguns or on the guys property to make out with their girlfriends and the same thing would have happened.

    The problem is police who have no respect for private property and feel they can shoot anyone who confronts them with a gun no matter how justified the person is in doing so. I still think it is a reach to link this to the drug war.

  14. Maybe now’s a good time to post this:

    http://www.constitution.org/lrev/roots/cops.htm

    A legal scholar asks tough questions about the way law enforcement is done today. You should see his answers.

  15. I still don’t understand why this activity had to be done in somebody’s front yard, as opposed to the sidewalk. I’ve looked around for the explanation. Seems to me confining it to the sidewalk would’ve saved everybody’s ass.

  16. I still think it is a reach to link this to the drug war.

    I understand your broader point, John, but this is like saying that it’s a reach to link Gitmo to the war on terror.

    You can link the two and still have a problem regardless of the war.

  17. “His death is tragic enough. More depressing is that it doesn’t appear to have made any newspaper outside the state of Florida.”

    Wouldn’t some sort of body count website help publicize this stuff and keep nationwide data on “collateral damage”? I have yet to check, but do any drug issue NGOs or thinktanks do this? This sounds like a potentially promising angle on the whole issue. And this kind of report could be sent out annually to every mayor, chief of police, etc. so that they can never again shrug their shoulders and spout sleep-inducing pabulum about how mistakes and challenges are just an unfortunate part of the effort to keep us all from reefer madness.

  18. As my father, who was career law enforcement once said to me, the biggest mistake we made for policing the police was when we no longer allowed private citizens to shoot police who behave like criminals.

    Funny thing is, according to the Bible, my source and the source of many a drug war supporter’s morality, these cops should be executed for murder. As a Christian and libertarian, I fully support their execution under that moral standard.

  19. IOW, you can act like a drug dealer, trespassing on a homeowner’s properly, and shouldn’t expect the homeowner to point a gun at you. But if they do, the fact that you’ve been acting like a criminal is totally irrelevant, and the homeowner needs to die?

    Amen Brother Seamus, Amen.

    I’ll be the first to admit I’m a malcontent but shit like this just makes me furious. It also makes me realize that in the end there really isn’t much hope.

  20. Matt, that’s a really interesting article, thanks for the link.

  21. Of course, there is a simple way to up the ante on egregious police murder of innocent civilians. Track down the cop that murdered your Dad, Mum, Brother, Grandfather (fill in the blank) and …kill them. Eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The sooner the State understands ‘blowback’ right down there at the personal, sphincter pucking level, the sooner they will change their tactics. Am I advocating murder?

    “Well fuck you, officer, didn’t you kill my brother?”.

    No, but I DO advocate REVENGE.

    ***People shouldn’t be afraid of their governments, governments should be afraid of their people*** (V for Vendetta).

  22. Radley, you continue to do a great service for the people. Please keep it up.

  23. Another superb Balko post. Radley needs a superhero moniker. Radlioactive man? WATWOD? Suggestions welcome.

    One small kvetch. If you’re going to speak to John you’ve got to spell it out to penetrate that thick skull. Yes, this is a problem of tactics, tactics that would still be a problem if used to apprehend international jewel thieves. But there is no denying that these tactics are part and parcel of the drug war. The universally unquestioned goal of a drug free nation is used to justify these tactics. Johns thesis that cops would solicit sawed-off shotgun deals on innocent peoples front lawns strikes me as surreal.

    Cops have always abused their authority, especially amongst the disenfranchised. But to believe that violence and corruption directly associated with the drug war, isn’t the result of the drug war? That takes some willful myopia.

  24. Unfortunately, I am afraid most people, confronted with the facts of cases such as this, will still say, “Well, he/she should have known better than to have a gun, and wave it around at POLICEMEN DOING THEIR JOBS.”

    Those people, by the way, are stupid.

  25. Which suggests that this kind of thing isn’t even much of an outrage anymore. It’s nearly routine.

    Get used to it. The drug war is here to stay, for reasons too numerous to get into tonight and enjoys proxy support with the recent rise of other prohibitionist streaks that have nothing to do with the drug war directly, but logically telegraph into the drug war we all know and love.

  26. The problem is much, much worse. It is much bigger than government interference in people’s life. As a non-American who has lived both in the US and overseas, and traveled quite a bit I see this as a fundamental cultural problem that pervades every aspect of American life. The problem which manifests in government, in business, in academia, in society is: you can solve any problem through the use of overwhelming force — either physical and military or economic. This is how Europeans annihilated the native population (and therefore ‘won the West’ so to speak), and the belief persists that the same approach will work everywhere. This demonstrates the immaturity of American society. Overwhelming force will not work. It creates more problems than it solves. It makes the US to the world outside, and the police to the people they are supposed to protect like snot-nosed bullies.

    American culture has yet to grow up. While there are many positive aspects to being a young culture, we all know that a powerful weapon or machine in the hands of small child is very, very dangerous.

    American culture has to go beyond the bunker mentality that is represented by the need to arm oneself to the teeth and shoot before asking questions. Time and time again, over the course of history, every mature civilization has grown beyond weapons and aggression. I wonder when the US will learn.

  27. The problem which manifests in government, in business, in academia, in society is: you can solve any problem through the use of overwhelming force — either physical and military or economic.

    Jacques, you postulate an interesting argument, and one that has some merit, but it tends to ignore the elephant in the living room. Europe does the same thing, but maybe in different areas or ways. Take England (I don’t consider it Europe, but we’re just jawboning here). A complete and utter surveillance society. Cameras to police every activity by the populace. Americans did not always have this attitude. I tried to search for the reference, and couldn’t find it. But I recall some observer around the turn of the century noted how the American people were seemingly capable of policing and guiding their own behavior, where Europeans would have soldiers come round to every house in the realm… anyway, it’s late…

    But I believe that it’s precisely because America is “maturing” as a country, and as such now believes less in the nature of the citizenry to behave correctly, but is moving toward the European systems of massive top-down regulation codifying a solution to deal with every possible problem imaginable.

    The west is dying– smothering itself under the wight of its regulatory environment.

  28. Matt good link, very educational. Thanks.

  29. I have often thought that it’s America’s “growing pains” that are making it freak out so much. Not that America was some sort of libertarian paradise back in, say, 1800, but there was more of an attitude of letting people take responsibility for their own actions. We seem to have moved away from that, big time, and that seems to be leading to a lot of statism.

    Another factor is technology and the ease with which people can rely on each other. But there’s a dichotomy here, too, because I also see technology and the ability for your “average” person to know more and more about the world in which he/she lives as a way to propagate freedom.

    A very complex issue – depending upon the major I eventually may persue for my PhD, that may be a good thesis to think about…

  30. Go Radley Go Radley go go go!

  31. “If you’re going to speak to John you’ve got to spell it out to penetrate that thick skull. Yes, this is a problem of tactics, tactics that would still be a problem if used to apprehend international jewel thieves.”

    I spell it out to get through your thick skull. Read my post. Of course if drugs were legal there might be less of this kind of thing going on. But, that wouldn’t change the mentality that got these guys to shoot this person. If you think the police wouldn’t dream up some other new crime to justify their existance and go undercover you are kidding yourself. Changing the drug laws wouldn’t change the mentality of the police on iota. It would at best direct the mentality towards combating other crimes. Yeah, maybe the drug war helped produce this mentality, but ending the drug war isn’t going change the mentality back to pre-drug war levels.

    Oh and thanks for being such an insulting asshole in your post. Appreciate you showing your true colors.

  32. UFB.
    Thanks for keeping the pressure on the government zombies, Radley!

  33. Oh and thanks for being such an insulting asshole in your post. Appreciate you showing your true colors.

    Oh hey, sorry about that. Didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. Didn’t know you had any.. Oh geez sorry again. Sincerely.

    But here’s what I don’t get about your position. You concede that the drug war is the nexus of all manner of corruption and violence. Yet you insist that they would persist in it’s absence. It’s taken thirty years to turn the Mayberry PD into a paramilitary assault team. I’m not saying they’ll go back to a check yourself in jail house overnight. But I do think things would get better, a lot better, and continue to get better, if we ended prohibition.

    BTW, my true colors are the dancing patterns of iridescences on a well lit soap bubble.

  34. Sorry Warren

    I kind of overreacted. I see your point. I will be the first to admit the world would be better if we would stop kicking down doors in search of drugs. I think the problem is bigger thant that. It is more than the drug war. It is a mentality of police. Police look at what they are doing as the most dangerous and important job on the planet. They seem to have the mentality of better to be tried by 12 than carried by six. The problem is that police want to escalate the situation when they should always want to deescaltate. When this guy pulled a gun, the police should have retreated immediately and avoided a shoot out. They didn’t do that because at heart they value their own lives more than they value the lives of the citizens they are supposed to be protecting. The easy thing to do is just shoot the guy. The hard thing to do is risk your life and back away and avoid shooting the person. They took the easy way out. Ending the drug war is not going to end that mentality.

  35. Cops who believe this deserve to be mistaken for bad guys and mowed down by a fusillade of friendly-fire police bullets.

    No, they should die strapped into a chair or gurney, with an audience watching behind glass and a larger audience watching on teevee.

  36. American culture has yet to grow up. While there are many positive aspects to being a young culture, we all know that a powerful weapon or machine in the hands of small child is very, very dangerous.
    ===============================
    this may be true, but the “old cultures” of europe and asia aren’t exactly gentle or safe either.

  37. Wait a minnit!

    There were drug sales taking place on Singletary’s property. Why didn’t the cops seize the property and auction it off? Seems like this guy got off easy with mere death.

  38. Isaac is my hero, I love him like a lost brother, he gave his life defending the same thing our forefathers defended, his home.
    his death wasnt about drugs, he was quoted by a nephew as saying to the dealers “if you want to do drugs, go to somewhere else dont do it on my property” Thats all he wanted, and his mistake was thinking he had the constitutional right to defend his property. I thought he did too. looks like we have a constitutional right to trespass and deal drugs instead.
    Shame on Florida and Shame on America for playing at “drug wars”. Kill the drug dealers and be done with it, it works in China.

  39. Wow. It amazes me how Issac’s death goes for naught. Again the drug world wins. We turn our energy and passion to go after the shooters and as Issac’s Pastor said we let Issac’s dream of ridding his neighborhood of drugs and making it safe for his children die. Jacksonville’s violence will continue , drugs will reign, races will remain divided, citizens and police will debate the tactics and children will become addicts and die…. how’s that for collateral damage. Issac dared to dream and dared to fight. People like me and you sit in front of computers and safely type out angry messages and more children become addicts and more children die. I only wish I knew Issac’s way.

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