Drug Policy

'The Citizens Deserve Peace'—but Not Freedom

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On Tuesday the city council of Helena—West Helena, Arkansas, unanimously gave police the authority to impose a 24-hour curfew on any part of the city. A.P. reports that a 24-hour curfew already has been in effect in one especially crime-ridden neighborhood of the town for a week. (Doesn't that make it a 168-hour curfew?) So far the curfew has resulted in 32 arrests, mostly for misdemeanors. Although police, who are armed with "military-style M-16 or M-4 rifles, some equipped with laser sights" as well as "short-barrel shotguns," could arrest people simply for leaving their homes, they say they have refrained from doing so:

[Police Chief Fred] Fielder said officers had not arrested anyone for violating the curfew, only questioned people about why they were outside. Those without good answers or acting nervously get additional attention, Fielder said.

The aptly nicknamed Councilman Eugene "Red" Johnson averred that "at 3 o'clock in the morning, nobody has any business being on the street, except the law." He evidently did not address the propriety of being on the street during the other 23 hours of the day. More generally, city officials dismissed constitutional objections raised by the American Civil Liberties Union: 

"If somebody wants to sue us, they have an option to sue, but I'm fairly certain that a judge will see it the way the way the citizens see it here," Mayor James Valley said. "The citizens deserve peace, [believe] that some infringement on constitutional rights is OK and we have not violated anything as far as the Constitution."

I confess the distinction between infringing on constitutional rights and violating the Constitution escapes me. But according to A.P., "The council said those living in the city want the random shootings and drug-fueled violence to stop, no matter what the cost." They argued, in effect, that civil liberties are a luxury that people in poor, violence-plagued neighborhoods cannot afford, "at one point questioning the Little Rock-based attorney [from the ACLU] if she'd live in a neighborhood they described as under siege by wild gunfire and gangs."

Yet the violence is mostly related to the illegal drug trade. So the government creates a black market that disproportionately hurts poor people, enforces its drug laws in a way that disproportionately hurts poor people, and responds to the resulting violence and disorder with police tactics that disproportionately hurt poor people. When civil libertarians object, they are dismissed as privileged pointy-heads who do not understand the problems of poor people.

[via The Freedom Files]

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  1. “The council said those living in the city want the random shootings and drug-fueled violence to stop, no matter what the cost.”

    Liars.

  2. Sounds likes one jurisdiction is about to get ass-pwned by the ACLU.

  3. “The council said those living in the city want the random shootings and drug-fueled violence to stop, no matter what the cost.”

    Liars.

    I’m sure they do want it to stop. Last I checked, people like not getting shot. But wouldn’t letting people get high be a lower cost than martial law?

  4. That’s seriously fucked up.

  5. Read the lower post about taggers in LA and how they have started shooting each other and property owners over graffiti. I doubt the gang bangers would stop shooting each other if drugs were legal. Legalizing drugs would have a lot of positive effects, but lowering gang violence probably wouldn’t be one of them.

    All this is is lazy policing. We know how to stop this kind of violence and have done so in a lot of places. You put out a big police presense and have then walk around talk to people ask them who they are and what they are doing. Check IDs, run warrent checks and arrest people who violate the law. There is an old saying “cops make bad barflys”. The same is true of drug markets and gang get togethers. If the cops are around and doing their jobs, the gangs move on to easier pickings.

  6. Legalizing drugs would have a lot of positive effects, but lowering gang violence probably wouldn’t be one of them.

    Agree completely. Why, just the other day there was a violent shootout between the proprietors of two of the local microbreweries here in town.

  7. The only question there is whether or not, in a free society, one can have perverse freedom… to wit, whether or not it can be the choice of the people to voluntarily cede their freedom. Short of that, I don’t see how something like this could stand.

  8. Chicago pulled (and may still be pulling) the same stunt in the various projects located there. Crime is simply too serious and dangerous to let people’s rights get in the way. Of course, the crime continues. . .all that gets reduced is the freedom of some poor people.

  9. What the motherfuck.

  10. Legalizing drugs would have a lot of positive effects, but lowering gang violence probably wouldn’t be one of them.

    It would seriously undercut the gang’s income. A gang without bling is a gang with fewer members. Sure, they’d still fight over prostitution and gambling and the other stuff banned by the state, but they’d be weakened.

  11. whether or not it can be the choice of the people to voluntarily cede their freedom.

    This is actually more of a case where a small group (the city council) presumably elected by a majority ceded everyone’s freedom. I personally despise the Marxist idea that “the people” exist as anything more than an idea in books. I’m not sure that the city council can’t do this (what CAN’T government do these days), but I’m damn sure that it is the opposite of liberty.

  12. Do cops even investigate crimes anymore? Some good old-fashioned police work ought to go a long ways toward getting violent criminals off the streets… instead they opt to keep everyone off the streets.

  13. Episiarch,

    They be back to knives and fisticuffs–no more automatic weapons.

  14. They‘d be back to knives and fisticuffs–no more automatic weapons. WTF? Is my typing finger broken today?

  15. “Agree completely. Why, just the other day there was a violent shootout between the proprietors of two of the local microbreweries here in town”

    Think about what you are saying. Of course the owners of the micro brewers don’t shoot each other because they are not criminals. Right now drugs are illegal so only criminals sell them. If you legalized drugs, non-criminals would start selling drugs and yes people wouldn’t be shooting each other over drugs anymore. But, the criminals who are now killing each other over drugs would still be criminals. They just wouldn’t be the drug business anymore. So, they would start killing each other over something else. That is what they do. They are criminals.

    Legalizing drugs won’t end gangs. It will just stop them from making money from drugs. The gangs will still be there and will still terrorize each other and the neighborhoods they live in. Yes, the lack of easy money will probably make them less sophisticated and a lot poorer, but the underlying criminality will still be there. The illegal drug trade doesn’t make otherwise law abiding people into criminals. Instead, by being illegal, it attracts criminals and sociopaths because law abiding people won’t do it. If it becomes legal, the criminals and sociopaths will still be out there.

  16. I’d really like to know what the neighborhood think. There’s no contest on the legal front, but I’d like to know if the Mayor and the city council is riding roughshod over the community or pursuing a policy with some support. There’s a larger dynamic at work concerning the two cities attempting to revitalize, I assume — that’s usually the reason for two towns merging in a poor region — and I’d like to know if the pressure for crackdown is coming from below or above.

    Incidentally, the curfew has been revised since the ACLU statement was released.

    More info (including 4 paradigmatic comments) at the Helena Daily World site, including the most recent council meeting at which Dickson appeared. Sum up quote:

    “I am concerned about the Constitutional issues but I am more concerned about our people who are being shot at,” stated [Alderman] Hollowell.

    Most intriguing quote:
    Council member Treece Shepherd-Williams stressed the need for starting Neighborhood Watches in problem areas.
    “The people need to step up, ” she said.

    Best use of scare quotes:
    “Constitutional issues”

    Anon

  17. This is a frightened city. Over these houses, over these streets hangs a pall of fear. Fear of a new kind of violence which is terrorizing the city. Yes, gangs of old ladies attacking defenseless, fit young men.

  18. It is Monty Python Day, isn’t it?

  19. Seems like the merger was more contentious than I initially thought. (Scroll to bottom.)

    Anon

  20. John, have you not noticed that legitimate businesses are often controller by criminals and sociopaths too? And they manage mostly not to shoot each other. I really can’t believe that there is a fixed number of violent street thugs who will all continue doing their violence no matter what black market opportunities are or are not available. If drugs were legalized today, you are probably right, all of the bad, violent drug dealers would probably still be on the streets doing bad things. But over time the street crime would have to go down. Without drugs, there would simply not be enough opportunity to sustain what gangs are now. Violence would not disappear, but it would certainly be reduced.

  21. John,

    If you said legalizing drugs wouldn’t end gang violence, you’d be on a lot firmer ground than saying it wouldn’t even lower gang violence!

  22. “I really can’t believe that there is a fixed number of violent street thugs who will all continue doing their violence no matter what black market opportunities are or are not available.”

    I think is a disfunctional culture that is producing a large number of sociopathic and violent people. The social disfunctions of inner city areas go a lot deeper than drugs. Legalizing drugs won’t change the fact that the children in these areas nearly always come from broken homes and suffer from obscene levels of abuse and neglect. You can’t raise large numbers of kids in such an environment and have anything good come out of it. Believing that ending the drug war is going to cure all of these other social ills is just wishful thinking and overselling the benefits of legalization. The better argument to make is that if we would stop spending billions on the drug war maybe we could address these other issues better and if we would stop throwing users into jail, there would be fewer broken families and social disfunction.

  23. The aptly nicknamed Councilman Eugene “Red” Johnson averred that “at 3 o’clock in the morning, nobody has any business being on the street, except the law.”

    As a seasoned night owl, let me just say…FOAD.

  24. Look at this from the cops’ perspective: imposing collective punishment on the entire town is much, much easier than actually finding the ones who are guilty.

  25. I think is a disfunctional culture that is producing a large number of sociopathic and violent people.

    Legalizing drugs won’t change the fact that the children in these areas nearly always come from broken homes and suffer from obscene levels of abuse and neglect.

    Doesn’t this “dysfunctional culture” have something to do with the large numbers of parents dead or in jail and the lack of legitimate employment opportunities and social institutions driven out by the violence associated with the black market drug trade?

  26. “The aptly nicknamed Councilman Eugene “Red” Johnson averred that “at 3 o’clock in the morning, nobody has any business being on the street, except the law.”

    Because clearly no one ever works the night shift or as to be at work at obscenely early hours.

  27. I say to those people who would give up a few of their Constitutional Rights, give them what they want. But I won’t listen to their crying and moaning about police abuse and crime rates staying the same or increasing.

    It is disheartening that so many Americans are totally uneducated and ignorant and just DON’T LEARN FROM HISTORY! “Just give us a little leeway with the Bill of Rights, and we’ll make sure you’re secure.” That’s how people end up living in a police state! I truly believe , after serving in Iraq, that America is headed that way. Nothing good will come of this pigheaded desire for a false sense of security. If they want that, let ’em have it!

  28. Mister DNA,

    Something similiar to what you describe happens during Mardi Gras in Biloxi. Four man patrols walk down the north-south facing streets while a couple of police SUV’s with a police dog in the passenger seat patrol the east-west streets. Aside from a few fights and car vandalism(Who the fuck blocked my drive way?!) crime seems pretty light. Then again underage drinking and marijuana possession appear to be under the radar for most cops working Mardi Gras.

  29. I think Jennifer has hit upon the solution. We should adopt a grading system for localities, like we do for public schools. If a locality scores lower than a D, then all Constitutionally mandated limits on government and all individual liberties are suspended until the score is improved. Simple!

  30. Is John Yoo advising this counsel?

  31. just the other day there was a violent shootout between the proprietors of two of the local microbreweries

    Classic retort. It has all the requirements: sarcasm, brevity and–most importantly–truth.

  32. No Neighborhood Left Behind…

  33. No the better sollution is to surround the town and cut off the electricy and water until the behavior improves. It worked for the allied occupation of Germany, why not Arkansas?

  34. I guess the droopy-pants ordinance was ineffective.

  35. ‘The Citizens Deserve Peace’-but Not Freedom

    But enough about Reason’s position on Iraq.

    Seriously, though, Jacob’s last paragraph is so true. It reminds me, I was surprised to see this sentence in the Wikipedia entry for the United States:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_states

    The country’s leading cash crop is marijuana, despite federal laws making its cultivation and sale illegal.[78]

    Shouldn’t that read “because of” rather than “despite?”

  36. Legalizing drugs won’t change the fact that the children in these areas nearly always come from broken homes and suffer from obscene levels of abuse and neglect.

    No, but it will remove the source of a river of cash that inexorably ends up in the hands of the most ruthless and violent operators because there is no recourse to the State apparatus of conflict resolution for illegal transactions.

  37. “But, the criminals who are now killing each other over drugs would still be criminals.”

    John, me disagree. If recreational drugs were legal, fewer youths would be drawn into criminal life in general. There already is a clear line between right and wrong, but the law currently does not correlate very well. Change the law to match morality and more people would find themselves goosestepping (in a positive way) with the police and the rest of polite society.

    Nobody here is going to be ignorant enough to suggest, “well, why not just legalize murder then”, right? Didn’t think so.

  38. So the government creates a black market that disproportionately hurts poor people, enforces its drug laws in a way that disproportionately hurts poor people, and responds to the resulting violence and disorder with police tactics that disproportionately hurt poor people. When civil libertarians object, they are dismissed as privileged pointy-heads who do not understand the problems of poor people.

    I think this sums it up better than anything else I have read recently. Maybe ever.

  39. A curious bit of locution from the mayor:

    “The citizens deserve peace, [believe] that some infringement on constitutional rights is OK and we have not violated anything as far as the Constitution.”

    I think he just said that people are ok with breaking the constitution, but that they haven’t actually broken the constitution. Which is a slightly queer way to structure your sentences.

    If the people are ok with some infringement of constitutional rights, then what does it matter if you assert that you haven’t infringed on them. Similarly, if you haven’t infringed on constitutional rights, who gives a rats arse if the public would accept some infringement or not?

    Or is the mayor trying to insinuate that infringe and violate are not synonyms in this context?

    But let’s be frank here. When you say things like that and in that order, you’re really admitting that the first assertion isn’t actually true.

  40. I second Chuck’s observation above.

    “But, the criminals who are now killing each other over drugs would still be criminals.”

    It’s amazing people can still say this with a straight face. Have we totally forgotten the Prohibition era? Most of the “criminals” were average Joes who just wanted either a beer or to make a buck.

  41. It is not complete paranoia to suspect that some among our government(s) may want to see crime get worse and worse to the point that people’s fear of crime will exceed their fear of government.

  42. Pro,

    Sure, the DEA has a whole branch dedicated to making crime look worse than it is, so the rest of the DEA looks like it’s doing somethign useful.

  43. The illegal drug trade doesn’t make otherwise law abiding people into criminals.

    Yeah, because babies are born ‘criminal’ or ‘not criminal’ and the fact that a massively lucrative drug trade just happened to fall into the lap of one of the ‘criminal’ children it’s just good luck.

  44. You know, I used to laugh when I would read the news reports of “Stupid Criminal Goes To Police Over Stolen Drugs.”

    Now they just make me sad. Nothing better illustrates how the drug war is breaking down civilized society. No legal recourse, no property rights. And we wonder why people get shot.

  45. The illegal drug trade doesn’t make otherwise law abiding people into criminals.

    No, bad laws do.

    Suppose food were made illegal tomorrow. How long before we were all criminals?

  46. “Believing that ending the drug war is going to cure all of these other social ills is just wishful thinking and overselling the benefits of legalization.”

    Believing that a straw man argument is going to convince opponents of prohibition that prohibition is effective is just wishful thinking and overselling the benefits of sophistry.

    Who exactly is alleging that legalizing drugs will “cure all of these other social ills?”

  47. Mayor Valley is an absolute idiot in so many ways! Go google the idiotic things he’s pulled in the last few months….you’ll see.

  48. “It is not complete paranoia to suspect that some among our government(s) may want to see crime get worse and worse to the point that people’s fear of crime will exceed their fear of government.”

    I hear this line of thinking all the time here (in Caracas, Venezuela) and, I hate to admit it, but I’m starting to believe it!
    I’m going to say it: I prefer to have the military permanently “guarding” the streets where I live (including random stops and searches, as well directly being asked for money) than the current state of lawlessness.

    I may not know what I have just wished for…

    BTW, how bad is crime in West Helena, Arkansas?

  49. 1,000,000 petty dictators
    enforcing 10,000 new regulations
    ruling every town and state
    from busy little offices they come
    carrying guns
    demanding to see our papers
    you have nothing to fear
    if you obey the law
    and do as you’re told
    it’s all for the best
    here in the land of the free

  50. “””No the better sollution is to surround the town and cut off the electricy and water until the behavior improves. It worked for the allied occupation of Germany, why not Arkansas?”””

    Helena has electricty and running water?

  51. Anarchy in Arkansas!

    This just in:

    LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A gunman entered the Arkansas Democratic Party headquarters Wednesday and shot the party chairman, who was hospitalized in critical condition, authorities said.

  52. Legalizing drugs won’t change the fact that the children in these areas nearly always come from broken homes

    Sure it would. Daddy’s in jail doing 20 on a possession charge. Id daddy wasn’t in jail, the home would have less chance of being broken.

  53. “””It’s amazing people can still say this with a straight face. Have we totally forgotten the Prohibition era? Most of the “criminals” were average Joes who just wanted either a beer or to make a buck.”””

    Remember prohibition? Hell, we can’t seem to remember how the Nazis came to power, and that was more recent.

  54. Hell, we can’t seem to remember how the Nazis came to power, and that was more recent.

    Didn’t they steal an election from Al Gore? Some guy named Chad in Florida?

  55. …first to the year 1939 when Charlie Chaplin and his evil Nazi regime enslaved Europe and tried to take over the world!

    …But then an even greater force emerged: The “UN”! And the “UN” un-nazied the world! Forever!

  56. “The citizens deserve peace, [believe] that some infringement on constitutional rights is OK and we have not violated anything as far as the Constitution.”

    Ah, yes. It is true that liberty is precious – so precious that it must be rationed.

  57. Not only is drug prohibition causing crime here but,unlike alcohol ,the effects of it are felt world wide.Mexico and Columbia are in particular.Can you imagine if they would have tried to stop the alcohol trade in other countries?The fact is ,Americans want drugs and many wold not be criminals if they were legal.I still can’t understand a war against a plant that is easily grown,non addictive and impossible to overdose on.Pot make up 75 percent of illegal drug profits,including Mexican gangs.The amounts of cash earned allow for corruption to the highest levels of government,including our border police.It’s Al Capone on writ large.

  58. Hunter–

    What the mayor is trying to say is, “I’m a petty tyrant who wipes his ass with a copy of the Constitution, but I have to pay it lip service because there’s an election coming up.”

  59. Pot make up 75 percent of illegal drug profits,including Mexican gangs.

    That’s the kind of assertion that calls for a link. IGNALFT, Mr. Pack.

  60. “Yet the violence is mostly related to the illegal drug trade. So the government creates a black market that disproportionately hurts poor people, enforces its drug laws in a way that disproportionately hurts poor people, and responds to the resulting violence and disorder with police tactics that disproportionately hurt poor people.”

    Yes, great isn’t it?

  61. Hope their city council gets fired.

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