Little Big Brothers


If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, federal drug warriors should be blushing. The latest national campaign against mind-altering substances has inspired state and local authorities to adopt a host of tactics that sacrifice individual liberties on the altar of unpolluted bodily fluids.

Several cities have enacted antiloitering ordinances aimed at disrupting drug trafficking and gang activity. In Washington, D.C., for example, police have the authority to arrest people who gather in groups of two or more for "failure to move on," a misdemeanor. Kalamazoo, Michigan, has a similar ordinance. "We don't feel there is a constitutional right to associate with drug dealers," the city attorney explains.

Similarly, local authorities have attacked freedom of association by enforcing laws against belonging to gangs. Police in Los Angeles County have sent notices to 500 gang members, warning them that they can be prosecuted under a state antiterrorism law. Gang membership is also illegal under a new ordinance in Seminole County, Florida.

Elsewhere in the Sunshine State, Volusia County Sheriff Robert L. Vogel, Jr., has made a name for himself through his creative interpretation of probable cause. He has posted highway signs warning of a fictitious drug search and then stopped vehicles that slowed down or turned around to avoid inspection. He also regularly stops and searches without warrants cars driven by people who fit his "drug-courier profile." His deputies confiscate as possible evidence any large amounts of cash they find, whether or not they discover any drugs.

Seizures are not confined to the property of suspected drug couriers. Following the federal example, police confiscate property when it can be connected in any way to drug crimes. In Detroit, for example, police seized $4,834 from a grocery store after dogs detected traces of cocaine on three $1 bills in a cash register.

In Boston, police have conducted sweeps of predominately black neighborhoods in which they stop, frisk, and sometimes strip-search "known gang members" and their companions. "A tacit understanding exists in the Boston Police Department that constitutionally impermissible searches will not only countenanced but applauded in the Roxbury area," State Superior Court Judge Cortland Mathers said last September, suppressing the use of evidence seized in an illegal search.

Finally, an incident in Hudson, New Hampshire, last summer chillingly illustrated the true nature of the war on drugs. Using a search warrant based on a 20-month-old tip, police raided the apartment of Bruce Lavole, a 34-year-old machinist, at 5 A.M. on August 3. Having no reason to suspect that Lavole was armed, they entered the apartment unannounced, smashing down the door with a battering ram. When Lavole rose from his bed to fend off the intruders, the police shot him dead while his son watched. The search yielded a marijuana cigarette.